Why recovery should be part of your training.
Recovery is an essential part of getting fitter and faster. It is however the most overlooked element of training, with lots of people either not taking any measures to help the body recover or rushing the recovery part of their training session.
Spending a bit of extra time taking steps to help the body recover has a range of benefits including increasing muscle strength, building endurance, shortening recovery time and reducing the risk of injury.
Here are some ideas as to what to do after a training session or race:
After each training session make sure that you do a suitable cool down. The length of the cool down will depend on the session but it could be an easy 15 minutes jog or 10 minutes spin on the bike in an easy gear. Lots of swimmers forget to cool down after sessions but make sure you schedule five minutes to do a few easy recovery laps including some backstroke to use different muscles. By helping the body get rid of waste products, including lactic acid, a cool down will help reduce the risk of post training muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness).
After completing your cool down have a stretch. Most people fail to do this. Ideally schedule about 10-15 minutes after your training to stretch the main muscle groups. Hold the stretch for between 30 to 60 seconds. Static stretches – that is stretches that you hold are best for post training as they help the muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re-establish the normal range of movement. There are some machines in the Rivers gyms, which help increase your range of stretch.
There is about a 30 minute optimal slot for taking in food after training. This is best time for your muscles to absorb nutrients, assisting with muscle repair and promoting muscle growth. Your body’s metabolism is working at a higher rate to recover, refuel and adapt to the training. If I have done a hard session then I have a protein shake, as it takes seconds to make and is quickly absorbed by the body. Other options include apples and natural yoghurt, cottage cheese on crisp bread or even the old favourite- chocolate milkshake. You should also have a meal within 2 hours of training. The cafes in the Rivers leisure centres mean you can get something to eat or drink straight after your workout.
There has been a lot of publicity about athletes taking ice baths, which some believe reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. There is, however, a debate as to how effective cold therapy actually is. I used to take 10 minute cold baths after hard workouts and did think that my legs felt good afterwards but also noticed that I was getting cold sores afterwards. I am not sure if the two were connected but I have swapped cold baths for a warm soak in Epsom Salts to help remove excess toxins from my tired muscles and help me get a good night’s sleep. If I am working out at Rivers then I visit the health suite after a workout and massage my muscles in the Jacuzzi!
If you watch any run race or triathlon you will notice an array of competitors wearing a range of almost blindingly bright compression gear! I’m a big fan of wearing compression kit after a hard training session or race. Research is still being carried out on the benefits of compression kit but it is thought that by increasing blood flow, muscles are resupplied with their fuel- glycogen and metabolic waste is cleared, enhancing recovery.
Lots of athletes find it hard to have a rest day but it is essential to give your body (and mind) time to recover. You don’t need to be a master of sports physio in London to know that the muscles repair and grow when they are resting. I have one rest day a week which also gives my mind time to think of something other than training! In his autobiography Chris Hoy said something along the lines of “Why walk when you can sit and why sit when you can lie down?” This is so true. Try and keep the weight off your legs after a hard workout. My work colleagues are often shocked when I take the office lift and say they thought I was fit but it’s exactly because I am fit that I take the lift! Usually I will have already worked out before arriving at work so it’s more important for my muscles to recover than taking the stairs! Of course the most important rest time is when we are sleeping. Try and get 7-8 hours a night and maybe have a small amount of protein e.g. a glass of milk before going to bed.
I also do a number of other things to help recovery including Pilates once a week, a sports massage at least once a month, a visit to the chiropractor about 3 times a year and in between massage appointments I will use a foam roller to help release any tight muscles.