It’s 1982 and I just crossed the finish line of the Kinney (Foot Locker) National Championships. I placed a very disappointing 5th for a second year in a row. The place card for most athletes would have been an exciting moment, but not for me. I was expected to win. I was tired, physically and emotionally. It had been a long season. I was training hard since July and now it’s mid December. I truly believed I worked harder than any other athlete out there. I was running between 90 – 100 miles a week with daily interval sessions (I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS). Recovery was for the weak; at least that was what I thought in the moment. WOW, how wrong I was and how quickly I changed my ways.
Recovery is a key component to any successful training program. If the athlete does not recover correctly, damage can be done both physically and emotionally. We all want to peak for that one big race at the end of the season, but how many times have we entered it with a sore throat, a cold, or worse yet, an injury. If season after season you are getting sick or injured, there is something terribly wrong in your training. Not getting enough recovery is one area to address.
How do you know if you are getting enough recovery? We are all different and our recoveries are different as well. I used a morning heart rate monitoring program after my disappointing 5th place finish. My coach and I had a stern agreement that if my heart rate was up over 10% then I ran easy that day – NO MATTER WHAT. I found the more I tracked my heart rate, the more it identified when I felt off and my run was not fluid that day. I learned a lot about my body and how it feels by just tracking my morning heart rate. I quickly realized my heart rate was giving me an early subtle warning signal that something was going wrong. I listened and took recovery during those times. I never got sick, injured, or mentally fatigued. I believed so much in this rule I still use it today.
BORG, GUNNAR A.V. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion explains how heart rate and perceived exertion are closely related. The Borg scale is found in many health clubs but rarely understood or used correctly. Monitoring heart rates during training sessions are a key to determine the effort, perceived excursion and recovery. If not enough recovery is given, the athlete fatigues and fails later in the workout. I use heart rate and the Borg scale of perceived exertion in all my workouts. If understood and used correctly it is very accurate until I you go into threshold and above training. Once the heart rate is over 150 the perceived excursion gets a little muddier. The scale helps the athlete identify why their body feels the way it does. The more in tune the athlete becomes with their body, the more they get involved with their training. The results speak for themselves. By the way, if you want to know what the recovery is between interval sessions when working on threshold runs it is when the heart rate gets to 120 or lower.
The Cheetah is the fastest animal in the world. It can reach speeds up to 70mph!! But, guess what? For the next half hour, immediately following their kill, the cheetah is so exhausted it must rest. Other animals take advantage and can steal the Cheetahs kill. Not only does the cheetah require rest after the kill, but she must rest for the next three days before she hunts again. The cheetah’s instinct knows the importance of recovery because its future survival depends on it. How long does your body require for recovery? Are you getting enough rest or is your competition waiting to take advantage of your dead legs.
This summer I had the privilege of spending some time with Chrissie Wellington, three time Iron Man Hawaii champion. I asked her what she does for recovery and she quickly replied with. “Rest, compression, nutrition, and massage are the key!!” She explained that being a professional athlete gives her luxuries that others don’t get. She can take the time to rest that is typically not available to the normal athlete. Chrissie arranges all her public appearances around her rest. Deena Kastor, 2004 Olympic Bronze Medalist in the Marathon, talks frequently about her rest. Deena doesn’t like going to malls because it causes her to walk too much and her body requires rest. Keep in mind, Deena and Chrissie, are professional athletes and not high school students. I am not telling you to stop going to mall but I am telling you to respect your rest. How many times have you had to stay up until 2am to get your homework done because you did not start it soon enough. Rest requires planning and organization. A minimum of 8 – 9 hours of sleep every night is recommended. Also, a long walk in the zoo the day before the state meet is not recommended.
Nutrition is another key component to recovery!! Research today is so much better than it was 10 - 20 years ago on the topic. It is very well known that getting something nutritional within 15 – 20 minutes post workout is tremendously important. Not only will it provide a quicker recovery from the workout but it will ward off the starvation feeling an hour or two later. The starvation feelings can trick us and cause us to pick bad foods. I recommend to all my athletes and campers to take Ensure Shakes, Boosts, or cliff bars immediately following all regular workouts. After races and strenuous workouts, I recommend the Gatorade G Series Recovery, Endurox R4, Accelerade, etc. These are 4 to 1 carbohydrate to protein drinks and they promote quicker recoveries. Post workout nutrition habits can prove to be beneficial, but proper nutrition in general is a must. Every serious athlete needs to do a nutrition assessment and make the proper adjustments in their diet. I usually recommend an assessment once every season.
Compression was the one recovery recommendation from Chrissie Wellington I knew the least about. I was intrigued so I researched it. The biking and tri athlete world have been using compression for some time now. They have compression for the calves, quads and hamstring, glutes, and even arms. I now have many of my athletes in compression leggings after all their multi-joint squat workouts, races, and strenuous run days to recover their legs. Many of them sleep with the compression. They claim they wake up with their legs feel great. I have been using the compression for about 6 months and my athletes love it. You can find the compression gear in competitive bike, tri-athalon and some running stores.
Massage can be very beneficial to the recovering body. The Russians led the way in this industry. They started using massage therapy in all their athletic programs in the 1960’s. Massage helps increase blood flow into the muscles which creates faster recovery times. Massage helps recover damaged tissue that results from the workout. Massage can identify areas of potential injury by the therapist feeling tightness, adhesions, or knots that can form within the muscle. Massage, in this country, was used for the professional athletes only. Today it is becoming more affordable to the average athlete. Many college programs have massage therapists on staff full time. Personal massage devises and techniques have been developed so athletes can do it on their own. I use massage rollers and rip sticks after my workouts to help recover the muscles. But, nothing beats a good massage therapist. Just make sure you check out the massage therapist before you book an appointment. PARENTS NEVER DROP YOUR KIDS OFF ALONE WITH A MASSAGE THERAPIST.
Rest and recovery is a key to any successful program. The more individualized it becomes the more beneficial. Adding in recovery monitoring devises helps individualize it. Here is a quick list as a reminder:
Morning Heart Rate – if up over 10% then run easy
TRAINING HEART RATE AND THE BORG SCALE:
*A rule of thumb in recovery between threshold intervals needs to be a heart rate of 120 or less. If over 5 minutes the interval was too aggressive. See if the recovery between intervals gets less and less as the season progresses.
Use Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion (see bottom) and match up to heart rate. If too high you might have to adjust the intervals.
REST – Rest must be planned and scheduled. 8 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Walking the mall for 4 hours the day before a big race is not a good idea.
NUTRITION: Post workout and daily nutrition is a key to any successful program.
COMPRESSION: I challenge you to look into it and make your own assertion.
MASSAGE: Self massage devises such as massage rollers, rip sticks or balls and a professional massage can and will recover any muscle faster.