This week I want to take some time to talk about recovery options after runs/ throughout the week or the course of a training cycle. I get asked by a lot of my patients and fellow runners "what do you think of ... rolling, massage guns, dancing counterclockwise 3 times every hour," or whatever other recovery craze they have recently heard and want to try. Here are the ones that I most often recommend. And remember, your recovery is almost more important than your workouts, because if you don't recover, you will run out of steam and break down thus being unable to do any more workouts.
Tier 1: the most bang for your buck
- SLEEP!!!! TAKE A NAP!!!! Note the irony that this won't cost you a penny and gives you the best quality recovery. Our bodies do so much physiologic healing in our sleep. They also take the events of the day and move them from short term storage to long term storage during sleep. Sleeping is easily the best sports performance enhancing drug nobody is talking about. (credit Dr. Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep).
- EAT!!! Your body is just like a car, it needs fuel to work, and if you just ran a good hard workout or a longer than ever run, you need to stop by the gas station and top off the tank. Shoot for something with a good blend of carbs and protein, especially within the first 15-30 minute after a hard workout for best results. There is a bunch of science about "ideal ratios" but sometimes I think we make this too complicated. Get some calories, and make sure there are some carbs and protein. I love a spoonful of white chocolate peanut butter and some chocolate chips. Well, actually like 3-5 spoonfuls!!
Tier 2: go with the (blood) flow
- light heart rate increase with low impact. This is why we suggest the short runs in the week, They help flush out the byproducts from the big runs (the most commonly known of which is lactic acid, but there are so many). Getting a short little spin on a bike, an easy rowing session on the ergometer, an easy run, or a nice hike.
- some sort of flow/ mobility based yoga can help keep joints lubricated and flexible with little strain/ effort for your body.
Tier 3: the more passive stuff (stuff done to you more than by you). Still good, even very good, but never as good as the stuff you do for yourself like above.
- massage: I recommend once/ month if you can afford it in your budget and schedule, especially if committed to a decent 13.1 or longer training block. Recent research shows it may not be doing all the things we once thought, but the number of people who feel recovered after one is irrefutable. There sometimes needs to be room for the "we don't actually know what it is doing, but boy does it work". I believe there is huge power in human touch and that is part of the "healing" that massage can bring.
-- self massage tools such as foam rolling, massage guns, and pressure boots can all fit in this category.
Hot bath (with epsom salts): the power of relaxation and warmth to get vasodilation (wider opening of blood vessels) helps flush out the system. This can be done as often as you like. Once in a while a glass of wine to help calm can be a nice touch.
ice bath: We freeze the heck out of our legs and then what does our body do? Try to warm them back up with an awesome power wash of blood flow that flushes out all those byproducts from muscle use. Ice bath routine: 20 lbs of ice in the tub with cold water deep enough to cover the thighs when sitting with legs out in front of you. Have 2 towels going in the dryer for a bit beforehand, with some tea steeping right before you get in the tub. Try to last for 3-5 minutes. Have nothing to do for at least an hour afterward, but preferably an hour recovery, then bed time. Sit for an hour with towels around legs and sipping on tea. Then head to bed. Should feel quite good for 2-3 weeks, then that heavy leg feeling again, so do this every 4 weeks. Ladies can do it even more often, especially in warmer months as their physiology responds really well to cooling core temperature with this. Do it too often, though, and the effects become a little less dramatic, much like no longer getting scared at the scene in the horror movie that used to get you every time, but now you've become desensitized to it. So I recommend doing this no more than once/ week or two weeks. A cold shower is fine to do more frequently, but this level of cold we want to save for more rare occasions.
So there are some recovery ideas that I have seen evidence for and good results over the last 14 years as a physical therapist. Try some of these ideas in the next few weeks if you have been slacking on your recovery.