Best Ways to Spend Recovery Days: It’s Time to Improve Your Training!
As an avid runner, the last thing I ever wanted to do was focus on recovery. I ran all day and then I’d head to track practice and run some more. The idea of staying inside would literally make my skin crawl to the point where I’d immediately grab my headphones and I’m out the door before you knew I was home. During college, I continued this lifestyle and I remember receiving a welcome packet from my strength and conditioning coach. In this packet, he had a detailed list of diet plans, workout routines, motivational quotes but on the last page printed bold face was RECOVERY DAYS. I skipped this page initially, but a couple of weeks into training our coach looked every one of us in the eyes and said, “Guys, I really hope you’ve read the entire training book, especially the last page. It’s the most important information to your success at this University.” Naturally I wanted to be as successful as possible, so after practice I ran to my dorm and read over the RECOVERY DAYS page. It was then I realized that recovery is such a crucial part of a successful training program. As I began to balance resting and running, I noticed gains in my leg strength as well as an increase in my overall endurance. I had discovered this lightness that was amazingly refreshing. In short, my rest days became my best days.
Now why is resting so important? Let’s think about it. Imagine your body as a cellphone and at the beginning of the training program, your battery is at 100% . After 5-6 weeks of running and working out, your battery is drained to basically 1% and there’s no way to improve when you’re that low. Your battery needs to be recharged. Recovery is even more essential when undertaking more intense workouts. Running activities like speed work, hills, tempo runs, track work, and spin classes will require even more recovery time as the body adjusts to the intense workout.
I really believe it’s the psychological aspect of not doing anything that freaks us out as a runner, but we must remember one golden rule that has stood the test of time: You get out what you put in. So when we’re running, we have to ensure that we are pushing our bodies to the point of complete exhaustion or “fail”. We have to make our bodies “beg” for recovery. Whether novice or advanced, if your running regime isn’t causing you to incorporate rest into the schedule after 6 weeks of training, then it may be time to increase the workload. Essentially, seeking quality workouts is extremely more beneficial to your body (not to mention reaching your goals) than running for quantity. I believe in this concept. because if you’re “emptying the tank” and giving all you’ve got in training workouts, then you’ll enjoy the times of rest even more. You’ll start to look forward to them because you know that your body needs it. And the sooner that you begin to enjoy your recovery and maximize rest days, the sooner you will notice the gains that can be achieved.
Now that we’ve discussed why recovery is so pertinent to our body and our goals, I’ve listed several activities that I like to partake in on my rest days
Everyone loves a great nap, right? All die-hard runners know that napping is one of the BEST ways to recharge the battery. I think the most effective way to manage napping into the schedule is to set time aside for a 25 to 40-minute power nap. (Try to stay away from anything over an hour.) We all know from personal experience that this sleep is the greatest and it’s extremely refreshing when you’ve had a long workout the day before. I would assume that over 90% of the running population doesn’t get enough sleep anyway, so naps are essential to energizing the body and mind. Regular sleep and power naps ensure that we get the rest which helps achieve the full benefits of our workouts.
Sometimes even though I know it’s my day off, I just need to move and get out of the house. I just get that “itch” to get out or it’s a nice sunny day and I’m out of the door. Walking is nice, especially if you live near a park or near a body of water. I personally enjoy walking on this wooded path not far from my house. Hearing the sounds of the wild and the calmness of the forest really helps me relax.
I also refer to these days as “internal maintenance” on my agenda for the week. Recovery days give us plenty of time to mull over our progress towards our goals in life. I feel this is key because I’ve had an experience in which I hit this sad mental wall. Some people refer to it as “burnout,” but I just didn’t feel the same urge to run. But then, I took the next couple of days off and my feelings to run reemerged almost instantly. I just didn’t realize back then that I needed those days off to recharge mentally as well as physically. I was under the impression that I’m the Energizer Bunny and thought I could just go on forever. I used to think taking a break was weak, but now, I look forward to my rest days. I know that rest and reflection are extremely crucial to my growth.
Lastly, my favorite recovery activity is yoga. I remember the first time I tried this and let me just say, I needed a little motivation to keep going. In my opinion, yoga is the most valuable way to spend a rest day. It’s wonderful for the body, because it requires stretching and lengthening all your muscles which helps soothes muscles after they have been repeatedly tightened due to running. The reason I’m so in love with yoga is the aspect of clearing the mind and just focusing on breathing. It took me awhile to grasp this concept, but after truly becoming committed to yoga, I’ve noticed a much more balanced feel within my mind and body.
This is just a short list of the things that can be done on recovery days. Whether you decide to walk or take a nap, always remember that rest days play a huge role in refreshing and refocusing your mind and body. Accept that recovery is a part of growth! It is my hope that you run farther with more enthusiasm all year long.