Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Let’s be honest. Chasing down the surge of post-run endorphins is addicting and taking a day off can feel like cruel punishment.
Did you know that planning recovery time is just as important as planning your work-outs? Though a day off can be hard to schedule for those addicted to running, allowing time for your body to rest is essential to achieve peak performance. According to Coach Joe Friel, author of 12 books on training and elite USAT certified coach, there are two types of recovery – active and passive. Passive recovery means no physical activity, while active recovery can entail a short, low intensity workout. Low intensity is key as Friel recommends only highly fit athletes utilize active recovery workouts, with the goal of keeping the heart rate in zone 1 to ensure the training remains easy.
Friel, who has coached athletes from novice to Olympic ability for the past 32 years, says, ” Taking a day off from exercise will allow an athlete’s body (and mind) to recover and grow stronger.” Since running is orthopedically stressful on a body, runners may include low impact cross training into an active recovery day, as long as effort is maintained at a low stress level. Friel suggests swimming and cycling as low stress activities to help maintain cardiovascular fitness without enduring the impact of running.
Though it is important to understand the difference between active and passive recovery, Friel says, “Sleep and nutrition should always be the first considerations when recovery is needed.” Athletes must work to get sufficient sleep and nutrients to refuel their bodies. Immediately following a workout, Friel suggests consuming a carbohydrate (aim for a starch) along with some protein. “Beyond this initial recovery period the most critical nutrional components are micronutrients–vitamins and minerals. In their order of micronutrient density, the best foods are vegetables, seafood and fruit,” says Friel.
All runners should experiment with various recovery sequences to find what works best for their bodies. We suggest using different combinations of active or passive recovery paired with adequate sleep and nutrition to find your perfect equation. The important thing is to remember recovery is fundamental for improved performance – so resist the temptation to skip it!
What are your favorite recovery techniques?
Joe Friel has trained endurance athletes since 1980. His clients are elite amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes, and duathletes. He is the author of 12 books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified Elite-level coach, and is a founder and past Chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission.