Recovery is key to improving performance. Adaptation to training stress does not occur during training sessions, but rather, in the rest and recovery that follows those sessions. If you do not rest, your body does not adapt, therefore you do not improve. The number one goal of recovery is to create a sustainable, specific & consistent training load over time. So what are the tools for recovery? Let’s make a list.
#1 Sleep. 7-8 hours a night should be a regular occurrence. All of us have those days where we have to get up extra early here and there, but chronic undersleeping will have a detrimental impact on your training and racing. If you are groggy all afternoon and lay awake in bed at night, unable to fall asleep, that’s a big sign that stress is too high. If this happens repeatedly, that is a red flag from your body that there needs to be significant change.
#2 Meditation. Most of us with full-time jobs are unable to crawl under our desks for a nap in the afternoon but taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to create silence and space in your brain can be as rejuvenating as a nap. I used to think that people that meditated were hippies that ate acorns and didn’t wear shoes but I’ve reluctantly found that even a few minutes of pause can help me reset.
#3 Fueling. Before, during AND after sessions. This is your job as an athlete, fueling properly is not merely a “good idea” but is part of the puzzle of creating a sustainable training load. By fueling properly, you are giving your body the tools it needs to repair and prepare for the next session.
#4 Respecting true easy. Part of the reason that I place so much focus on heart rate training as a coach is because it is one of the best tools we have to learn what true easy feels like. Going too hard on a recovery day will not allow you to go hard enough on a hard day. Removing the focus from pace/speed/distance on these active recovery sessions often helps athletes dial into true easy.
#5 Complete rest. A mistake I see often is that when athletes see a complete rest day on their schedules, they immediately fill up the day with a coffee date, a lunch date, a dinner date, a shopping date, a trip to Costco, an oil change, a “light hike,” etc. Allow your rest days to be as restful as possible so your body can absorb the hard training sessions you did in the days preceding. Sitting on your butt all day is just as important to training load as a hard workout!
#6 Body work: this includes heat, self massage, compression, recovery boots, etc. Self massage with a foam roller or SuperNova can be far better on a tight muscle than stretching. If you stretch a tight/knotted muscle, oftentimes you aren’t stretching the muscle at all but rather the tissue around the muscle. Use tools/spouse to roll/dig into muscles instead.
As you preview your training each week, take time to plan each day. What are the things you want to accomplish? What is important to you? We make time and space for the things that matter. If training is one of those things, then it needs to encompass all the aspects of it, not just the minutes spent sitting on the bike seat. And do it for you. Your miles, your hard work, your getting up early and spending less time on instagram and more time foam rolling, it’s not for your coach. It’s never for your coach, or your spouse, or your friends, or for anyone else other than YOU. You complete your training sessions for YOU, you work hard, you watch power and cadence and pace and speed and you get in the pool when it’s 4 degrees out because you have goals that you are chasing. And you do it because you’ve decided at some point along the way that you want to be better at this sport. It looks different to every athlete but the desire is the same: we want to be stronger, smarter, faster, healthier, and maybe only a teeny tiny bit of beating that jerk who brags in the pool all the time about his PRs. Become an active participant in your training, ask questions, be curious, recognize and acknowledge how your body reacts and changes and flows, learn about what you, as an individual, need to be consistent and successful. And respect the rest day!