According to the article in the Sept issue of Health magazine, “After a killer workout, hitting the gym again is probably the last thing on your mind. But… doing light exercise two days after a tough session is as effective as a massage for relieving aches.”
We all know that the soreness we feel is due to the tiny muscle tears that occur when we stress muscles to build muscle strength. Some light exercise a day or two after an intense one will increase your blood flow, promote healing and enable the muscles to move more easily.
The article calls out these mini workouts “to combat achiness”:
- Take a Walk – a 20 minute stroll at moderate pace around the neighborhood or on a treadmill.
- Hit the Pool – Swimming a few easy laps will warm up the body and boost circulation. And best of all – it’s super low impact so won’t jar your joints.
- Work Out Your Core – Balance, or core focused moves, like single leg squats or side planks improve blood flow, up overall fitness and still give whining muscles a break.
And when all else fails, I hear a day at the spa is a scientifically proven cure-all!
Recently, a cycling friend of mine commented that they had to decide between cycling and another strength workout regime that they have been doing. The strength workout was preventing them from training for an important cycling race they wanted to do.
Why did they have to make this choice?
Because their strength workout was very hard, they were so sore that they couldn’t ride for several days. My immediate thoughts were that they are overdoing the strength workout. Doing very heavy weight lifting and extreme moves may be challenging and fun, but if it makes you unable to do anything for several days it is counterproductive. In an earlier post I talked about the benefits of overload and recovery, and the adaption that occurs to make you stronger. Too much overload without recovery is called overtraining, and leads to physiological maladaptions, performance degradation (being unable to ride, for example), and the overtraining syndrome.
The athlete with overtraining syndrome will not be able to rest enough to recover in a normal amount of time, will get burnout, stress and fatigue. They may have elevated heart rate at rest and even altered immune status making them susceptible to illness. The treatment for overtraining is rest, the longer the overtraining, the longer the rest required.
Once rested, workouts can resume on an alternate day basis, with less total volume than before. Increasing the volume and workout frequency must be done slowly with alternating workout and recovery days to allow normal adaptation to occur. Remember, you get stronger on the recovery days, not on the high-intensity days.
So what should my friend do? They should reduce the workout to a level that allows for easy (comfortable) recovery days and a slow progression of effort/volume. Many people want to get right to the target lifting weight, the target distance on a ride or run, or the target pace immediately. But that will result in overtraining, possibly injury, and ultimately lower performance. Small steps get you there, and patience is the key. Remember, if you can’t train, you can’t improve or meet your goals.
So what is a recovery day? A recovery day is a day where you allow your body to recover from the stress of a hard workout. This promotes the physiological adaptations that occur in your body following the workout overload (i.e. increased intensity and/or duration). The body responds to overloads by an adaptation called supercompensation which allows it to better handle the overload in the future. Training involves ever increasing overloads to stimulate this adaptation. But supercompensation won’t occur unless you have a rest period between hard efforts. Therefore, recovery days are critical to achieving peak performance.
Some would say that a recovery day is a “no workout” day, but when you are training for a long event such as a century ride or marathon, it can be hard to get the volume necessary for aerobic endurance if you take every other day completely off. I believe that you are better off taking your recovery days as “easy” days. Lower the effort, lower the stress, and aim for a ride, run or workout in the low-med intensity range. Some studies also suggest that getting your muscles moving and warmed up promotes circulation which removes the toxins, promotes healing and improves the recovery adaptation. Adding stretching and flexibility work into your recovery days is also a good option.
So a typical runner’s training week might look like:
- Sunday: Long run 1-1/2 to 2 times the daily distance.
- Monday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
- Tuesday: Interval workout ( could be track workout, at interval pace, 90% max HR)
- Wednesday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
- Thursday: Threshold work ( could be on the roads, 3 -5 threshold intervals at 80-85% max HR)
- Friday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
- Saturday: Day off or very light workout.
The above is a general training framework, but notice that you spend at least as many days at an easy pace as you do a hard pace, and not every hard day is at the same intensity. The distance and paces will vary by individual, fitness level and goal (upcoming race, or general fitness).
Ignoring the recovery process can easily lead to overtraining which will reduce performance in the long run either through injury or exhaustion. So remember: Stress – recover – stress -recover is the sequence.
Enjoy the process and good luck!