The Art of Recovery: Part 1


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  30 comments   :  30,953 Views

For many runners recovery is an often overlooked phase in their training. The "if some is good, therefore, more must be better" approach to training makes them believe the more they run or workout the better their performance will be or the faster the results will come. But unfortunately for many us that is not quite the case. In fact if you find yourself in a slump when it comes to your training runs or your race performance is being hindered, it may not be your lack of training that is leading you down this path, but your lack of rest and recovery that is putting you in that downward spiral.

Recovery is often percieved as something outside our training program. For many of us who spent a lifetime sitting on the couch there is something about going out for a nice run or hitting the gym for an hour to two every day. Being active makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we are in control. After all exercise is good for our bodies and our mental well-being, but what we may not appreciate is that rest and recovery are equally important in our journey to becoming fit and healthy.

While recovery times vary depending on age, current level of fitness, history of physical activity, intensity, frequency and duration of the workouts, stress in our lives, sleep, even our own physiology, when we do not allow for proper recovery between runs or workouts this can lead to a greater incidence of injury, illness, sleep disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, as well as moodiness and prolonged fatigue. And as I mentioned earlier, we may even begin to find our passion for running or working out in general waning.  

But how do you go about finding balance without feeling as though you are taking some giant steps backwards in your training?

Firstly, we must understand the Principle of Specificity. Basically this principle states that in order to adapt to a particular sport or activity one must practice in training that sport or activity. In simple terms it  means that in order to be a runner, one must run. While one will achieve some cardio-respiratory benefits doing other types of workouts, a runner still must run to improve his/her running skills.

A very simple equation for helping us to understand adaptation is:

Stress (or Stimulus) + Rest = Adaptation

If you take away any factors of the equation, your body will fight to make the adaptation to the activity. However, just like one can do too little activity and experience issues, same is true when we do too much. It's about creating balance.

And what many of us fail to understand is that mental stress in our daily lives can be just as draining on our bodies as the exercise that we do. When we undergo mental stress, as well as physical stress, our bodies respond by increasing the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol is an important hormone in our daily lives as a response to stress, when our levels are chronically elevated this can lead to health issues down the road.  Once again this is about seeking balance.

One of the most difficult aspects in working with runners is making them aware that the symptoms they are experiencing could be caused by overtraining. Because we don't always recognize the symptoms, especially if we see our progress slowing, we do what we feel we must do and that is push our bodies even harder, whether that means increasing the duration, intensity and frequency of our runs or workouts.

As mentioned earlier, in order to improve as a runner we must push our bodies a little more than we are comfortable at running, however, we cannot forget the second part of the equation and that is rest. Because there is not a clinical test to diagnose overtraining syndrome when we, or better yet, when others around us begin to notice the advent of symptoms, such as moodiness, mild depression, poor sleep, lack of appetite and prolonged fatigue, this is the time to pull back, get some rest and allow your body to adapt.

Have you ever experienced any symptoms of overtraining? If so, what were some of the symptoms you experienced?

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    Thanks for the article. After feeling burned out after exercise, I decided to do a restorative yoga DVD everyday and to do my workout every other day. The restorative yoga promotes deep relaxation. It forces me to rest. I make an appointment with myself to do the DVD each day. This way, I can rest after my workout and also on my day off. What a difference it has made. I feel so much more rested and energized and my workout is more enjoyable. I hadn't even realized that my workout had become humdrum until after I started resting more.
    - 3/2/2012   10:44:48 PM
  • 29
    Well, my running days are over even before they really started. Recently, I tripped down a step and ended up with knee surgery. They also told me after looking at my scans that I had a "significant" amount of arthritis. I remember trying to run during my younger days. It was always "all or nothing" for me. I never figured in the rest part of the equation. Consequently, I spent more time injured or too discouraged to work out than engaging in training.

    Yesterday I walked the dog down to the end of the block and back. That's about all I can do now. I'm looking at incorporating swimming into my life. That'll give me a good workout without further damaging my knees. And yes, I've learned my lesson. Rest will be a part of the routine. - 11/25/2011   1:03:41 AM
  • 28
    I have been going and going and going and suddenly I dropped. I don't know if I picked something up at the gym, from my husband after he got the flu shot and visited his family or it all caught up to me. I jogged/walked 3.57 miles at the gym on a Wednesday and felt great but then that night I zonked out at 8:30pm and woke the next morning with a hoarse voice and weird mucus producing cough.

    I've been out a week now. Very tired!!

    I walked mostly a 5K with my 7 yr old on that following Saturday and have done nothing since. I usually do at least 60 minutes every weekday! I'm dying for my exercise..... :P

    rumbamel - 10/25/2011   7:35:44 PM
  • 27
    Thank you for the very important reminders! - 10/25/2011   4:32:43 PM
  • 26
    Shin splints. - 10/25/2011   3:50:12 PM
  • 25
    I am currently experiencing over training, I think. I was sedentary, and i| have started following a fitness program. But it is tricky to find the right balance. - 10/25/2011   3:32:05 PM
  • 24
    I have always had trouble with burnout in the past. Fatigue, aches and pains would hit me so hard. Dealing with that has made a huge difference in my ability to exercise consistently. Lately I realized that after strength training I need two days of rest instead of the one that is generally recommended. I'm getting a lot more out of my workouts since I am fresh and ready to tackle them better. - 10/25/2011   10:13:39 AM
  • 23
    I always try to get 2 rest days a week in I'm beginning to think less is more in some cases - 10/25/2011   7:37:08 AM
    Great post. People think that the harder you push the better your gain; obviously fueled by popular tv shows. But recovery must be proportional to exertion or its a negative result that you'll cultivate. I've experienced both myself. - 10/24/2011   1:41:45 PM
  • KATEM200
    I too have been thinking about what amount of recovery is needed in certain situations. I can feel a twinge in a certain muscle that doesn't feel any worse when I run vs normal daily activity, but would taking a few extra days off of running give it time to get better since I can't really reduce the stress I put on it through daily life? I agree that some more practical tips would have been appreciated. - 10/22/2011   7:41:55 AM
  • 20
    I have been running on and off for the past few years;as I see my progress coming back to what I used to run, rest between running days is essential and saves your joints. Cross-training with another cardio exercise like spinning/ cycling/ just walk helps your cardio. Resting and stretching benefits your body. I own a spinning dvd and the trainer states "you have to slow down for you to go fast". It's true. The body is well rested to go fast on the next run. Try it. - 10/20/2011   11:38:15 AM
  • 19
    I wish this article made recommendations on how much rest runners should get. I am a beginner, so I'm running every other day, but at some point would like to start running more often. Suggestions would have been nice. - 10/19/2011   6:22:19 PM
  • 18
    I just took one week off from running as well strength training. I am new to running and I am going to start training for a half marathon or two, I have not decided yet, but I knew my body needed a rest.
    Great article and I look forward to reading part 2. - 10/19/2011   6:11:42 PM
  • 17
    Great article...very good wisdom in this. I am a runner and have seen a slight decrease in my overall performance as of late. I run 3 days and rest 1 day and repeat this pattern. I might consider running 2 days, CrossFit 1 day, rest. Thanks again! - 10/19/2011   10:07:41 AM
    I also think that you may not necessarily "over-train", but stay at the same pace all the time and not be able to improve because you never take a day off or good rest. - 10/19/2011   9:54:56 AM
  • 15
    This is such a great blog Coach Nancy! I have been running for about two years now (which in my mind still makes me a newbie) and the two biggest things I have had a hard time grasping is (1) it is important to not run too much and (2) unless you are doing a specific speed workout, you are ultimately better off running slowly. I still struggle with both and it usually shows up as over-training right before or after whatever big race I have been targeting. The symptoms show up in the form of lower back pain and general tiredness. My wife might also add irritability/moodiness but what the #*&# does that @!&$ know!! :-) - 10/19/2011   9:42:32 AM
  • 14
    Plantar Fasciitis result of too much! - 10/19/2011   8:41:51 AM
  • 13
    I rarely take a day off and do worry about overtraining. I'm not injured but wonder if I'm hindering my benefits & performance. I can see my end results (calorie burn, steps) are lower & I think it might be from this issue. I also know when I take a day off, the next workout is usually much better, more energy, etc. But even seeing this, I still find it tough to take a day off, if I can fit it in. I guess it's not just the health & wt benefits, but that it makes me feel so good and proud, starts my day out happy and energized! - 10/19/2011   7:09:09 AM
  • 12
    I only take rest days infrequently, maybe 10 days total ALL YEAR. I have been doing this for a couple of years now and haven't experienced overtraining.

    - 10/19/2011   5:59:29 AM
    This was a great blog! I tend to get too excited about new things and I was simply running too much, then going to gym classes too much. Then I wondered why I'm not getting any stronger or fitter. Now I rest more and I can run longer and I sleep better. - 10/19/2011   4:43:02 AM
  • 10
    I over trained earlier this summer and I got burned out and a little depressed. I had some back musle pains and heel pain. - 10/18/2011   8:24:02 PM
  • 9
    Good blog!
    When I first started commuting to work on my bicycle, I felt exhausted at the end of each day, and I could really feel it in my muscles. I was okay as long as I didn't bike more than two consecutive days without a rest. The first time I rode on three consecutive days, I felt weepy. I think it was due to over-exercising because it happened the second time too.

    I don't remember exactly how long it took, but over the course of the summer I eventually went from riding 2-3 days a week to riding 4 and now 5 days a week easily.

    Until a couple of weeks ago, I refrained from biking on weekends so I would be fresh for my weekday commute. Now, 5 months into my new adventure, riding 5 days a week seems like no big deal. It seems so easy that I ride mostly in the higher gears to keep building muscle strength.

    On weekends I focus mostly on weight-bearing exercises to help maintain my bone mass. Sometimes I do a little riding, but at a low level of intensity.

    The speed with which I can complete my ride home (mostly uphill) has gone from 1:20 down to 55 minutes. That was today's ride, and it was a new record.

    Over the next few months, I may end up in the gym more often than not because of the weather. Come spring, I may lengthen my ride a bit if my time keeps improving. Right now, if I rode in a lower gear, I could probably keep up with some of the faster riders on the trail. Whatever I decide to do, I will listen to my body. - 10/18/2011   7:37:26 PM
  • 8
    Wow! Nancy, I was just about to write a blog about my moody, sad, lazy self when I saw your blog.
    This is me!
    I am 40 days from my first 10km race, nervous and excited.
    A few weeks ago I visited the place I am doing the run (Up to a waterfall then down the river!)...since then I have been tired,moody and this week i skipped my training because I had a cold. I feel so guilty, guess I could just get my runners on, grab my eager dog & go! - 10/18/2011   7:36:57 PM
  • MAGGIE101857
    A good reminder to listen to your body! I would like to run more often, but my legs often tell me they are "too tired", so I have to foce myself to "just walk"! Hopefully it will pay off in the long "run!" - 10/18/2011   5:26:09 PM
    As a young teenager I suffered from backaches as a result of frequent classical ballet and gymnastics trainings. A physiotherapist taught me exercises to relieve my back after a busy day of training. Really helped! - 10/18/2011   2:52:31 PM

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