Recovery is a much misunderstood and misapplied part of the training process. It's not the absence of activity, it's different activity. Do the right things and you could dramatically boost your recovery.
No matter where you read, you’re sure to find that you should make sure you get enough recovery time, "because it’s in your recovery time that you get better". Unfortunately “enough” is seldom defined and when it is, it’s defined either in terms of the author’s personal experience or what they’ve read in some or other literature.
In reality, “enough” recovery time varies from person to person and might well change either as you get older or if you change the emphasis of your sport (e.g. moving from being a middle-distance runner to being a marathoner).
I know of one athlete who needs a three-week taper in order to perform at her best. Give her less time and her performances wane. Then again, I know another who needs just 24 hours and performs really badly if he has more than 2 days.
Of course, these are outliers and knowing their recovery profiles is the result of a lot of trial and error on my part as their coach, not to mention a little bit of luck with the athlete who needs a long taper.
Therefore it’s important, yet again, that you recognise that you’re an experiment of one and that you have to approach your training with an inquisitiveness about every aspect. Do your best to stay away from the one-size-fits-all approach. It will work, but it’s unlikely to get you to the best you can be in your sport.
All of that being said, I wanted to give you a few thoughts to help you boost your recovery.
Consider recovery time to be regeneration time, not simply time off.
Take as active an interest in your recovery as you do in your training. Regeneration is an active process. There are a number of things you can do to help your body to repair itself, boost your recovery and come out fighting in your next training session or your next training block.
Add a little salt to your water and drink lots of it. The sad reality is that many of us are constantly dehydrated and this state means that our tissues don’t glide the way they’re meant to do, our muscles lack some of their elasticity, our liver and kidneys struggle to deal with toxins as effectively as they should. And the list goes on… [Time cost: 2 minutes a day?]
Do some mobility work for your key areas of restriction.
Most people have some sort of restriction around their shoulder girdle, thoracic spine and hip areas, so if you’re at a loss as to what to do, these are a good place to start.
You may have some other issues though.
Apply the principle of mindfulness that runs throughout this blog, identify your areas of restriction and attack those with as much zeal as you do your other training. [Time cost: 10 - 15 minutes a day; easily done while you watch television]
Get a massage or do some self-myofascial release work to improve your tissue quality.
Lots of the little niggles we get as athletes relate to tissues that get “stuck together” and don’t slide properly. Muscle fibres get misaligned and tight, with the result that those niggles become more serious injuries.
Massage or SMR with a lacrosse ball and foam roller is a great way to boost your recovery by getting these moving better. [Time cost: An hour a week if you get a massage, 10 minutes a day if you do SMR)
You need to get out there and move. This might be going for a walk, going surfing (my favourite), playing with the kids or anything else that stops you sitting on the sofa doing nothing, eating chips.
Humans are designed to move. Movement lubricates your joints, warms your muscles and helps your body to eliminate waste products.
The simplest thing to do is to go for a walk. Walking is very low intensity cardiovascular exercise, stimulates relaxed thought and helps to settle the sympathetic nervous system. These are all a big part of boosting your recovery.
Maintain your nutrition on “no training” days.
Many athletes find that this is the hardest part of a recovery day. Because it’s easy to get bored, it’s easy to find yourself stood in front of the fridge looking for something to eat in order to stop the boredom (newsflash: 10 minutes later you’ll be bored again and back in the fridge!).
Take some mental downtime.
Some people like to meditate, some go for a long walk by themselves, some simply sit on a surfboard, bobbing up and down, staring out to sea. Whatever it is that gets you away from pondering your training (and your work), go and do that for a while.
I hope this article gets you thinking about recovery as an active regeneration process, rather than simply the act of sitting on the sofa eating chips.