BASE Performance - The Art of Recovery BASE Performance - The Art of Recovery

The Art of Recovery

It’s that time of year again. Spring is happening everywhere. And with spring comes better weather and the itch to get outside to ride or run long miles. It’s also race season. Time to plan your race and race your plan. A lot of people think going hard and training 7 days a week is a sure fire way to success. But that really isn’t the case. What is the least thought of aspect of training? You might be surprised (or not) to find that it is recovery.

Recovery is a cornerstone to any good training plan. Without it, athletes would just run their bodies to the ground. Injuries would be rampant. Focus would be lost. Motivation would be lacking. It might seem counterproductive to the beginner athlete, but proper recovery will actually improve your race times and get you to that goal. Let’s break down what recovery means and what happens during that time.

To begin with, recovery is not the same for every athlete. Someone training for a 5K will have a shorter recovery times than someone training for an Ironman. Every training session an athlete has results in the breaking down of muscle fibers. It is during recovery that these small muscle tears repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger. In addition, there are various types of recovery. Active
recovery could be a 15-20 minute walk in the afternoon after your long run on Sunday morning. Long term recovery is built into your workout plan. For example, you might do a build for 4 weeks during
Ironman training but then do a recovery week where your training load is significantly less. Passive recovery are days where you literally do nothing except maybe take a nap on the couch while golf is playing in the background.

Keep in mind that recovery is not just about sleeping. An example: you go for a tempo run for about 3-4 miles. You feel good, had a great workout. At the end of the workout, you should take some time to
stretch and ease your body into the “rest and digest” mode or your parasympathetic systems. Doing some long, easy stretches and
possibly lying in shivasana (or corpse pose, literally the best yoga pose ever) for 5 minutes will give your body the cues it needs to start to calm down.

An often overlooked aspect of recovery are your nutritional needs. Keep in mind that when you increase your training load, your nutritional needs also increase. Consuming the right foods after workouts helps speed the recovery process. Downing a dozen cookies and a glass of milk might seem like a good idea if you feel you are crashing after a long run or ride, but there are better options. Maybe step away from the Chips Ahoy and try some greek yogurt with granola and berries or
throw on some chocolate chips for that cookie fix. Or use some BASE greens and make yourself a smoothie!

It is also imperative that you listen to your body. Not the “oh I don’t feel like running today” voice in your head that will derail you from your goals. Watch for signs of over training and needing an actual rest day. Some of the those sign are: feelings of fatigue beyond normal tiredness, lack of motivation or desire for your chosen sport, decrease in performance, elevated heart rate during the night, general aches and pains. When these symptoms hit, it’s time to take a rest day.

Remember that rest makes you stronger. It will help you maximize your fitness and athletic goals. It rejuvenates your cardiovascular and muscular systems to take on more load. It also prevents burnout. So take that nap. Try implementing a yin yoga class into your training weeks. Or maybe even take a leisurely bike ride with your kids or spouse. Your body, and your training, will thank you.


Train, overload, RECOVER, repeat

When we repeat the above cycle consistently we see amazing things. We see people go from couch potato to Ironman, from a 25min 5k to an 19.59min 5k, from a 6hr 100mile bike to a 5hr 100mile ride and even a 9hr Ironman to a 8:55 Ironman. Gains in fitness at all levels are made by following this formula.

Each of the components are important. Training without overloading will lead to a plateau, overload without recovery will lead to overtraining syndromes (this is BAD, read more here,) and failing to repeat the cycle will have your fitness slide backwards. When you get it right you can expect to see a step up in fitness revealed once the fatigue created by your period of overload is reduced with a recovery period. The balance can be tough though, how much stress can you put your body through before you should recover?

Overloading is achieved by progressively increasing our training load. For a period of time, the stress and demands on our mind and body are beneficial, but eventually this fatigue becomes counterproductive. We are all different and as we get fitter we can tolerate higher training loads, but training is of course not the only element putting stress on your mind and body. A period of tough training previously tolerated can be more stressful if you have more than the usual amount of stuff going on. (Stuff is my technical term for work, life, kids, natural disasters, lack of sleep etc.) It can be difficult to know when to pull back and recover with all these variables, but you can listen to your body, there are some key signs to look for.

  • Fatigue not relieved by sleep
  • Poor sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of motivation
  • Poor performances
  • Muscle soreness and fatigue

Certainly there are more concrete physiological markers that can be assessed and these signs above are subjective, but they are also indicative of some undesirable changes in hormone, neurotransmitter and other biochemical levels that keep us functioning, so paying attention to these signs is wise. What I will say is that if you are feeling several of these signs coupled with a period of tough training then it is time for a break. Let your body reset, firm up the foundations before you attempt to build anything more on top. 

Take a day or two off and during that time allow yourself to decompress, take care of the other important things. Clean your bike, lube your chain, go shopping for a new pair of running shoes, read some good training articles, stretch and roll etc, watch you tube videos on swim technique, read about new nutrition products. So many things go into having a great race performance, use your recovery days to pay attention to all the other stuff while your body is knitting itself back together.

About the Author

Kelly is an IRONMAN Certified coach and brings her experience as an elite coached athlete, her race experience and her formal education in health and nutrition to the Base Performance Coaching and Wellness program.

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