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Making Recovery A Part of Your Fitness Regime.

Have you ever participated in an athletic endurance event? If so, you’ve likely experienced the aches, pains, muscle and joint fatigue — and perhaps even mental exhaustion — that follows. Due to that, you’ve probably had to allow your body time to normalize before resuming your training regimen.

As an aging ultra runner who specializes in 200-plus-mile events, I know firsthand what it’s like to have to recover from endurance events, and how crucial it is to allow my body and mind recovery time. Over the years, I’ve come to realize (sometimes the hard way), that not only do I need to respect the recovery time after races, but I need to implement it within my scheduled training.

What is recovery?

According to the National Institute of Health, recovery from exercise refers to the time period between the end of a bout of exercise and the subsequent return to a resting or recovered state.

While reading that, did you notice that the definition doesn’t state that recovery must happen only after the extreme bouts of exercise, but simply following exercise?

Each time we exercise, our heart rate goes up; muscles engage to be able to withstand prolonged periods of movement and impact; blood vessels expand to allow more blood flow; lungs and heart work harder; and our bodies break down glucose to create lactic acid to generate enough energy to exercise. And while all of these things are critical adaptations our body makes, each requires a period of recovery to get back to a resting and normal state.

What forms of recovery are there?

There are many ways that our bodies recover. There’s active recovery, passive recovery, ways to recover through sleep, nutrition and many in between. Each is imperative and should be intentionally implemented regularly.

Here are some key aspects of recovery that I implement as an athlete and as a coach:

Sleep

Sleep is probably the most effective tool for recovery, and all you have to do is get enough of it. That’s easier said than done, I know.

There was a time in my life when I was lucky to get six hours of sleep each night while getting up before 4 a.m. to get my workout in before getting kids to school and starting work. This was taxing on my body, but I managed. As I increased my goals to become more competitive, I had to increase my level of training. I had to counteract this added stress on my body by increasing my volume of sleep to over eight hours. As I did that, I saw huge dividends of recovery and performance increases.

This was due to sleep helping to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol breaks down tissues in the body for energy, which is the opposite of what growth hormones do. Lowering cortisol levels lets growth hormones more effectively rebuild injured tissues. And of course, high-quality sleep that includes REM and deep sleep improves cognitive function, bolsters immune systems and supports overall mental health.

Muscle recovery

If you’ve seen me at the Fitstop in Heber, you know that I’m often found upstairs on the turf area using a foam roller or massage ball for a good 30 minutes before starting my workouts. I do this because I know that this extra bit of time will not only help loosen my muscles to increase muscle performance within my workouts but will also prepare the muscles to recover quicker after my workouts.

Whether you use things like foam rolling, compression boots, or get massages from a specialized therapist (my wife, Brittany, happens to be one of the best), doing these things will reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and break up knots that restrict motion. Regular muscle maintenance also increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, aiding in continual healing and repair.

Stress management

It’s no secret that life stressors impact our ability to recover. When we’re stressed, sleep, and time in general, is hard to come by. Exercise is often used as that stress relief, but if your active training isn’t balanced with stress management techniques like meditation or less intense exercise, your body and mind will miss out on much needed recovery.

While I have never participated in an organized meditation session, I feel that as a runner, we get into what we call “the flow” where our brains settle into a mediated state. This allows our bodies and minds to relax even in an active state of running.

Much like sleep, stress management techniques like meditation, yoga and “easier” workouts can reduce levels of cortisol, aiding in the recovery process.

Nutrition

Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of recovery that I’m continually fine tuning. In recent years, I’ve focused on selecting high quality types of protein in my daily nutrition regimen. Due to this, I’ve seen an increase in my performance and recovery. Conversely, by reducing and eliminating unhealthy carbs like sugar and gluten, I’ve increased my performance and recovery by reducing inflammation in the body.

Proper nutrition that’s taken strategically, helps repair the muscle fibers, refills glycogen storages, helps lubricate the joints and decrease inflammation.

In fact, research indicates that eating a balanced diet that includes healthy fats and proteins (farm fresh eggs, grass-fed beef, avocados), have beneficial increases in tissue, ligament and joint health. Additionally, timing the intake of healthy carbs like potatoes and rice around training has a positive impact on performance and recovery.

Methods to increase the rate of recovery

There are several innovative ways to increase the rate of recovery that are available.

Red light therapy uses photo biomodulation, which is a low-level laser therapy that delivers red and near-infrared light to areas of your body. This helps regenerate cells, restore cell function and trigger blood flow.

For the past year, I’ve been incorporating low light therapy at Valhalla Plus weekly in my training and recovery regimen. I have noticed an increase in sleep, mental focus and clarity within my daily activities and training sessions.

Cold plunge is an effective way to recover after running, but not directly after weightlifting, because extreme cold can limit some muscle gain. Cold plunges constrict blood vessels, which can decrease inflammation and muscle damage. If done 6-8 hours after weightlifting, cold plunges can be effective.

I’ve been cold plunging regularly for the past nine months at Valhalla and have experienced noticeable results in my recovery, including significant decrease in muscle soreness and reduced inflammation.

Saunas work to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow and can be used to repair damaged muscles. A cautionary note would be not to go to extremes on the duration and frequency of sauna sessions, so you don’t over stress your body. It is also important to make sure you are replenishing your lost electrolytes.

Active recovery, or as I like to call it, “motion is lotion,” is the cool-down after a hard workout or the evening dog walk to keep your body moving. It’s also the short run, walk or bike ride after a hard workout to get that lactic acid out of your legs.

After I or any one of my clients complete a challenging endurance event, it is extremely important to allow the body to recover before returning to their training for their next event or just returning to their base fitness routine. But one must not stop all together. Instead, it is important to keep moving. We call this active recovery.

As a coach to a variety of different athletes with a variety of different goals, recovery is a key component in my clients’ fitness regimen. Whether you’re preparing for an event or just looking to increase your overall health and fitness, make sure to prioritize recovery as much as the workouts, so you can increase your chances of remaining healthy and fit.

We’re in it for the long haul, so let’s take our time getting there.

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