In a perfect world, our body wouldn't need recovery time to repair muscle damage caused from running, right? We’d be able to run for days and hours on end, with legs that just go and go, and muscles that remain ever free from stiffness or soreness.
But boil it down and that's not really true, is it? Where’s the challenge in that? The ability to test and push your perceived physical and mental limitations through running, is what makes the sport so exciting! It’s this that motivates us to keep evolving our training and recovery methods, in order to achieve our goals and improve on previous performances.
With that in mind, if you’re interested in accelerating and enhancing the recovery process to improve your running performance, then read on! Here are a few innovative methods that may help…
Why we need rest and recovery after exercising
Fatigue is the number one factor limiting performance/endurance. Due to the physical stresses running inflicts on the body, it’s fundamental to take a period of rest after intense bouts of training, or a race, to allow the body to be restored to a state where it can train once more. Runners must learn how to strike the right balance between running and resting – in other words, how to maintain the right training load and increase this gradually, to improve fitness level and performance.
The recovery process should not only allow the muscles and connective tissues to repair but improve your level of fitness too.
Recovery goes beyond stretching exercises and a good night’s sleep. There are a multitude of innovative technologies and processes for recovery that are being increasingly adopted by runners to aid and enhance performance.
4 ways to enhance your recovery
1. Compression boots
The use of compression, especially compression clothing, has been proven to be beneficial in various fields. Health professionals have used compression garments within an anatomy and physiology context for many years, to aid and enhance post-operative recovery. In sports compression garments are worn before, during and after exercise, to enhance performance and recovery. They reduce muscle oscillation during a run (the vibrations that lead to the development of micro tears in the muscles) and improve blood flow – increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues and cells, whilst flushing out waste fluids and toxins.
But now, compression boots take the science of compression to the next level. These have become popular among professional and recreational athletes over the past few years, seeking the following benefits:
- To reduce muscle soreness
- Improve blood circulation
- Relieve muscle stiffness
- Speed up the clearance of lactic acid
- Increase mobility
I gave compression boots a first go a few weeks ago, and the benefits are real. My teammate and I had a home visit from Elite Recovery UK and session in the NormaTec Compression Boots. The boots are pleasant to wear (apart from making you look like the Michelin Man!) and feel like what I can only describe as swimming armbands for your legs. The boots are divided into several parts (feet/ankles, calves, quads and groin) that inflate in turn. The device features different modes and levels of compression to cater with everyone’s needs. The treatment can be performed on one muscle or the entire leg (or arm). The duration varies depending on the type of activity you are recovering from. 30 mins seems to be the average session duration.
During the session I could feel the warm sensation of my blood running through my veins in my lower body. And after the session they felt really light. I definitely advise to try it and do it regularly if you have the opportunity. It’s a great way to enhance the recovery process.
2. Cryotherapy (or cold therapy)
GB athlete Laura Muir is an advocate of cold therapy and regularly has a 10 minute ice bath after a session. Though, there’s no need to be a pro to reap the benefits of the cold therapy! Immersion in cold water is a popular recovery method and has been proven to help speed recovery and reduce muscle pain and soreness, after intense training sessions or competitions. This is a method that has been used for many years in athletics.
But more recently, we've seen a growth in cryotherapy centers and rise in applications of cryotherapy treatment for:
- Sports recovery
- Treatment of pathologies
- Wellbeing (anxiety, fatigue, sleep etc.)
In 2018, I took the opportunity (back in my hometown in France) to book a session at my local cryotherapy center. The experience was quite something! There I was standing in my boxers in a -90°C cabin, wearing thick gloves, a hat, a mask to protect my mouth and stuffed shoes. It’s a dry type of cold, so not as uncomfortable as expected. I was inside the cabin for 5-6 minutes, enough time to generate a thermal shock response in my body.
Inducing thermal shock is the goal of the treatment. The cold lowers the body temperature to below 12°, which is perceived by our body as an “external attack”, which it must fight against. The immune defences then kick in, and elicit an anti-inflammatory and anti-pain response. The body begins, among other things, to secrete cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Immediately after the session, I didn't feel any different and my muscles weren’t noticeably lighter or brighter. The effect is rather more subtle. Before the session, the medical assistant warned me of two possible effects after the treatment: sudden fatigue or an immediate adrenaline surge. I had the second – I felt super energised, as if I had drunk ten cups of coffee! The following day (after a very good night of sleep), I felt fresh and had a good quality session in the hills.
Whether cold water immersion or cryotherapy, cold therapy is a method that’s worth trying to see if it works for you.
3. Sports massages
More widely used (and accessible) than the two methods above, sports massages are a very effective post-training/race recovery method. The benefits stretch beyond the realm of sport, to overall health and wellbeing – with massage therapy serving as a great relaxation tool and stress reliever too.
So, be it for increased flexibilty and range of motion, or an increased sense of wellbeing, there’s many reasons why regular sports massages can benefit everybody!
Try not to wait until you have a serious injury (or severe muscle soreness) to book a sports massage. When used on a regular and ongoing basis, sports massage is one of the most effective ways to maintain and protect the body from aches, pains and injuries.
Regular use of foam rollers or massage balls is an effective (and inexpensive way) to ease muscle tightness and tension at home! Shop foam rollers and massage balls in our Injury Prevention & Recovery range.
4. Your diet
Diet: an obvious but important one! What you eat on a daily basis will have a direct impact on your training and performance, as well as your recovery. Food choices affect your mood, and your mood affects the quality of your workouts, so in making healthy food choices you give yourself the best possible chance of running success.
Immediately after a long run or hard session you have a 30-minute window where the body will absorb any nutrients you eat more rapidly, and start to repair damaged muscle fibres and top up your depleted energy (glycogen) stores. In order to keep your training on track and recovery on point, it’s advisable to eat or drink something within that 30 minute window that contains carbohydrate and protein. Ideally in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
For further guidance on running nutrtion and what to eat before, during and after a run, read our Guide for developing a running nutrition plan article.