Taking time out from training doesn’t necessarily diminish fitness gains. If done right, it can actually improve them

By Martin Camara, D.C. | Photos by dylan nolte and Matheus Ferrero/Unsplash 

The principles of rest and recovery apply to all sports, whether it be running, biking, or swimming. Simply put, it is during periods of rest that our body releases hormonal and genetic switches that allow us to adapt and better prepare for our next workout. Therefore, the goal of our training program is to maximize recovery. This requires an attentive and strategic approach to achieving fitness gains over time. In other words, we train to recover and not the other way around. 

One important caveat: Rest and recovery only lead to adaptations if they are preceded by training stress. The greater the stress, the greater the need for recovery. This leads to a more pronounced adaptation, which ultimately results in greater fitness gains. Hard training, such as working out to the limit of our body’s capacity, creates the need for recovery that leads to the adaptation. This is what is termed as a recovery-based training program.

The goal of our training program is to maximize recovery. This requires an attentive and strategic approach to achieving fitness gains over time. In other words, we train to recover and not the other way around

The principles of recovery apply to all athletic pursuits, be it recovering from a 10 kilometer run or a marathon, a long ride versus a short one. What is important to note is that hard training stresses the body. For example, a new runner who comes within inches of fitness capacity for speed or distance during a 10 kilometer run will recover and adapt optimally. The same workout may not stress a seasoned marathoner in the same way, thus resulting in less or no adaptations. So how do you recover from training? Here’s a quick guide: 

Active Recovery

This consists of relatively easy workouts of either running, biking, or swimming that do not stress the body from the previous hard training. This trains the body to recover quickly by introducing a short and easy workout during a pre-fatigued state. This significantly leads to increased fitness when combined with hard training. Some triathletes will use the strategy of training for one sport while recovering from another. For example, after running a full marathon, you could incorporate a three- to five-kilometer low heart rate run or a short seven- to 10-kilometer bike ride at a very easy pace. 

Foam Rollers

Five to seven minutes of foam rollers after hard training have been shown to reduce muscle soreness while improving mobility and/or available range of movement. It’s an effective self-help technique employed by pros and amateurs alike.

Rock Tape

This innovative kinesiology tape not only looks cool, it’s also pretty effective. The tape has shown to increase circulation and decompress muscles and fascia directly underneath, creating better circulation, more effective muscle contraction, and enhanced recovery. Each roll comes with instructions on how to apply it to the skin, making it usable for self-care. I like to place mine on before a hard workout and leave it on for a day or two after for recovery. 

Myotherapy and Sports Massages

When able, having a professional therapist expertly release tight and injured muscles dramatically reduces soreness and keeps us training hard. Remember, the harder the training, the greater the adaptations. 

Cryotherapy (Ice Baths)

Although whole-body cryotherapy is hard to achieve at home, dipping in a small inflatable pool or bathtub filled with ice cubes can help reduce feelings of muscle fatigue and soreness. 

Stretching and Mobility Work

After long and hard workouts, we shorten our muscles repetitively. Lengthening them has been shown to reduce soreness and keep them longer and stronger. While most stretches can be done at home, seeing an expert stretch therapist can really isolate muscles and release tightened ones in places you didn’t know existed.

Chiropractic Alignment

Adjustments performed by a spinal expert can help reduce soreness and prevent injuries to our joints. Our muscles adapt much faster than our tendons, ligaments, and joints. Stress or micro-injury in these structures shortens our movement and makes us less able to train hard. These adjustments ensure a full, unrestricted, pain-free range of movement in our ankles, knees, hips, and spine, which are all critical in multisport. The concept is similar to aligning the tires of your car to ensure even wear and tear over time and distance.

Post-training Nutrition

The body, in every sport—and every activity, for that matter—is reliant on glycogen for energy. We can replenish glycogen by consuming at least 60 to 100 grams of carbohydrates within 15 minutes after our workout. The process of replenishment becomes less and less efficient with time, so the sooner we replace our stores after the workout, the faster we will recover and the better we will be able to train more effectively. Sample meals are two slices of toast bread with two tablespoons of jam or peanut butter, or two bananas.