Whether looking at improving our PBs and race results or simply to reach fitness goals, we runners tend to use a simple equation of "more running = more fitness/better performance". However, whilst holding some truth (you’ve all been proverbially beaten over the head with manageably increasing training and introducing variety to a programme), what is often forgotten is what happens once the watch is stopped and you’ve finished the run.
Good recovery practices could add more to your training programme than simply bolting on an extra run will and, in short, can considerably boost the effectiveness of your training.
In the short term, effective recovery will increase the chance of feeling good, leading to a better session the next time you head out of the door. Meanwhile, the long-term payoff is a reduction in the risk of running-related injury and adapting your body to manage an increase in training load down the line.
But don’t be fooled. "Recovery", much as it sounds it, and we wish it did, doesn’t boil down to putting your feet up with a cuppa and a mountain of pasta (well, at least not immediately). Sometimes, just an additional 10-20 minutes of effort post-run is all it takes to kick your body into recovery mode.
Here are Trail Running’s essential areas to consider if you want to supplement your running regime...
Massage and rolling
What: The principles here are the same: to target specific areas of tightness with the aim of working-out knots and promoting blood-flow for healing. The major difference between a sports massage and foam rolling is how this effect is achieved.
How and when: For a massage, all you need to do is find your local physio/sports massage clinic, obviously. Be sure that you are seeing a registered practitioner and opt for a sports masseuse who will understand exercise-related injury. Foam rolling can encompass many exercises. Basic techniques include rolling over the muscle and stopping on a tight spot; take 10 deep breaths whilst the knot begins to relax, before rolling gently back and forth and side to side on the point to further release the tight spots.
Why: Both therapies have shown to be of aid in a number of ways. Like compression, an increase in bloodflow to target muscles will aid in removing waste products that might otherwise cause tightness and/or DOMS. Further, muscle adhesions (such as scar tissue) can be reduced, which in turn aids in flexibility both in the short and long term. Whether or not you choose to use a foam roller or a therapist is up to you. A therapist will be able to offer more acute treatments, particularly for injuries, whilst a foam roller will provide bang-for-your-buck value and doesn’t require you to make an appointment!
**Shopping list:**Meglio Grid Foam Roller. £9.99, mymeglio.com
What: An ice bath is exactly what its name suggests, and is every bit as frosty as you might expect!
How: Fill your bath with cold water – enough to submerge your legs when you sit down. Psyche yourself up, lower yourself in and sit (remember, getting in is the worst part!). Seven to 10 minutes is enough. Don’t forget to wear shorts and a layer on your body to make it bearable.
Alternatively, purpose-built ice baths can be found at some physio clinics and cryotherapy centres. They circulate water to prevent your body from warming the water around you! As for toughing it out, think of the benefits and try having some music to pump you up and distract you.
When: Hop in after a long run or a session to offset some of the general soreness. Ice baths can also be used to aid injury recovery and to alleviate pain.
Why: The science says that when exposed to cold water, blood vessels will constrict, meaning a reduction in bloodflow, lowering of muscular metabolic rate and thus prevention of swelling. As you get out, make sure to dry off and warm up with some long pants to help the body reignite bloodflow to the constricted vessels and process waste toxins.
Epsom Salt baths
What: A more pleasant and relaxing alternative to an ice bath! A warm bath with Epsom (Magnesium Sulfate) mineral salt dissolved in the water.
How and when: Dissolve a few handfuls of Epsom Salt in a warm bath. Get in, breathe in, relax... 10-15 minutes is all you need. Have a water bottle at hand as you might sweat if the water is toasty, and there is some suggestion that the minerals in the water may dehydrate you slightly. Can be used after sessions, particularly when it's chilly out, or just as a relaxing bath at the end of a long day.
Why: Magnesium found in Epsom Salt is said to help the body use glucose to process waste in the muscles. It also is purported to reduce swelling, much like ice therapies. If nothing else, the warm water relaxes your body and mind, whilst lots of varieties of Epsom Salt smell great, which can have a more significant therapeutic benefit than the science suggests.
Shopping List: Westlab Pure Mineral Bathing Epsom Salt (1kg). £4.99, boots.com
What: Easy aerobic exercise (i.e. a jog) performed after your main effort. A lot of people will use the term to encompass the post-sesh jog plus any stretching, rolling or extras, but here we’ll refer to just the jogging part. Don’t fancy more running? You could hop on the bike for an easy spin or even do a couple of lengths in the pool. However, don’t go doing anything you’re not used to since you’ll be working muscle groups that your body isn’t used to using and negating much of the benefit.
How and when: 5-15 minutes of jogging at a very light intensity after a hard run or intervals, perhaps even slowing down between the start and the end. This effort is not meant to be making you more tired (although sometimes, after a hard effort it may seem taxing or an imposition!). It’s best performed after moderate to hard efforts, and particularly after an interval session.
Why: Cooling down – or "warming down" to some – affords the body a period to transition from intense exercise to its recovery state. Slow jogging will gradually reduce your heart rate, preventing blood from pooling, and allowing the blood to flush toxins by providing muscles with oxygen. On top of its physiological benefits, warming down has been cited as aiding the mind, too. Focussing on relaxing, feeling "good" (inverted commas here need no explanation) and running with good form, despite a lighter pace, will teach these cues for when the going gets tough. Plus, adding a 10-minute cool down jog will add more time on your feet without being too taxing.
What: Compression clothing is tight fitting gear (for runners, that usually means tights and knee-length socks) that supports the muscles and aims to increase bloodflow to targeted muscle groups.
How and when: Simply pull on your gear! Be aware that some gear is designed specifically for use as a recovery garment, whilst some will also be designed to be worn during exercise.
Why: Matt Davey, brand manager at leading compression firm CEP, says: “The ‘squeeze’ you feel when wearing compression gear counteracts blood pooling, particularly in the extremities of the legs and feet. This aids the body’s natural circulation in removing waste products by returning blood to the heart so that fresh, re-oxygenated blood is transported back to where it is required.”
Graduated compression, such as that found in CEP products, provides a strong squeeze at the ankle that gradually reduces towards the knee, further encouraging circulation, rather than being restrictive and uncomfortable.
CEP also advocate compression for reducing all kinds of muscular ailments including cramps, post-run soreness, and the likelihood of strains.
Shopping List: CEP Run Compression Socks 3.0, £45; CEP Socks For Recovery, £34.99. cepsports.co.uk