Tuesday, January 15, 2013

RECOVERY: Complete Rest Vs Active Recovery

Timing is everything in training........  Which probably also explains why I'm writing about this now that I've decided I better pull back a little in training since the latest 93km Ultra 1.5 weeks ago.  Maybe, just maybe I'll take some of my own advice.

There's always a lot of questions and answers about how to train, how to run, techniques, pacing etc, but rarely do people talk technically "How to Rest".  Isn't rest the easy bit?  Not neccessarilly.....  In fact, getting your rest strategy right is just as, if not more important than the running training.  Without proper rest and recovery, the muscles can not repair/rebuild and therefore your training efforts are diminished.  What's the point of working hard and stressing the body if it becomes weaker due to not being able rebuild?

There's 2 main/common types of recovery often argued over to which is better: Total rest & recovery, OR Active recovery.  So which is better?  This depends on who you ask.  Some swear by a certain one and won't budge on it as though they are defending their favourite sports team.  Personally, I think there's a time and place for both depending on where you're sitting in terms of your training & event schedule.

Total Rest/Recovery:  As the name suggests, this means a 100% stop on physical activity.  Rest...... No running, no swimming, cycling etc..... Rest!  This is especially useful in my opinion in 2 common scenarios;
  1. You've become injured
  2. You've just completed a large event which pushed you to the limit, and had extensive lead up training prior to the event; AND have no major events coming up in the next 3 months.
Should you injure yourself, the worst thing you can do is to continue pushing yourself through your training and ignoring the problem.  This will massively delay your recovery, and/or make the problem worse.  Consult professionals and drop the training!

In the case of finishing a major event that took a lot out of you and you have no major events coming, use this time to your body's advantage and rest!  Soft tissue needs a break, even if your mind can handle more.  The human body is a complex and mysterious biological machine; but just like a mechanical machine, they need their breaks and servicing.  Better that you choose when your outage time is when it suits you, than have it forced upon you by breaking down in an inconvenient time; such as 3 weeks before a race..............

Active Recovery:  Fairly obvious here. Often referred to as cross training, this entails recovering from an event or intense training by keeping active but either dropping the intesity and workloads, AND/OR changing up the activity type.  eg, cycling, swimming, walking etc.  Active recovery is a good way to assist in the breakup and removal of lactic acid build up in the days following a tough session/event.  By removing the lactic acid, this in turn reduces muscle soreness and tightness.  A good amount of active stretching is vital before and after any sessions through this period.  Static stretches are not as effective in the breakup of lactic acid and therefore not as effective here.  Leave static stretches for flexibility training and exercises.

The active recovery option is good for:
  1. Recovering from a major event where you've pulled up sore but not injured
  2. Recovering from a major event and you have another event/race coming up in the next 3 months.
  3. Recovering from an event, have no major events coming up soon but wish to use the near future to begin increasing your base mileage.
  4. Adding in to your training programme.  I tend to use a 1 in 4 week strategy.  For example, I'll build up my mileage and intesity for 3 weeks, then on the 4th drop back but keep active.  This helps the body build on what you've worked on, then be in a better position to keep building on your next 3 weeks.  Minimal recovery = minimal gains.
In the lead up to the Heysen 105km Ultra in October last year, I had a 56km Ultra 4 weeks earlier.  Whilst this acted as a final training run as such for the 105km, some may have thought to completely rest up following such an event.  Coming out of the 56km injury free, had I decided to completely 100% rest, this would've affected my final taper training coming into the 105km.  In this case I decided 'Active Recovery' was required here.  On the flip side, had I noticed any injury or strain following the 56km event, I'd have considered Total Rest a more viable option for a given period relative to the injury.

On the flipside, an example of where I personally got it wrong was shortly after all of this, following the Heysen 105km Ultra.  Either being over confident, naive, or a little cocky; pulling up injury free and in sorts quite good the following day, I decided I was OK to keep going with my training.  So much so that I decided to make a late entry into a tough 15km event called the Blackhill Challenge.  "What's 15km?"  Silly boy.............  Yes, I did feel good through that week following the Heysen105.  Yes I was completely injury free.  Yes, I felt good on training runs the week following (keeping in mind I only did short to mid length runs on the flat; no hills).  So that Friday I signed up for the 15km hills event.  There's some fairly decent climbs in that 15km's let me tell you.  I started out OK running across a grassy oval, 500m later we hit the first incline. WHOA!!!!, nothing in the legs.......  What's happened here?  I couldn't climb a hill for the life of me.  Whilst not sore, my legs were still dead.  They clearly had not recovered to where I thought they had.  Second to that, my downhills were smashing my knees as I couldn't hold proper form.  I normally take pride in being a strong downhill runner, and while I still ran these at a good pace, it cost me big time on my knees.  Long story short, I shouldn't have ran that race.  My body was not ready for it.  It was not a vital event and was not on my calendar until a couple of days prior.  Therefore in this instance I should've opted for the Total Rest plan for at least 2 weeks and then slowly build back into a base.  When you consider that the Heysen105 was the final event for the 2012 calendar, it was a silly decision to enter the 15km.  Why? What did it cost me?  My recovery time was delayed by almost a month due to the stress I put on the legs and joints during the 15km.  I actually felt worse in the 2 weeks following the 15km than I did the week following the 105km.

Looking at my training results and general 'how do I feel' feedback, it took me at least 4-6 weeks to recover from what would've taken 2 weeks had I chosen the correct option for recovery.  Not to mention the risk I put myself in towards injury.  Again I came out injury free, but I think that was pure luck, not ability.

The message here is that it's important to know where and when to engage these options, so as to get the best results moving forward.  Getting this part wrong could mean you waste a lot of training effort either already completed or to catch up what should've been kept.

Learn to listen to the body and respond to it's requests............. or pay the penalty..........