RECOVERY – Tips for effective training and race day recovery
Let’s talk about one of the other tricks a runner can utilise to improve recovery after a training session or the final run.
The two most important steps you can take to provide the body with what it needs for optimum recovery are to eat and sleep well. In order for your body to recover and adapt to your running training, you should be getting 8 hours of sleep a night. A healthy diet is also important to provide the body with the building blocks it needs to repair muscles and other soft tissues after a hard run. If you’re unsure what a healthy diet consists of, here is an informative website you can go to for a great running specific diet to support recovery. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/
A recent review of research regarding compression garments suggests that compression may have a positive effect in two ways:
- Running biomechanics (small effect size)
It seems that when the runners wore the compression garments, the additional compression around joints of the legs gave the runners slightly more sensory feedback which slightly improved their coordination. This improved coordination led to slightly better running economy. The following aspects of the studied runners were improved by a small margin. Ground contact time, step frequency, step length and swing time. Essentially, the runners would not tire as quickly due to a slightly improved running technique. However, this was a small positive effect size but positive none the less.
- Muscle soreness (large effect size)
A large positive effect of compression was found on post-exercise muscle soreness. Our bodies rely on the inflammation process to repair the muscle damage caused by a hard run. The inflammation process relies on the circulatory system to send the inflammatory chemicals to the parts of the body in need. The compression garments seem to improve circulation, which in turn improves the inflammatory response and speeds up repair. This is a very interesting concept and if you would like to read more about this recent research in more detail, you can find a summary of the research here. Another positive aspect to compression garments is that there are no side effects to wearing them, (apart from the purchase price). If you don’t mind parting with a few dollars to see an improvement in your recovery rate, then you really have nothing to lose!
Finally, I wanted to talk about stretching because stretching is a very popular activity undertaken by runners and other sports players. People have been stretching for decades, if not centuries and it is well ingrained in our culture that stretching is effective as a warm-up and cool-down activity.
There are many different kinds of stretches but today, I will be referring to the most common type of stretch which is the static stretch. It is common to see the static stretch used as a warm-up activity to prevent injury. It was thought that stretching the muscle warmed it up and prepared it for more intensive tasks. This theory has now been debunked as the majority of evidence suggests that stretching performed before sport makes no difference to injury prevention and in fact, actually causes a small decrease in strength. For this reason, static stretching is definitely not recommended before sport or activities requiring optimal strength. This effect is short-lasting however so if you enjoy stretching, it is not bad for you, but there are more appropriate times to stretch.
Static stretching is also performed post-exercise with the intent of improving recovery by reducing the severity of post-exercise muscle soreness. One theory is that stretching can improve circulation, and therefore have a positive effect on the inflammatory process, reducing post-exercise soreness.
Unfortunately, the majority of scientific research on the topic does not support this theory. However, there is some good quality research to support the use of static stretching to reduce post-exercise muscle stiffness. Even one bout of static stretching can reduce that stiff feeling in your muscles and help you feel ready for that next run. However, post-exercise muscle soreness/stiffness usually develops for about 48-72 hours after exercise so you may find it more effective to stretch once to three times per day for the 2-3 days that the post-exercise stiffness is developing over. 1-2 sets of 30 seconds – 1 minute should be enough each session. This way, if you plan on doing more running or any other type of exercise, you’ll feel less stiff and in better condition to perform at your best.
If you would like to read more about why static stretching works for post-exercise muscle stiffness and not for muscle soreness, here’s a great article which explains what we know about the topic in more detail. This research article is not a review of all current research on the topic, it is a single clinical trial but it does represent fairly accurately, the majority of current research.
I think the most important thing to remember is to eat and sleep well if you want to get the best results. Remember your Physiotherapist is always ready to assist with your recovery. Often we find runners need more than just stretching and physiotherapy techniques such as mobilisation, dry needling, neural techniques and specific massage may get you back into training earlier.