You can train harder if you recover faster

Training + Recovery = Improved Performance

How much time, effort, thought and planning goes into your training each week?
How much time, effort, thought and planning goes into your active recovery each week?

If you want to improve your performance (race faster) then you need to treat your recovery with the same degree of importance as your training. Without adequate time to recover your body will not adapt, it will break down.

Most running injuries can be classified as “overuse injuries”. These injuries occur when the applied load (training) is greater than the body’s capacity to adapt (repair).

This picture illustrates how our bodies adapt to training load.


  • No training/minimal training (below the green line) results in no adaptation. Your fitness doesn’t improve and your body (calf muscles, achilles tendons, knee joint surfaces etc) doesn’t get stronger.
  • Training within the Adaptation Zone (between the green and red line) month after month, and ultimately year after year, results in your body getting stronger and your fitness improving. This is the zone you need to stay in as much as possible whilst training.
  • If your training takes you into the Injury Zone (above the red line) you are at a high risk of developing an overuse injury. There are usually warning signs (which runners tend to ignore) before a niggle will turn into a fully fledged injury.

There are several recovery strategies, which if performed/used regularly, will help to keep your body in the Adaptation Zone. This in turn will allow you to maximise your ability to train, and ultimately result in improving your performance.

1. Training Structure

  • coach1-300x189Work proactively with your coach to ensure they know how well your body copes with your hard training sessions (speedwork and long runs).
  • Schedule rest or recovery days after these harder sessions to allow your body enough time to repair and recover.
  • Cool down gradually at the end of each session. Don’t finish any training runs at a sprint, cool down gradually by running the last 5-10mins at a slow, aerobic pace, or even walk the last 500m if it has been a hard session.

2. Icing

  • ice-1-300x179It is not uncommon to pull up from training runs (especially harder sessions) with a few aches and niggles. You can help to reduce these niggles, and the associated inflammation, by icing the area.
  • One of the easiest and most effective techniques is to put crushed ice into a ziplock bag and wrap it around your inflamed area using cling-film. Apply a bit of pressure with the cling-film to add a compression effect.
  • You can leave this attached for up to 20 minutes and repeat as many times as required to help settle your symptoms.

3. Compression Clothingbest-running-compression-socks-300x264

  • Compression tights and compression socks can be very useful for reducing the symptoms of DOMs (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) which might occur after a hard or hilly training session.
  • Put the compression on as soon as possible after the session.
  • Wear them for as many hours as is practical.
  • You can sleep in them if you find them comfortable enough.
  • Sleep in them for several nights if required to help reduce the effect of DOMs.
  • If your calf muscles are feeling particularly tight, it can also be helpful to do your next few runs in your compression socks.

4. Stretching

  • muscle_strengthening_and_stretching_can_prevent_running_injuries-300x200The science behind stretching, especially static stretching, is very grey. In my experience working as a physiotherapist treating runners for 20 years – most people benefit from stretching if they do it properly.
  • Consistency is the key. Aim for 5-10mins of stretching every day, more if you can make the time.
  • For best results aim to stretch at a low intensity (you should feel tension in the muscle being stretched, but not pain) for a long duration. Hold a stretch for anywhere up to 5-10mins if possible.
  • You don’t necessarily have to stretch immediately before or after a training session. Just aim to do it at a convenient time (e.g. Watching TV in the evening)
  • Watch this video for an example of some useful stretches for runners.
NB: If you feel like stretching doesn’t help you, or makes your symptoms feel worse, then it might be because you are stretching with too much intensity, or not holding them for long enough. If you have tried low intensity, long duration stretches and they still don’t help, then try foam rolling instead.

5. Foam rolling

  • Some people find they get more benefit from foam rolling than stretching.roller-exercises-300x184
  • Consistency is the key – aim for short regular sessions (5-10mins/day) rather than long infrequent ones (1hr once a week).
  • You can foam roll:
    • Calf muscles
    • Tibialis anterior (front/outside muscle of shin)
    • Quads and ITB 
    • For glutes a large trigger point ball will be more effective (approx the size of a tennis ball)
    • For sole of foot (plantar fasciitis) a small trigger point ball or golf ball will be more effective.

6. Cross trainingpoolrunning_500-300x186

  • If you are diligent with all of the above recovery techniques, and you feel that you manage your training/recovery balance well, and you still suffer too many niggles, you might benefit from substituting some runs for different sessions until your symptoms have settled.
    • Swimming (Freestyle and backstroke, not breastroke)
    • Deep water running
    • AlterG treadmill
    • Cycling (Don’t try cycling if your pain is in or around the knee – patella tendon, ITB, patella-femoral syndrome)

7. Nutritionnatural-and-heatlhy-food-300x174

  • Nutrition can make a huge difference to your body’s ability to recover from and adapt to training. It is a complex topic on its own, but there are some easy guidelines to be aware of and adopt.
  • Eat within 30mins of any hard or long training sessions. You should include food with fat, protein and carbohydrates in this meal. If you can’t manage a proper meal in this 30 minute window, then an alternative like a protein shake will suffice.
  • Make sure you maintain good hydration throughout any hard training days, especially in the summer months.
  • Eat good quality, nutrient dense food (lean meat, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, eggs).
  • Avoid processed food as much as possible (cakes, biscuits, burgers, soft drinks). Refined carbohydrates cause inflammation in our tissues. More inflammation = longer recovery.

If you want to be able to race to the best of your ability then use these recovery strategies. Remember, consistency is the key!