By Hayden Shearman
We all understand that to get fitter you need to do work. Long runs, workouts, mileage, cross training—all this stuff makes us fitter. But that’s only 50% of the game. The other half of the fitness equation is recovery. And knowing when the balance between training and recovery is getting out of whack is critical to avoiding injury, sickness or just getting run down.
So here are five tips to help you spot those times when you need to take the foot off the gas and give yourself a recovery day, shorten a workout or have a week or two of chilled training.
- Know the “Golden Rules”. There are several “golden rules” that tend to hold pretty true across most runners most of the time. Sure there are heaps of exceptions, but understanding the rule is a good place to start from when you’re working out if you need a break or not.
The first rule is the 3-4 week rule where every third or fourth week should be a drop back week of some sort (less mileage and/or reduced quality in terms of workouts). The second rule is “for every mile raced you take one recovery day”. So, for a marathon you’d want 26 days of chilled running or recovery days. And finally, the 10% rule states that you shouldn’t increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week. Now there are always exceptions, but these three rules can paint some broad-brush strokes that easily spot any potential for being over-trained.
- The Wake Up Test. How do your first 10 steps feel after you’ve hoped out of bed in the morning? Fresh? Locked up? Arthritic? How your body feels immediately when you wake up gives us a really good window into what sort inflammation and tissue repair was going on while you slept. If you’re hobbling, it’s a good sign you need to prioritise some recovery.
- The Warm Up Test: Likewise, how do the first 5-10 minutes of your runs feel? Do you experience pain as blood gradually enters areas that have been locked up from over-use? Or does pain fail to fade or even get worse throughout the warm up period of your run? If you’re saying yes to either of these questions, it’s time to consider a reduction in the training stress.
- Mobility Tests: I love the Jefferson Curl for testing how locked up your posterior chain is. Stand with feet hip width apart and locked knees, then gradually roll down one vertebra at a time, reaching down to see how far your fingertips can reach before they encounter resistance from your muscles and tendons. Comparing one day to another and one week to the last, is a great way of working out how much lingering fatigue your body is dealing with.
- Workout Tests: Finally, I like to compare notes between different days when performing different exercises. You’ll compare how athletic you are (i.e. how explosive and agile you are), how your splits are looking workouts (i.e. if it’s feeling harder than it should that’s a warning sign) and how your easy run paces are looking (i.e. if you’re slipping outside of a given window of easy pace or are really slowing up towards the ends of runs, they are both alarm bell situations for more recovery).
If you’d like some help dialling in your training to recovery balance, feel free to get in touch with me for coaching (either for tailored training plans or a one-off coaching consult). Email me.