Train To Recover — Don’t Recover To Train

Recovery runs should be an important part of your weekly training regimen. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


Get more out of your training by doing it “backwards.”

Your fitness increases not while you run but during the recovery process that unfolds between runs. The stress of running flips a number of hormonal and genetic switches in various parts of your body, allowing each part to adapt in a way that renders it better prepared for the next workout. But these adaptations can unfold only when your body is at rest.

Since the majority of fitness adaptations occur through recovery, the goal of your training program should be to maximize recovery. In other words, instead of recovering to train, as many runners do, you should train to recover.

The difference is more than semantic. When you recover to train, your focus is entirely on the workouts themselves. Rest is just a necessary evil. You assume that merely completing a workout suffices to deliver benefits — which isn’t true.

When you train to recover, you look at workouts against the backdrop of the recovery opportunities that precede and follow them, and without which running delivers no benefits. This leads you to adopt better ways of balancing your workouts and rest periods that will allow you to experience greater fitness gains from the same amount of training. Here are six specific ways you can train for recovery:

Create A Need For Recovery

It is easy to conflate recovery with rest, but rest only results in recovery (and adaptation) if it follows a training stress. A “runner” who rests all day every day has nothing to recover from and is in fact not a runner but a couch potato. The stronger the training stimulus that precedes a period of rest (up to a point), the more pronounced the recovery-adaptation response will be. So the first ingredient of a recovery-based training approach is hard training.

During the build and peak phases of training especially, it is important to do two to four weekly key workouts that leave you thoroughly exhausted. It is also beneficial to overreach during one- to three-week blocks of training within these phases. By training to within inches of the limit of what your body can handle, you create a strong need for recovery that turns into maximum fitness gains between key workouts and during recovery weeks between periods of overreaching.

RELATED: Recover To Run Faster

Space Out Your Key Workouts

Because your two to four weekly key workouts are your most challenging workouts, they need to be preceded by adequate recovery so you’re ready for them and followed by adequate recovery so you’re able to properly absorb them. Your key workouts should therefore be separated from one another as much as possible within the week.

Do Recovery Workouts

Recovery workouts are relatively short, easy runs that do not challenge your body enough to create a need for additional recovery, so they won’t interfere with your recovery from the most recent key workout. But they still carry fitness benefits, because they enhance your running efficiency by forcing your muscles to perform in a pre-fatigued state. Doing recovery runs also allows you to run more frequently than you could if you tried to run hard every time, and by increasing your frequency of training you teach your body to recover more quickly from hard workouts.

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