Each month, several other running bloggers and I share our best tips and advice in the Just Run Round Up. This month, we are sharing our best post-run recovery tips.
Recovery can be a checklist of “do this, eat that, drink this, stretch that,” but for many type-A minded runners, a laundry list of recovery tasks can be as stressful as the workout itself. While certain actions will improve recovery, it is vital to remember exactly what recovery is: rest that allows the body and mind to repair damage and adapt. Stress + rest = training adaptations. The best type of recovery is that which transitions your body from stress (your workout) to rest.
Yes, recovery is physical: you want to foam roll, eat your post-workout snack, and stretch. These actions certainly do aid in recovery! But recovery is also psychological and hormonal: it involves bringing your endocrine system (particularly cortisol) back into balance after the application of stress and bringing your mind to the fruitful state of rest. The truth is, you can foam roll all you want, but if you are lacking on sleep, glued to your phone, and constantly stressed, your recovery will suffer.
Post-Run Recovery Tips
Take a Short Walk Outdoors
One of my favorite ways to end a hard workout or long run is with a few minutes of walking outdoors, soaking up some extra sunshine and looking at the views. A light walk is de-stressing and aids in the mental transition from “running” to “resting.” It provides a buffer between the workout and the next task of the day, which is especially beneficial for morning runners who go from running to work within a short period of time.
Natural scenery can improve recovery as well. In Peak Performance, Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg suggest sitting in a park – not taking an ice path or popping a supplement – as the best step to start the recovery process. Research indicates that natural scenery – or, if you are unable to, looking at photos of nature – aids in the transition from work-focused stress to mind-wandering rest and can actually lower markers of inflammation in the body.
Our smartphones are wonderful devices, but they can also be detrimental to our ability to focus on a single task – including resting. If the first thing you do after a run is pull out your phone and check your email (I have been guilty of this!), you can add a mental stress that delays your transition into a recovery state. Avoid checking your cell phone immediately after a run, especially email or social media, as the addictive nature of it can interrupt the transition from stress to rest.
Grab a Drink or Food with Your Training Buddies
Sure, you can debate that alcohol or caffeine aren’t the best recovery drinks – and overdoing either can certainly hinder or recovery. But grabbing a cup of coffee, a beer (maybe avoid higher alcohol content drinks, though), or a bite to eat with friends after your weekend long run feels good for a reason. Socializing releases oxytocin, which in turn shifts the central nervous system into recovery mode and reduces inflammation. For athletes on team settings, this social aspect is built-in to stretching after a workout; but for a majority of us adult recreational runners, we need to deliberately plan out social recovery.
Sleep is absolutely vital for recovery. You cannot foam roll or supplement your way out of poor sleep habits. Aim for at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. To aid in quality sleep, reduce screen time before bed, since the blue light of technology can negatively affect your circadian rhythm. There are some days where an extra hour of sleep is actually more beneficial than that easy run after a hard workout – if the choice is 6 hours of sleep and a recovery run or 7-8 hours of sleep, opt for the sleep to optimize recovery.
Keep reading for more post-run recovery tips from other runners:
How do you recover from a hard workout?