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Tips to Recover Faster Between Runs – What Actually Works?

By Dr Brad McIntosh - Doctor of Physiotherapy at Sydney Physio Solution

At Sydney Physio Solutions, we’re asked this question all the time from both our professional athletes and recreational runners. The more you read, the more confused you can get, so let me make sense of all the conflicting info and help you find what recovery activities could work for you. I will break down the most popular recovery techniques and include a recovery rating scale to show you how effective it is.

RECOVERY RATING SCALE: 0/10 = FORGET IT; 10/10 = AN ABSOLUTE MUST

 
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Cool Down / Active Recovery - A short burst of exercise at the end of your run, may be a walk, cycle, or swim.

The Research – There is conflicting evidence that suggests there may be a small positive effect on performance over subsequent days. There is no evidence to suggest there is a reduction of post-training muscle soreness or prevention of injuries.

Professional Runners – It’s popular at the moment and most professional athletes are attempting to gain some recovery advantage through active cool downs.

The Verdict – This is currently the “trendy” way to recover properly after exercise, but the overall positive effects compared to a passive recovery are at best small. Active cool down strategies immediately post run are not essential. Active recovery between runs, via cross-training may have some benefit.

RECOVERY RATING:  7 / 10

Massage - Manipulation of the muscles and other soft tissues, including self-massage techniques such as foam roller etc.

The Research – Massage is likely to result in you feeling some reduction in muscle pain, soreness and fatigue immediately after your run. Some research has suggested it will help to reduce inflammation and result in positive changes in the muscle physiology. However, the evidence suggests that your performance is not likely to be improved significantly as a result of massage.

Professional Runners – We see a steady stream of runners on our massage tables at Sydney Physio Solutions. Almost every professional runner has used massage therapy at some point to aide in recovery, and most are avid supporters.

The Verdict – The psychological benefits, reduced post-run soreness and fatigue make regular massage a sensible part of your recovery efforts.

RECOVERY RATING:  7 / 10

 
  What a great reason to treat yourself to a massage!

What a great reason to treat yourself to a massage!

 

Sleep

The Research – Consistently demonstrated an impact on recovery and performance. Increasing the amount of sleep time is the most important factor in improving recovery post-exercise.  This can be achieved by sleep extension at night time, or through daytime napping.

Professional Runners – Most athletes are not great at assessing how much or how good their sleep quality is, and many don’t rate sleep as highly as they should. The top runners, however, are making sure their sleep is spot on.

The Verdict – We often advise clients that while life can get in the way of achieving a regular good night’s sleep, it’s without a doubt one of the highest priorities in a good training regime. It will allow you to recover faster and perform better.

RECOVERY RATING:  9 / 10

 
  Take a day nap like this Koala, we give you permission.

Take a day nap like this Koala, we give you permission.

 

Nutrition

The Research – There’s good evidence to show that adequate carbohydrate and water consumption will aide in recovery. Also, appropriate protein intake has been shown to be beneficial in improving muscle performance after exercise.

Professional Runners – This is without a doubt high on the list of considerations for recovery of the professional runner. Many are working closely with sports dietitians to optimise this part of their routine.

The Verdict – Good intake of carbohydrates, protein, and water pre and post-training will definitely enhance your recovery.

RECOVERY RATING:  9 / 10

 
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Compression Garments

Usually knee high or full-length garments that apply firm pressure to the skin and muscles of the legs.

The Research - There is strong evidence that suggests recovery is improved following strength exercise. A recent study has at least shown there is no negative impact on performance or recovery. Overall, there’s not a substantial amount of evidence to support compression garments for runners at this time.

Professional Runners - Many professional runners are, or have, trained in compression garments at some point.  Many swear by them. The effect may be more psychological than physical, but the brain is a big part of the game in professional athletics.

The Verdict - If compression garments help runners recover faster, the changes are small and probably won’t be noticed. Most runners like them though, and you have to remember that a big part of preparation for an event is mental. If you like how they feel, they certainly aren’t going to do you any harm.  

RECOVERY RATING:  5 / 10

 
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Ice Water - Usually 5-10 minutes in 12-15 degree water.

The Research – There are some positive effects on reducing inflammation and muscle soreness with ice water after exercise. You’re also likely to perceive that you are less fatigued. Ice water is not likely to have a significant impact on performance but it might have a psychological benefit.

Professional Runners – Most have given it a go and some of the world’s greatest distance runners are all over this recovery technique.

The Verdict – Likely a psychological effect due to the extreme nature of dunking yourself in very cold water. Probably only a small impact on performance and injury prevention.

RECOVERY RATING:  5 / 10

 
  Would you jump into an ice bath? Let us know in the comments

Would you jump into an ice bath? Let us know in the comments

 

The Sun-Herald City2Surf presented by Westpac Official Training Runs provided by JORG are on now! Check out the timetable to start training and preparing for this year’s City2Surf. Utilise Dr Brad McIntosh’s recovery tips to ensure that you get the most out of your training or pop into one of Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions  at Chatswood, Macquarie Street or Castlereagh Street clinics!


All opinions and advice are of  Dr Brad McIntosh. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace advice from your health care professional. The use of this content is undertaken at your own risk. Always consult your healthcare professional.

Dr Brad McIntosh | Managing Director | Doctor of Physical Therapy | Adjunct Faculty Ohio State University | BSc (ExSci) | MPT (Physio) | DPT (Physio)  | CSCS | APAM  

 
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