It’s the day after a big run. Maybe you did a half marathon? Perhaps you completed a full one? Or did you hit those hills with your running club yesterday, letting your crew spur you further than you’ve ever run before?
However hard or far you ran, if you’ve woken up feeling sore and tired, then you’re probably tempted to take it easy today. Well, the good news is that you should listen to your body – always. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and allow your muscles, joints, and ligaments time to recover. Just make sure you’re choosing the right kind of easy.
You may think that laying on the couch all day is your only option, but taking your aching body for an easy run will help you more than staying still. Here’s how to do a recovery run and why it should always be a part of your recuperation process.
WHAT IS A RECOVERY RUN?
A recovery run is a form of active recovery. This may sound like a contradiction, but active recovery is essentially the use of light exercise a day or so after an intense workout. By getting the blood flowing to your muscles again, you’re aiding your recovery.
With a recovery run, you should do a short, slow session at a relaxed pace. If you find yourself sweating, picking up the pace, or trying to push yourself, then slow down or stop altogether. Think of a recovery run as a gentle, nourishing jog rather than any form of a training session.
What are a good recovery run pace and heart rate?
When you first started running, you were probably advised to stick to a conversational pace – one where you’re relaxed and could probably chat with someone if they were running alongside you. This talking pace is exactly what you should aim for with a recovery run. Ease your momentum down to roughly 60 to 90 seconds slower than how you would typically run.
This talking pace is exactly what you should aim for with a recovery run.
Focus on what you are trying to achieve with this run. Are you trying to hit your PB? Nope, that was yesterday. Today is all about nudging your body back into soft, easy movements to wake up your muscles.
The most effective way to ensure you aren’t overdoing it is to monitor your heart rate. By staying in zones 1 and 2 (60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate) and watching how your body responds, your recovery run will maintain its leisurely pace.
By using a running watch, you’ll always be aware of which heart rate zone you’re in, so you can quickly drop your pace back to an easy run if you suddenly notice you’re going too fast.
What are the benefits of doing easy recovery runs?
As discussed above, the most significant benefit of a recovery run is that it speeds up your healing after an intense run by keeping the blood flowing and your muscles loose. Running through your post-training fatigue will also give you a boost of energy that you weren’t expecting to feel and probably helping you have a better night’s sleep than if you had a sedentary recovery day. However, these aren’t the only advantages.
It may surprise you to learn that doing easy runs at a slow, conversational pace is something you should be doing all the time. While we may think that faster = better, slow jogs such as recovery runs can help us build endurance.
We don’t develop slow-twitch muscle fibers without slow runs, and therefore don’t develop our endurance.
Your body is composed of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers, which help with different parts of your run. Slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibers are what help you keep going on longer runs and workouts. Fast-twitch muscle fibers (type II) give you the boost to pick up the pace, such as at the end of the race when you suddenly need to go for it. We don’t develop slow-twitch muscle fibers without slow runs, and therefore don’t develop our endurance. So, you’re paying it forward for your next big run whenever you do a recovery run.
By slowing down the pace of your run from time to time, you’ll also have the opportunity to pay closer attention to your technique. Are you relaxed? Overstriding? Leaning forward enough? You can improve your form by using the gentler pace to observe your style more closely when doing a recovery run.
A recovery run will also help your body adapt to the stress of running. You probably pushed yourself pretty hard yesterday, so think about the impact this probably had on your tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones. By taking things easier today, you allow your musculoskeletal system to support you without constantly pushing it to the maximum.
RECOVERY RUN TIPS
- Pick a flat run: don’t go for hills or challenging trails. They are not your friend today.
- Soft surfaces for the win: concrete or asphalt roads will be hard on your feet, so choose a soft surface like grass or gravel.
- 24-hour rule: ensure your recovery run happens within the first day.
- Easy run when you need it: try a recovery run anytime you might be overtraining or feeling slightly ill. Experiencing insomnia or fatigue? Then an easy run is what you need.
- Recovery routine: make your run part of a full day of healing, including stretching, plenty of fluids, healthy foods, and a good night’s sleep.
- Listen to your body: trust that it will tell you when something is wrong, and you need to rest. You gain nothing from a recovery run if you’re injured or unwell.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.