Recovery 101 In 2021
For many athletes the new year undoubtedly brings fresh goals and pursuits to tackle. After a ‘stay at home’ 2020 for most of us, I think that we’re all eagerly awaiting a busy race calendar as soon as it feels safe to travel to and participate in events. I’m staying optimistic that we’ll have competitive opportunities again. This year has certainly shown me that I love the build up, pursuit, and competition of a big race. I dream about the pre-race jitters often and the days leading up to an event when I’ll wake up in the morning thinking, “I can’t wait to see what’s possible today”. I live for those moments.
2020 also showed us the power of slowing down. I can’t tell you how many people told me “I can’t believe how fit I got without having to taper for a bunch of races” or “this is the first time I’ve ever been healthy for an entire year”. It’s no coincidence that decreased travel, commuting, and erratic schedules helped many athletes to find consistency, mileage PR’s, and lifetime bests in training during a year that was otherwise completely upended.
While not very sexy, consistency is indeed king (queen?!). The more days, weeks, months, and years that we can string together, the better athletes we’ll be over time. For some reason, I’m always surprised by my trajectory when I’m able to put in consistent solid work rather than hitting home run sessions and then coming down with an injury or sickness. Go figure!
To keep this consistency train rolling into the new year, I thought I’d share my ‘Recovery Best Practices’ to help you in your pursuit of athletic excellence in training and, fingers crossed, racing this season. Yes — I share my favorite, and fabulous, gadgets that I can’t live without. But I also include the super basic, albeit less exciting, tips that make a massive difference when it comes to absorbing training and getting my body ready for the next big workout. Many of these are common sense for most athletes, but I thought that having them in one place might be a great reminder for all of us looking to take our performances to the next level in 2021. After all, you’re only as good as your ability to recover!
Recovery Tips and Best Practices
Boring? Basic? Yes to both. But sleep is also the most effective, and the cheapest, way to recover. Sleep is when our body rebuilds and absorbs the training that we did that day. I’m not a scientist, but I do know that I’m robbing myself if I get less than 8 hours a night. I aim for 9-10 hours of sleep (and a nap!) when I’m in heavy training. Training is my job, so I realize that that amount of shuteye would be a luxury for most people. Even so, I encourage anyone with training or racing goals to aim for 7-8 hours minimum.
Pro tip: I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I wear an eye mask and ear plugs to bed every night. Cute. I’ve found, though, that the eye mask helps create that ideal dark environment for optimal sleep and the ear plugs drown out unwanted sound. I haven’t always been a great sleeper, and I have a pretty busy mind that can be hard to shut off.
In my mind, the Normatec Pulse 2.0 Legs provide two major recovery benefits: 1. Personal flush massage that improves circulation and decreases soreness; 2. Forces you to get off your feet for an extended period of time. I especially love to travel with my Norms – the best way I’ve found to reduce swelling after a long flight. I’ve even heard of athletes using them DURING a flight. That’s next level. The bottom line: the compression massage feels really, really good on tired legs. When I’m in a period of super intense training, I put on my Norms most days for the compression benefits and to force me to lie down and relax for thirty minutes to an hour.
Prehab? How on earth does Prehab have ANYTHING to do with recovery? Hear me out on this one, especially all of you aging athletes out there. Taking 5-10 minutes before you train to warm up your body and activate your muscles provides a number of benefits: 1. The first several minutes or miles of your workout will be a lot more effective and way less creaky; 2. You won’t spend the beginning of your session cold and moving improperly; 3. Promoting proper movement patterns and muscle activation before you train makes you less susceptible to injury.
Post-workout heat therapy has shown all sorts of training benefits. But beyond boosting blood plasma volume, a soak in the jacuzzi or a hot epsom salt bath can work wonders on your tired muscles. I like to do some hip mobility exercises and massage my feet while I soak. As a younger athlete, I was all about the post-sesh ice bath. But I’ve since changed my ways! Choose heat over ice to relax and reset after a big day of training.
Hyperice Venom Back
Several years ago I threw out my back in the weight room. It was bad. Very bad. Every time I tried to do any sort of hard running, my back would seize up and I’d have to lie down for several days before it calmed down. After a lot of rehab and strength training, I was able to manage my disc problem and get back to real training. But my back is always going to be something that I have to stay on top of. The Venom Back has become one of my go-to tools for taking care of my back post training. It can get pretty achy after a big run or ride, so I will put it on when I’m making my post workout smoothie. The heat and vibration combo helps my back muscles relax so I can get on to the next session or task in my day. And I love that it’s truly wearable.
HOKA ORA Recovery Slide
My most-worn shoes in 2020! In fact, I love the Ora Recovery Slide so much that I convinced my whole family to get a pair. I bring them everywhere — to the pool, and every other bike and run session so that I have some comfy shoes waiting in the car after my workouts. Believe the hype. Your feet will thank you.
Doing a short meditation after training is a great way to transition your body state from the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight response that’s turned on during intense training) to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (restores the body to a calm, regenerative state). It’s easy to rush to the next thing on your to-do list or start scrolling through instagram, but taking anywhere from two to twenty minutes to meditate or practice mindfulness after training stops that fight or flight mode and turns on recovery mode. Try four rounds of a mindful breathing technique like inhaling on a count of four and then exhaling on a count of eight. I practice Vedic Meditation, so I’ll even carve out several minutes after training to close my eyes and repeat my mantra. An added bonus: meditation can also help you take your mental game and concentration to new heights.
I won’t delve into this whole can of worms here, but the post-workout snack is one of the best ways to up your recovery game. This is all about planning ahead. Something is better than nothing, but a nutritious nosh is better than junky snack food. After a workout, your body needs fluid, electrolytes, carbs, and protein. I try to pack that all into one smoothie vessel. Smoothies are a great option to get in quality calories, especially if your stomach is a little off after working hard. Keep it super simple and add water to a drink mix (I use the 6D Recovery Shake). If you’d prefer to eat “real food”, blend your favorite milk or juice with yogurt, frozen berries, chia seeds, and a little nut butter. Voilà!