Recovery 101

Well here we are, at the beginning of another triathlon season. No doubt you’ve spent the winter months plotting and planning your races for the 2018/2019 season, and I’m sure that you’ve also thrown a few big ones in there for good measure – just to really challenge yourself. The next step was likely signing up to a training squad or signing on for a new program with your coach; after all, you need the plan to get there, right? So, you’re on track – races entered, coach onboard and squad to train with, awesome!

Now let me ask you this – how many of you thought about additional support strategies to help you achieve your goals this season? Perhaps one that sprang to mind is recovery; what the best strategies are, how to utilise them daily and weekly to remain healthy, energized and primed for each day’s training, how to get the most from each session. Yes? I thought so.

To help you get started with the what, when and how of recovery, I have put together a Recovery Basics 101 that will give you the low down on the fundamentals of recovery, and practical strategies which if done right, will pay dividends to your performance daily. And if recovery is something you haven’t considered before, or at least with any seriousness, I’ve included a few good reasons for why it should become a non-negotiable in your training routine.


Why periods of rest and recovery so important for triathletes – especially age groupers

Recovery often seems to be the underestimated factor of the overall training program, possibly because it’s not something an athlete can always see the immediately results of. For this reason, the importance of recovery is often brushed off as unimportant, particularly when time is scarce. However, recovery is extremely important for age groupers in particular, as it’s not only the exercise training that they’re recovering from, it’s the mental and physical aspects of working full-time, managing a family, and other life commitments, as well as training 10-12 sessions per week – that takes a toll!

Recovery essentially has a two-pronged effect: first, it allows for the physiological and neurological recovery of your systems, muscles and mind; and second, it acts as a counterbalance to all the training volume that you do, with the rest period helping to prevent longer term mal-adaptations such as overreaching and overtraining states, and preserves immune function. It also manages training load and helps you to avoid injury. By allowing some periods of recovery during your weekly training, you’re allowing your system to adapt to the training stimuli and volume that’s already been done, so that it is in an optimal state to take on and adapt to the next load of training stimuli. And this is on a weekly basis; factoring in a 1-2 week break after a major race or at the end of the season will have the same beneficial effect, only amplified.

The benefits of rest and recovery following strenuous training loads

The process of recovery from exercise is multifaceted, affecting many physiological systems, structures and pathways, from the muscles to the brain. Recovery also depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, with the more intense exercise generally causing more damage.

Physiologically, the purpose of recovery is to manage muscle damage and reduce inflammation, in an attempt to decrease DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and fatigue. A couple of the immediate post-exercise processes that can be aided with recovery strategies include the removal of waste products from the muscle, like lactate and fuel metabolites; and minimizing the influx of inflammatory markers and swelling to the damaged muscle.

If we look at recovery from a broader perspective, the short rest periods between two training sessions usually don’t allow sufficient time for full recovery, meaning that we are generally in an under-recovered state during the course of our training week. So, at regular intervals, it’s really important that we give our bodies extra time to fully repair damaged muscle, and eliminate soreness and fatigue from the heavy training, so that it is ready to perform the next block of training feeling rested, healthy and free of injuries.

100508-M-9999S-020Adaptation is a key factor here, and is the rebuilding process that occurs during the rest period following a period of training overload (a progressive build up in training volume/intensity). Let me explain. When our bodies are exposed to all these training stimuli during our hill rides, long runs, and sprint swims, we are eliciting changes to the muscle and the cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory systems. We do this every day, multiple times. But for our bodies to get stronger, faster and fitter, we need to allow it time to make these structural changes in response to the training stimuli, so that it regenerates and rebuilds our bodies into a stronger state. And that’s how we see improvements in our abilities.

So, without this downtime, our body essentially remains in the same damaged, fatigued, stressed state, and usually any subsequent training is performed poorly without any positive adaptations. And if this continues for a period of time, you’ll be placing yourself at greater risk of illness, injury and overreaching and overtraining states.

The most effective strategies for aiding recovery

When it comes to recovery methods, it’s horses for courses to ensure you elicit the best responses. So, depending on the type of recovery you need, for example repairing muscle damage or reducing soreness, there will be different methods.

If your goal is to manage muscle damage, then cold water immersion (i.e. ice bath), contrast water therapy and whole-body cryotherapy techniques are the most effective. Practical applications of these include:

  • making your own ice bath, by simply filling your home bathtub/kiddie pool with bags of ice and water; or immersing yourself in a cold river, ocean or lake for the muscles affected. Around 11-15 degrees for 5-10 minutes should do the trick.
  • alternating a hot and cold shower for contrast water therapy, with 30s hot and 30s cold, 3-5 times, and always finishing on cold.
  • cryotherapy, which is a little harder to do on your own! This option will require you going to a special facility to use their machine.

If you want to reduce muscle soreness, then the most effective method is massage. Good news, right? Now we feel justified for our weekly treatments! Compression garments are the next best, along with the cold water immersion. Active recovery immediately after exercise is also helpful, as is the contrast water therapy to a lesser degree. And for reducing fatigue, massage combined with stretching works well.

These strategies mentioned here are well supported by scientific research. However, new techniques, like the Normatec boots, electrostimulation devices, and heat therapies are becoming more popular with athletes as a way to reduce muscle soreness and damage.

At the end of the day, sleep, nutrition and hydration remain the key ingredients to a solid recovery protocol, which thankfully are simple and can be done after each and every training session. Restore muscle glycogen, the muscle’s fuel, by consuming carbs; rebuild damaged muscle with protein intake; repair systems with vitamins and minerals (fruit and veg); and replace lost fluid with water and/or electrolyte to get back to a hydrated state.

By covering off each of these strategies alone, you’ll be well-prepared for the next training session. Adding in one or two of the other techniques after the main hard sessions throughout the week or training cycle will provide an extra boost of recovery to help your body restore its optimal function more effectively.


To find out more about the personalized performance support coaching offered through DrKellieRose Performance Science, check out the programs for athletes.

To speak with me directly about which program is best suited for you, book a free 30 min consultation.

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