How Important Are Recovery Runs?

November 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm 8 comments

I have to be honest.

I’ve been slacking the past few weeks with my recovery runs after my Saturday long runs. I simply haven’t been doing them. No excuses, except, perhaps, ignorance? Maybe I just don’t know how important recovery runs are, and if I did I would start doing them?

Well, I did some research into this area and am pretty sure I have myself convinced as to the utility of recovery runs. The following passages are taken from this article (and this and this are also good reading material to corroborate what I’m citing below).

“It is widely assumed that the purpose of recovery runs–which we may define as relatively short, slow runs undertaken within 24 hours after a harder run–is to facilitate recovery from preceding hard training. You hear coaches talk about how recovery runs increase blood flow to the legs, clearing away lactic acid and so forth. The truth is that lactic acid levels return to normal within an hour after even the most brutal workouts. Nor does lactic acid cause muscle fatigue in the first place. Nor is there any evidence that the sort of light activity that a recovery run entails promotes muscle tissue repair, glycogen replenishment or any other physiological response that is actually relevant to muscle recovery.”

What is the Real Benefit of Recovery Runs?

“In short, recovery runs do not enhance recovery. The real benefit of recovery runs is that they increase your fitness–perhaps almost as much as longer, faster runs do–by challenging you to run in a pre-fatigued state (i.e. a state of lingering fatigue from previous training.)

There is evidence that fitness adaptations occur not so much in proportion to how much time you spend exercising but rather in proportion to how much time you spend exercising beyond the point of initial fatigue in workouts. So-called key workouts (runs that are challenging in their pace or duration) boost fitness by taking your body well beyond the point of initial fatigue.

Recovery workouts, on the other hand, are performed entirely in a fatigued state, and therefore also boost fitness despite being shorter and/or slower than key workouts. Additional research has shown that when athletes begin a workout with energy-depleted muscle fibers, the brain alters the muscle recruitment patterns. Essentially, the brain tries to avoid using the worn-out muscle fibers and instead involves fresher muscle fibers that are less worn out.”

Tips for Effective Use of Recovery Runs

  • “Whenever you run again within 24 hours of completing a key workout (or any run that has left you severely fatigued or exhausted), the follow-up run should usually be a recovery run.
  • Recovery runs are only necessary if you run four times a week or more.
    • If you run just three times per week, each run should be a “key workout” followed by a day off.
    • If you run four times a week, your first three runs should be key workouts and your fourth run only needs to be a recovery run if it is done the day after a key workout instead of the day after a rest day.
  • Recovery runs are largely unnecessary during base training, when most of your workouts are moderate in both intensity and duration. When you begin doing formal high-intensity workouts and exhaustive long runs, it’s time to begin doing recovery runs in roughly a 1:1 ratio with these key workouts.
  • There are no absolute rules governing the appropriate duration and pace of recovery runs.
    • A recovery run can be as long and fast as you want, provided it does not affect your performance in your next scheduled key workout.
    • In most cases, however, recovery runs cannot be particularly long or fast without sabotaging recovery from the previous key workout or sabotaging performance in your next one.
    • A little experimentation is needed to find the recovery run formula that works best for each individual runner.”

So I think I’m sold, and now that my mileage is increasing (I’ll be doing 8 miles on Saturday! eek!) and becoming more of a hardship on my body, I need to get in the habit of getting out there and doing a recovery run.

What do you think? Are you a die hard believer in recovery runs or not?



Entry filed under: Rest, Training. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Channeling My Inner Carebear Week 7 Training Plan

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Week 7 Training Plan « Ch'I Journey  |  November 21, 2012 at 4:23 am

    […] 8 miles (*gulp*) on Saturday I need to get 2 45 minute runs in and then I need to be sure to get a recovery run in on Sunday. Mixed in with skiing (yep it’s ski season already), friends, families, and […]

  • 2. Jane Fritz  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    In our house, recovery run means lying on the sofa watching sports!

    • 3. Steph  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Mine too! But yesterday I had a sinking suspicion that I should have at least gone out for an easy jog during halftime or between games. :)

      • 4. Chatter  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm

        I wonder if climbing stadium stairs, ramps and walking downtown count as recovery runs

  • 5. Chatter  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Good post with allot to think about How does that work if you cross train heavily. Say you run 3 times a week but you also bike 3 times a week. I tend to always spend my first training day of running with a slow easy run just to get my mind back into focus before doing speed work and a long run.

    • 6. Steph  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Well I’m not sure in your case because you are doing so much, but I would think, especially once you start increasing intensity/mileage that you’d want to do one recovery run and one recovery bike ride? Or maybe just one recovery run/bike ride after your long run? I don’t think it matters what you do, but that you do something after your hard days to teach your body to work other parts of the muscles and improve overall fitness.

      • 7. Chatter  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm

        Not a bad idea. I usually take my Sundays off after my long run Fridays and long bike Saturdays. Might have to rethink this once I get out of base building as miles keep increasing. Might even be good to do an hour of easy spinning on Sunday.

        • 8. Steph  |  November 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

          It probably wouldn’t hurt. I think especially training for a tri, you’re going to want to get your muscles used to working in that state of “pre-fatigue.” I think walking could count as recovery activity if it was sustained long enough.


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