10 Tips for Building a Post-Run Recovery Plan
Anyone training for a race or who just loves running probably has several runs per week on the calendar. And if that race involves 42 kilometres, you probably have many days per week running high mileage. To keep your legs primed for that repetition and volume, you need a solid post-run recovery routine—one that includes everything from recovery runs to foam rolling to nutrition that fuels you.
If you feel like your legs just aren’t bouncing back after your workouts, a variety of factors may be contributing to slow recovery, from the weather outside to your sleep at night. But there are several things you can do to assist the process. Runners typically have a training plan, but rarely a recovery plan. Here’s how to create one.
Include a cool down after every workout
As soon as you’re done with your run, jog very easy or walk for a kilometre (or even 10 minutes) to facilitate the return to “normal” status. Cooling down assists the body in redistributing blood flow, lowers heart and breathing rate gradually, allows your body temperature to drop, and flushes metabolic waste products, which helps reduce muscle soreness. The main thing is don’t just stop running and head home for the couch.
Gentle movement like a casual 20 to 30 minute walk, light stretching, or yoga on the day after a hard run can help with blood flow and recovery too, says Elizabeth Corkum, certified personal trainer and run coach.
Squeeze in some stretching
Recovery starts even before your run, says Roberto Mandje, New York Road Runner’s director of runner training and education. He suggests jogging slowly or walking for a few minutes before you start clocking miles and then stopping for a few dynamic stretches to prep your muscles for the actual run. Those dynamic stretches might include walking lunges, butt kicks, torso twists, high knees, and leg swings (front to back and side to side).
When you’re done with your run and cardio cooldown, do some static stretching. Mandje suggests holding these stretches for 10 to 30 seconds and doing moves like toe touches (sitting or standing) and a standing quad stretch (as shown).
Roll it out
Another way to ease muscle soreness: foam rolling. “A foam roller is a great tool in a runner’s arsenal that can be used both before and after a run,” says Mandje. Research suggests this self-massage technique can help your legs feel better for the next run so make sure you get it in the recovery plan.
After a run, Mandje suggest rolling out the calves, quads, and even the lower and upper back. “All which will help work out kinks, knots and further promote blood flow and recovery, which will help with sore and stiff muscles,” he says.
Prepare to eat and drink
“Post-run nutrition is often the most important factor in jump-starting recovery, and usually something most of us are bad about,” says Corkum. “We get distracted after our runs, often eating an hour or two later.” The best time to re-fuel post-run is within about 30 minutes. “Our bodies are eager to rebuild to the stress of training, but we need nutrition to do so optimally,” Corkum adds.
Your meal or snack after a run should include both protein and carbs, which Corkum suggests getting from a smoothie with protein powder or Greek yogurt with fruit. “Training adaptation is ultimately about consistently stressing the body, and then allowing the body to adapt to that stress,” she adds. “Runners will see and feel a big change in their recovery, and therefore overall adaptation if post-run nutrition is taken as seriously as the mileage.”
Don’t forget that drinking plenty of water and getting some electrolytes should also factor into your re-fueling strategy.
Change out of wet clothes immediately
Wet clothing can chill you down too quickly after a run. By putting on dry garments, you keep your muscles warm, which promotes circulation that aids recovery. Good blood flow brings much needed nutrients to depleted muscles and carries metabolic waste away—exactly what you want following a run. Even on a hot summer day, slipping into sweatpants after a long run feels great.
Look at your training plan
Is it appropriate for your current fitness level? Training plans should alternate hard and easy days, vary weekly mileage, build long miles in gradual increments, and have one or more days off from running. If you are bunching up hard workouts or not getting adequate rest, consider scaling back.
Scaling back might also include taking more than one rest day between workouts. “Sometimes it takes an extra day or two to really feel the fatigue from a run—it may not be the day after, but two days after,” Corkum says. If that’s how you’re feeling, make sure you have two whole days between hard efforts.
Mandje agrees, offering this example for a solid schedule: Monday: hard, Tuesday: easy, Wednesday: easy or off, Thursday: hard, Friday: easy or off, Saturday: hard (long run), Sunday: easy or off. “The idea—regardless of how many days per week you run—is to pair any hard day with one or two easy days to ensure proper recovery before going hard again,” he says.
Make sure easy days are easy
As for those easy days on the schedule, make sure you’re not running too fast. This is a very common mistake that enthusiastic runners make because they think this will make them get faster quicker—in actuality, this often creates unnecessary fatigue and increases the risk of injury.
Also, if you have a rest day on the calendar, take an actual rest day. “Often times, you hear of runners who use their day off as a day to cross train,” Mandje says. “While this may work for some, it certainly takes away from true recovery. Despite the lack of pounding, your muscles and heart may still need that extra recovery time with limited to little strenuous activity.”
Focus on getting the most out of your hard days and your easy days. “The best way to recover in between workouts is to take the recovery as serious as you take the training,” Mandje adds.
Take into account the weather
Weather can easily affect both your training and recovery. “The demands on your body are different when running in hot and humid conditions versus cold and dry climates,” Mandje says.
In super hot and human conditions, you probably want to dial back on your pace, intensity, and/or mileage. You might also need more rest days when it’s warm out, as well as more fluids and electrolytes to keep your body performing at it’s best. “This means hydrating throughout the day, not just during the run,” Mandje says, suggesting you have a drink with more electrolytes in it the more you’re sweating.
The weather can come into play during your sleep too, so make sure your room is at an optimal temperature for you to catch zzz’s, he adds.
Get more sleep
Speaking of sleep, we just can’t talk about a post run recovery plan without mentioning how much you need it. “Sleep is the ultimate and best version of rest. This is when our bodies have the best opportunity to rebuild and recover,” says Corkum. If you’re feeling like you just can’t recover or you’re constantly tired, burned out, or can’t focus, then turn your attention to getting more rest. You may need to set some boundaries when it comes to screen time or creating a wind-down routine at night to make quality shut-eye happen.
Mandje also says there’s power in napping. “Truth is, many of us with families, jobs and/or busy work/life balance rarely get as much sleep as we should,” Mandje says. “This is why I champion the restorative magic of naps.” He recommends 15 to 20 minutes of rest to help amp up your recovery. “If you’re feeling more refreshed, then you’ll set yourself up even better for not just recovery, but also your upcoming training,” he adds.
Consider what you do the rest of the day
“Our choices during recovery runs, rest days, and when we’re not running have a direct impact on how we feel, perform, and adapt to that next hard workout,” Corkum says. “Often the opportunity to make the most of that key workout was the day before. So mindful choices when not running can make all the difference.”
Finally, while you need water before and during your run, how much you drink throughout the day, and the day before a long run can also affect your overall recovery, according to both experts.
If you’re not feeling your best after a run, take a look at what you’re doing the day before and you might discover you need to make some changes to help with recovery.