When reviewing an athlete’s training schedule, coaches are careful to examine the details of that schedule: pace, distance, effort, etc. We scrutinize every component of an upcoming speedwork session. We assess each warm-up and cool down routine. We analyze drills and stretches. But one aspect of training we often gloss over—and shouldn’t—is rest.
What do I mean by rest? Typically, coaches use the terms "rest" and "recovery" interchangeably. However, they're not really the same thing. Rest is to recovery as finger is to hand. Rest is simply one aspect of recovery during training. Recovery is the coach's primary focus; recovery allows the body to go through supercompensation. After we stress the system, we must allow it to adapt and become stronger. It is during recovery that adaptation occurs.
So what do I mean by recovery? Recovery is the time during which your body works to return to homeostasis (or “normal”) after a stimulus. Recovery is a very individual process, which is probably why we coaches don’t do a terrific job of explaining how to go about it.
Explaining recovery is difficult because there are no ideal metrics for it. We all recover at different rates. Also, each individual recovers differently from different stimuli. For instance, some people bounce back from track sessions faster than long runs - or vice versa. It takes coaches and athletes working together for years to create an accurate and effective plan for recovery.
So, does that mean we're doomed to years of trial and error? Not necessarily. Coaches know training, but athletes know their bodies. With a little focused observation, you can find that special recipe to help you properly recover.
Let’s break the recovery process into specific time frames.
Recovery starts as soon as we finish our training session. Whether that session is a long run, track workout, or whatever, we start recovering as soon as we take our last step. How can we speed the recovery process along?
Immediately after the workout:
The evening after the workout:
The day(s) after the workout:
Rest may sink into the shadows of training, but it is not because it is unimportant. On the contrary. There is simply no solid, concrete, one-size-fits-all answer. But by learning how our bodies recover, we can take ownership of our training and catapult our performances to the next level. Remember: he who recovers first, wins.
Prior to becoming a coach, Tim Cary was a high school and collegiate athlete who always wanted to know the "why?" behind his training. After graduating with a degree in kinesiology, that passion to learn has led Tim to amass an amazing coaching resume. In 14 years at the high school level he coached 85 All-State athletes, 12 nationally-ranked distance relays, 8 teams that earned State Championship trophies, and a MTCCCA Distinguished Coaches Award. Four years of college coaching were accompanied by 40 All-Americans, 6 National Champions, 3 Team National Championships, 2 National Records, 2 Conference Coach of the Year honors, and an NAIA National Coach of the Year award. Coach Cary has also used his USATF Level 1 certification to train (1) 5 AAU/USATF National Champions, 2 of whom set National Records, (2) the Runnababex Elite development team, and (3) dozens of Boston Marathon qualifiers.