Come on. I don’t need you to tell me how to recover, lady. If that’s one thing I know about, it’s how to recover.
Well sorry. I call bullshit in 9/10 triathletes.
Triathletes are an interesting personality type. Most of the time they have an obsessive streak *AND I DO NOT MEAN THAT AS A BAD THING*, put down your pitchforks. They get obsessed with data, PBs, workout records, and smashing the almighty shit out of themselves in every workout. But where does that get them?
Injured, probably. And not just acute injuries like sprains, bone breaks. I’m talking soft tissue stuff, stress fractures, chronic injuries. They’re the kind of things that just go on and on, and prevent us from reaching our full potential in the sport. I see things like this all the time, when an athlete realises that they love the sport, and they’re kind of good at it too. They get fast quickly, and love the feeling, so they train harder. They equate more training to better performance, but eventually, there is an equaliser. They get injured, or they start to show signs of a performance plateau. Cue a break for recovery from a soft tissue injury (the physio makes them take a break) but once the all clear is reached they resume right where they left off. Until something like a stress fracture happens.
We’ve already talked before about not hitting the roof every time we train, and how to use thresholds in our training to make us faster athletes. But now it’s time for the chat about the stuff that is NOT training, the stuff that coaches don’t often prescribe outside of the swim bike run: RECOVERY. As someone who has problems with injury (due to factors out of my control) I’ve sort of had to take recovery to a new level because otherwise no training at all happens for me.
Because all of my athletes use training peaks, I am going to use it as the baseline for your workout “Intensity Factor”. This basically is a number that in simplest terms tells you how hard you have worked. If you have a Garmin, the Garmin can often give you your intensity factor, even if you don’t you can upload a file into Garmin connect and it’s probably going to give it to you as well. Here is a link if you want to have a look at what it’s all about.
I’ll again use myself as the example as we go through this post.
A small ride I did on the wind trainer last night
While I haven’t done a lot of riding recently my 20 min max power (functional threshold power, FTP) is 114W and my average power for this ride was 94W which gives me something around the 0.85 mark. It’s actually 0.82 but I just made up the 114W… 😉 BASICALLY when you do most of your work around your threshold it will be at or under 1, which is what you want for an aerobic session (check the how to use thresholds in training link above) and if it is over 1 you are working ABOVE it. You shouldn’t have many workouts above 1, maybe 2 a week. The rest should all be under to increase aerobic performance.
So from yesterday, I have a score of 0.85.
The basic way to look at it is this: for recovery, positive adaption to your training, and to get the best from your workouts tomorrow and into the future (which is the whole point) you need to equal out your intensity score with a recovery score. Makes sense right? Same as people who get into the nutrition thing… calories in v calories out.. except in this case it’s effort v recovery.
Now, the recovery score is a new thing to me, introduced by a Facebook post from breakingmuscle.com. I had already had a similar theory, without numbers to back it up, and when it comes down to it, I like the way they have made it simple. So I am going to use it, because it’s easy. It gives a fantastic insight into how important things as simple as sleep and nutrition are to your training performance, and therefore your race performance.
So this is pretty cool. I can see all these things I can do to recover from my workout.
As an example: I am between jobs, so I have definitely been getting 8 hours sleeps. Tick, give me 0.5 points.
I have been eating pretty well because I have a fair bit of time to prepare my food, so give me another 0.25 points. AWESOME! I’m at 0.75 points without trying too hard. But as you can see, I am still a bit off the score that I need.
Now, this is a bit where common sense comes in. There is no point wearing compression socks for two hours if I have just done a hard swim set. Pointless. Specificity is important here, so for my ride workout, compression tights would be grouse because I’ve just given my quads, hamstrings and hips a bit of a tune up.
I can get a massage, that would be ace. And give me 0.5 points so I am in great shape.
I would also limit naps to an hour (maximum of 0.2 points) because then you just don’t sleep at night… and losing those 0.5 points would be a massive blow to me, because during winter I am petrified of cold water and you couldn’t PAY me enough to get in an ice bath…
If you have two workouts for the day, recover to the highest intensity factor. If you have days where you don’t get much of a chance to do much more than sleep well and eat well, you can get a massage and count it as a few points on different days. It’s not an exact science, and like you triathlon training, it is the build up over time that assists.
As you can see… if you don’t get a good 8 hours sleep, you are already 0.5 points behind. It is one of the things that affects you the MOST out of all the recovery items. And it’s not realistic for your life or your pocket to have a massage every day. I mean, I’d quit my job and do this full time if this were the case… but it’s just not.
There are things in here also that many people don’t think a great deal about: such as meditation. If you click the link (the table above) and go to the linked article and have a read, this line was fascinating to me:
Deliberate time spent on things like meditation, tai chi, and qi gong improves all the other recovery factors
When I was 14 I learned transcendental meditation from some guru that my parents paid because I was a little shit of a child. Calm the mind, calm the body, maybe I’d be less of an asshole… but it had an interesting impact on my swimming. 15 minutes before bed and 15 minutes when I woke up allowed me to focus, be present, and just helped me get things done. This included the school work that went on top of the 5.30am swim sessions most days.
I’m not saying you pay a crazy Malaysian man to teach you something like this (and for years, I really did think the dude was mad with his burning smelly crap and telling me things like “no mantra no thought”) but in a world where we are rarely still, stillness helps our body AND mind.
Download an iPhone app that has a guided meditation on it, there are stacks of free ones out there. Or just spend 10 minutes concentrating on your breathing, or imagining white light tipping over your head and washing over your body, or start from your head and slowly and consciously relax every muscle you have in your body. Whatever it is that you wish to do for those quiet 15 minutes, do it. When you start out, you will think ALL THE THINGS. Acknowledge your thought, and put it aside for later, when you start to think about training, work, kids, everything else. Get to know your body, your breathing, and be still. Do a body balance class, they include elements of tai chi and meditation at the end. That’s my favourite part, the little sleep at the end.
Eventually, the thoughts get easier to dismiss during this time. It may take a few days, it may take a few weeks, but eventually, it’s easier to focus. Your head gets clearer, and you amplify the effects of your recovery, even if it’s just once a day! And, it’s worth 0.25 points, for only 15 minutes! Hell yes.
My athletes get recovery sessions planned into their training. And they know they have to fit it in, they often get 15 minute guided stretching, or a youtube yoga video or get forced into a Yoga class (sorry Andrew!!) but it is all worth it. Swim/Bike/Run is a big part of what we do, and because we spend so much time training, we need to get the small things right as well to reach our potential! Plan your recovery the same way you plan your workouts and your body will thank you. You just don’t know how good you were designed to feel, and this will help you be your best and get the most from your training.