“The ultimate goal is balance – the art of maximizing performance while still prioritizing life”

After four days of vacation, it felt great to get back at it yesterday – especially to the gym. Another solid brick workout plus the knee pain I was experiencing early last week was gone. Vacation came at a perfect time, forced me into a little R&R. It got me thinking about recovery in general.

Athletes are always expected to train hard; sometimes we forget it’s equally as important to recover properly. Not only is it important for the body, the mind needs a break too! Keep in mind these five main areas to ensure you’re getting the benefits of proper recovery.

1. Stretch
My 28-year history as a dancer (ballet, jazz, high kick – you name it) taught me both the importance and proper technique of stretching. Especially for endurance athletes, proper stretching can prevent injuries as well as boost performance.

Equally as important as stretching is when you stretch – NEVER stretch prior to a workout. Your muscles are cold and you’re very likely to pull or irritate something. Wait til post-workout and tack on a few minutes of stretching after a cool-down (or mid-way through if it’s a long cardio workout). Here are some of my favorite stretches:

*Hold each a minimum count of 8, repeat on both sides and never push so far you feel pain.

Runner Stretch
-Get down in a runner pose, right leg in front, knee parallel to floor, left leg extended back.
*For those battling shin splints, this stretch also offers a great opportunity to build up the muscles around it and combat that pain. Drop your left knee, then tap your right toe. You’ll feel it!

Achilles Stretch
-Go into this one straight from runner stretch. Keep right foot planted and bring the left under the body, so you’re essentially sitting on your left foot.

Quad Stretch
-Balancing on your right leg, bend your left foot at the knee, bring your foot behind you and grab your ankle.

IT Band Stretch
-Standing with feet together, cross your right foot over left at the ankle. Reach down and try to touch your toes (grab your shins if you can’t reach toes).

V-Sit Stretch
-Sit on the floor in a “V” position. Gently stretch to the right, the left and center, keeping your body down the entire time.

Back Stretch
-Cross your right arm in front of you, and gently grab your elbow with your left hand

Tri Stretch
-Reach your right arm straight up, by your ear. Bend at the elbow and attempt to touch your upper back with your right palm. Gently grab your elbow with your left hand.

2. Foam Roll
I discovered the joys of foam rolling last fall, when I was having issues with my IT bands. This began as a love/hate relationship (foam rolling can be a bit painful when done correctly) and has transformed into more love, less hate.

Foam rolling is essentially a deep tissue massage – only more affordable! And all it takes is a couple minutes to work out some of those tight or troublesome areas. Here are a few ways to use a foam roller, courtesy Women’s Health.

3. Sleep
Yes, those 7 hours might be tough to get every night. But athletes need quality sleep to perform best.

Every athlete knows how much the brain factors into athletic performance. The cognitive benefits of sleep translate into the gym, pavement or field. Sleep also promotes muscle recovery and reduces stress.

4. Nutrition
After all the hard work you put in at the gym, you want to reap the biggest reward, right? Proper post-workout nutrition helps muscles recover and be in better position to push harder next time.

Depending on what type of training you’re doing, your nutritional needs will be different. Protein seems like the obvious choice for weight lifters (and it is) but protein is also important for runners and endurance athletes. Likewise, carbs are synonymous with runners but they get a bad rap for other athletes. Weight lifters need carbs too! Their metabolisms are generally high, thanks to the extra muscle mass working for the body, plus carbs provide proper energy to push them through hard workouts just the same as endurance athletes.

The key is to eat or drink soon after a workout, typically within 20 minutes, and make good choices in terms of the sources of carbs and protein.

A glass of milk with a scoop of protein makes a great recovery shake for all athletes. Low-fat Greek yogurt is another solid choice after a lift or long run (bonus – calcium helps strengthen bones and prevent stress fractures!). Oranges are great for endurance athletes because they’re packed with Vitamin C, essential for muscle repair. This vitamin also aids in the absorption of iron, which helps battle fatigue. Several other fruits are a great source of carbs for athletes so eat a variety like berries, bananas and apples. Be sure to eat the actual, whole fruit – steer clear of sugary, fiber-lacking juice.

I try to chug 2 of these bad boys every day

I try to chug 2 of these bad boys every day

And don’t forget the most important beverage of all – water! My daily goal is to guzzle 64 ounces.

5. Rest Day
This one was always a struggle for me. When I first began working out and seeing results, I, like many new exercisers, became somewhat addicted to it. It got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t take a day off or I’d immediately gain weight and lose muscle tone. But I’ve learned that a rest day is crucial to overall performance, gains and mental health.

Take at least one rest day a week to let your body and mind relax. If you’re feeling the itch to do something, an active recovery day is okay once in awhile, as long as it’s something very low impact, like walking or yoga.

Do you have a favorite recovery food? How about a stretch you swear by? Share your recovery tips here in the comments or tweet to me @runlikeagirl311 so I can share them in a follow-up post!

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