With all of the time you put into training, it can be hard to think about squeezing yet another thing into your schedule. For many of us, once our run is over, we’re on to the next thing on our to-do list. However, there is one very valuable thing you may be skipping out on: post-run recovery. Not only is it vital to staying injury-free, but it will also help you become a better runner in the long run.
“The first step is to really understand how important a post-run routine is,” explains Carl Leivers, founder of Running Coach Carl. “Our bodies don’t adapt during the workout, they adapt during the recovery process. Another word for ‘adapt’ is improve; if the goal is to get the maximum benefit out of your workout, then the recovery needs to be just as important.”
If scheduling is your main issue, Leivers says it is better to cut five minutes off the end of your run so you can use that time to develop a consistent routine. Consistency, as the saying goes, is key.
“The best way to stay consistent with your post-run routine is prioritization,” adds sports and exercise psychologist Dave Caldwell, head coach at Whisper Running. “Having clear, defined goals can help prioritize your preparation to run, the actual run workout and the support the body needs post-run (including your diet and stretching routine).”
What are the most important components of a well-rounded post-run routine? Here are seven mistakes you are probably making and should take the time to fix:
1. ONLY TRACKING HEART RATE WHEN RUNNING
One of the most beneficial times to track your heart rate is actually when you wake up. It can give you insight to your health and prepare for your day’s run.
“It is important to get your resting heart rate every morning when you wake up, because it is your true resting heart rate,” explains Tim Neckar, founder and head coach at RunnerOne. “After you wake up, just lie there for a minute or two then take it. If it is above normal, then you know that you have not gotten enough rest and/or have not recovered from yesterday’s workout.”
Neckar also notes that it could mean you are dehydrated or low on calories, so get in enough water and fuel before you head out on a run.
2. NOT REFUELING
In addition to getting enough nutrition before your run, you also have to make sure you properly refuel afterward. Not only is it important for your health but also for your muscle recovery. Pay special attention to protein and carbohydrates and eat whole foods.
“Whole foods are foods which have not been processed in any shape or form and are typically digested and processed by the body much easier — or at least in a healthier manner,” notes Caldwell. “Fruits, vegetables, legumes, green smoothies (homemade preferred), organic animal protein or even steel-cut oatmeal are great options.”
Caldwell adds that consuming whole foods is the most natural way to replenish your energy stores; it is important to do so as soon after your run as possible.
3. NOT REHYDRATING
Of course having post-run coffee — especially for early bird runners — is OK, however, you want to make sure you are taking in the right fluids after your run to stay hydrated.
“Post run — about 30–60 minutes after — is the perfect recovery window,” shares Melissa Farrell, owner and coach of Las Vegas Runners. “It is important to hydrate and replenish fluids lost during exercise — but also to recover — with a protein/carbohydrate mix in order to help your muscles recover.”
Whether this involves a smoothie, as suggested by Caldwell, or having a protein shake, taking in the right amount of fluids within that recovery window is key to replacing those fluids your body lost during your run.
4. IGNORING MUSCLE RECOVERY
When it comes to a post-run routine, skipping out on things such as stretching and foam rolling is usually the easiest thing to do. However, it is vital that you take care of your muscles, even if just for a few minutes.
“After a run — or any workout — your muscles are warmed up and much more pliable; this is the perfect time for some stretching, mostly static stretching,” notes Farrell. “You will get more range of motion in each stretch versus attempting with cold muscles.”
Caldwell adds that inflexibility is a hard-to-break cycle once you continuously avoid stretching. Even if you only have 5 minutes, he suggests using foam roller to break up adhesions that cause tightness and soreness.
“Got five minutes? Roll the most stressed part of your body, likely your Achilles,” he suggests. “Have more time? Move up the body chain to your knees — you’ll be surprised how good that can feel — quadriceps and hip flexors.”
5. TRACKING TRAINING DATA WITHOUT REALLY USING IT
More and more people are turning to fitness trackers and wearables to keep their running data all in one place. If you don’t do anything with that data, however, you are missing out on a huge learning opportunity.
READ MORE > WHY YOU SHOULD TRACK YOUR TRAINING
“As a trainer and an ultra runner myself, I often will review data of my runs, paces and workouts,” reveals Farrell. “You can find some useful information in these numbers, such as signs of overtraining, progress you are making throughout your training and even estimations of race goals based on your past training numbers. It can be useful — and even fun — to see how you have grown as a runner and an athlete!”
6. STAYING SWEATY
Not everyone has time to shower after a run and that is perfectly fine. However, not cleaning up at all can lead to more than just an unpleasant smell emanating from your general vicinity.
“I would suggest at least wiping off those, well, delicate areas,” urges Farrell. “Sweating during exercise and not cleaning away the sweat can lead to possible bacteria issues as well as rashes in certain areas. I would suggest carrying baby wipes in case you are in a hurry and need to do a quick wipe down after a run.“
7. SKIMPING ON SLEEP
The final piece of the recovery puzzle? Sleep. Of course, this may not be something you do right after your run but is definitely a part of post-run recovery that you should plan and account for.
“Rest is part of training,” notes Neckar. “It allows the body to heal and recover itself from previous workouts.”
Getting a proper bedtime routine in place to set yourself up for the best night of sleep possible is the best way to guarantee you won’t miss out on valuable zzz’s needed to keep your body healthy and well-rested for the next run on your schedule.