What do you do after a race? Some typical answers include: Take a nap, drink adult beverages (hello, beer) and soak in the tub. In short, you rest. However, inactivity remains the least optimal post-race recovery method (unless you were injured). Active recovery is the most effective way to remove blood lactate accumulation. You need to keep working out.
“The best way to recover from a race is to keep moving,” says Meredith O’Brien, certified running coach and owner of East Coast Run Project in Virginia Beach. “It’s important to recognize that ‘rest’ is not recovery. Movement to increase blood flow to beat up muscles will help them clean out leftover byproduct from strenuous activity and speed healing.”
READ MORE > THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REST AND RECOVERY
So next time you finish a race, consider one of these four workouts:
1. CONTRAST BATH WATER WORKOUT
Mindy Solkin, a professional running coach for The Running Center in New York City and Philadelphia, provides this post-race workout, which requires a swimming pool and hot tub. Always start and end with cool pool water.
The set up: Position yourself in the deep end of the pool, in the corner facing away from the pool. Place your hands out of the water on the pool’s edges so you’re making a “V” with your hands. Place your feet in a “V” shape on the wall in the pool.
Step: Start with your arms and legs bent. Then, extend your arms and legs as straight as possible, and hold for 10 seconds. Return to the start position for a few seconds. Do 3 sets of 5. You’ll feel the stretch in your hamstrings and calves.
Step 2: Go into the hot tub and place the jets directly onto your leg muscles, giving yourself a “jet massage.” Go on and off the jets for about 5 minutes.
Step 3: Repeat the process 2 more times.
At-home alternative: Do a contrast bath-like workout at home using ice packs and a heating pad. The method: 10 minutes with an ice pack, 10 minutes with a heating pad, 10 minutes with an ice pack.
2. POOL RUNNING
Pool running can also aid recovery. “It limits [the] impact on joints and cartilage and allows the muscles to work with less effort and intensity,” says Jamie Logie, a certified personal trainer and author from Ontario, Canada.
Take note: Logie suggests keeping this workout light. “The water still provides resistance and can be fatiguing to a central nervous and immune system that is probably a bit weaker right now.”
Logie also recommends yoga because it “not only stretches and relaxes worn out muscles, but it can help a runner recover mentally as well.” Yoga newbies or those with extra tight muscles from the race should move slowly into each pose and stop immediately if you feel pain.
Take note: Avoid hot yoga after a race to avoid potential dehydration. A 2015 study from the American Council on Exercise, found that participants in Bikram yoga (yoga performed in a heated room) reached an average core temperature of 103.2°F for men and 102°F for women.
4. RIDE AN EXERCISE BIKE
Biking helps bring new blood to the legs, which loosens them up. It can also boost recovery time. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that cyclists who followed intense exercise with active recovery — four days of low-intensity, cycling for one hour each day — returned to pre-training levels.
Take note: “Stress fractures are probably going to be your feet’s biggest worry, especially if you’re breaking in a new pair of running shoes after your big race,” says Dr. John Kennedy, foot and ankle surgeon and clinical director of the running clinic at the Hospital for Special Surgery. “Be on the lookout for unusual tenderness or swelling, and walk (don’t run) to your physician or physical therapist if you experience pain.”