There’s something really serendipitous about a total rest day, especially when it involves a nice stack of pancakes and a little couch time. Although it may feel excellent to take a complete day off from movement, getting up and moving after a hard workout could actually help you recover. Enter the recovery run.
“Think of this motion as lotion,” says Stephanie Blozy, a run coach and owner of the running retailer, Fleet Feet in West Hartford, Connecticut. “Even the sorest of muscles can benefit from easy movement which can help push fresh oxygenated blood through the muscles to flush out lactic acid and ‘feed’ the muscles healthy nutrients.”
But, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. Here, experts weigh in on how exactly recovery runs work, how often you should be implementing recovery work into your routine, and some strategies and best-practices for adding it into the mix.
HOW DO RECOVERY RUNS WORK?
First things first, let’s get specific about what a recovery run looks like. These runs should max out at 60 minutes, and Blozy recommends a pace that’s 1–2 minutes slower per mile than your normal. So, if you typically run a 10-minute mile, your recovery pace can be an 11–12 minute/mile. The focus should be on moving — not fast or a certain distance.
During this run, your body is working to clear lactic acid buildup from the legs. Consider your bloodstream a highway system of how nutrients get from your digestive system and oxygen from your lungs to the proper areas throughout your body, says Vivian Eisenstadt, CPT and orthopedic physical therapist in Los Angeles. “Your muscles are the pumps that help move blood through your body. If you don’t move after intense workouts, you allow the lactic acid to build up, she adds.”
WHY RECOVERY RUNS ARE IMPORTANT
Clearing out lactic acid can help muscle fibers rebuild themselves, then come back stronger than before, says Blozy. In other words, say hello to big performance gains. “If you string too many hard efforts together, you actually weaken the muscles so all that hard work is for little gain,” she adds.
Plus, getting up and moving can be great for your overall mental strength, too. “By adding these into your routine, a runner can build discipline and patience, not to mention teach the body on how to actively engage when experiencing fatigue,” says Natalie Niemczyk, DPT, strength and conditioning specialist and RRCA-certified run coach. “This helps to improve a runner’s overall mental toughness, focus on running form and helps the body to build resilience and strength.”
Of course, if it is physically painful for you to move, then the last thing you want to do is overly stress your body. However, on those days, it’s still important to do light walking, as it will have a similar assisting affect.
WHAT SHOULD I KEEP IN MIND DURING A RECOVERY RUN?
First, keep a smart pace. We have that 1–2 minutes slower than your typical pace guideline, but also pay attention to how you feel. If you’re even the least bit tempted to look at where your heart rate is, you’re likely pushing too hard. Aim for a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 2–4 on a scale of 10.
“A recovery run should be at a pace where you can hold a conversation with someone and actually sustain that conversation for the majority of your run,” says trainer Sergio Pedemonte. “If you can’t, then your pace likely isn’t comfortable enough, and you’re therefore not performing a recovery.”
Feeling slow on your recovery day? Alexandra Weissner, an RRCA run coach and co-founder bRUNch Running, wants to assure you that’s OK. “Don’t be too hard on yourself on a recovery day,” she says. “If you need to walk, walk. If you are finding that running is just not working that day. It is OK to walk instead. Walking will help to build the same benefit.”
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.