Ahh… The Many Pleasures of Passive Recovery
Three days after a disastrous race that lasted over eight hours (I’m still processing why I feel good about a disaster) I feel ready to head back out on the trails and train for the next one. I used a little active recovery, which meant walking the dog, but mainly I recovered. And ate. And ate some more. My heart rate monitor estimated that I expended over 4,000 calories during the race. And because of serious GI issues, I didn’t eat much that day. So the strategy was Passive Recovery. I modeled my behavior on the dog. She is nearly always very well recovered and rested. And fed.
These are techniques that take minimal effort, and are designed to enhance rest. Passive is the key word. Set it up and rest. You only get stronger while recovering. Sleep is the most important aspect, but there are other ways to increase the amount of rest.
Let’s see how Passive Recovery can affect the main recovery issues:
Nothings beats feeling tired like a nap right? Fatigue exists on both physical and mental levels, and sleep is the most powerful way to deal with it. Don’t get enough quality sleep and all manner of health problems manifest. Or you could go temporarily insane.
Muscle Soreness and Damage
The body heals itself constantly, and that includes muscles beat down by racing. But we can’t consciously control the process, so the best strategy is just get out of the way. Improving delta sleep, the deepest level, seems to be the best way to help with tissue repair.
It’s not just the muscles that take a beating from a race, the brain does too. Stress hormones rise and stay up for quite awhile. The need to concentrate fatigues the brain considerably even when not physically active. Add this brain drain to muscles that are fading, and plenty of sleep is needed. Improving the dreaming part of sleep, REM sleep, where theta brain waves predominate may help the brain process all the day’s experiences into the appropriate memories. Think about all the cognitive effort of a race as well as all the strong emotions. The subconscious has serious work to do, and it needs the conscious to step down for awhile.
If you don’t move around much, you don’t need to expend much energy. So the healthy food (and maybe a treat or three) will be stored. Once carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver are restored, the muscles can repair and rebuild, and the brain can relax, no longer sensing a threat to its survival.
The stress hormones of a big race are a serious “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system response. A lot of important physiological systems are put on hold. It takes time to rebalance. Perhaps its hormonal, or maybe neurotransmitters are depleted or imbalanced, but the physical organ of the brain needs recovery too. Fortunately, mood is an excellent indicator of recovery. Another very useful tool is to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which gives a good indication of whether the sympathetic “fight or flight” mechanism is in charge or the parasympathetic “relaxation response” system has taken over.
Here’s How I Put It Into Practice:
- Go to bed early. I don’t stress over sleep quality the night after a race. Sometimes it’s like a rock, sometimes not.
- Take a nap. After long workouts (weekends) or races if possible. I elevate my legs to help blood flow.
- Meditation/Visualization/Relaxation– I may combine this with a nap, or separately. Invoking a relaxation response and turning off the arousal of a big effort gets the healing going.
- Compression Gear– My new favorite! Nothing but sleep is more passivethan putting on my compression socks and letting them help my circulation get out the metabolic waste and deliver nutrients. A good rule of thumb appears to be twice as long in your compression gear as time on the trail. Next I’m buying some tights, and when I save enough spare change some active compression boots.
Next up: The Two Most Important Ways to Recover Well