Helen is a Great Britain age group triathlete. She is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. This year Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team which raised over £700,000 for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of this year’s Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. She will be writing a series of blogs for Sportscover Direct where she will share her training tips. You can follow her on Twitter @helengoth.
Recovery is an essential part of getting fitter and faster. It is however the most overlooked element of training with lots of people either not taking any measures to help the body recover or rushing the recovery part of their training session. Spending a bit of extra time taking steps to help the body recover has a range of benefits including increasing muscle strength, building endurance, shortening recovery time and reducing the risk of injury. Here are some key things to do after a training session or race:
After each training session make sure that you do a suitable cool down. The length of the cool down will depend on the session but it could be an easy 15 minute jog or 10 minute spin on the bike in an easy gear. Lots of swimmers forget to cool down after sessions but make sure you schedule five minutes to do a few easy recovery laps including some backstroke to use different muscles. By helping the body get rid of waste products, including lactic acid a cool down will help reduce the risk of post training muscle soreness, commonly known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
After completing your cool down have a stretch. Most people fail to do this. Ideally schedule about 10-15 minutes after your training to stretch the main muscle groups. Hold the stretch for between 30 to 60 seconds. Static stretches-that is stretches that you hold are best for post training as they help the muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re-establish the normal range of movement.
There is about a 30 minute optimal slot for taking in food after training and this is the best time for your muscles to absorb nutrients assisting with muscle repair and promoting muscle growth. Your body’s metabolism is working at a higher rate to recover, refuel and adapt to the training. I usually have a protein shake after training as it takes seconds to make and is quickly absorbed by the body. Other options include apples and natural yoghurt, cottage cheese on crispbread or even the old favourite chocolate milkshake. You should also have a meal within 2 hours of training.
If you watch any running race or triathlon you will notice an array of competitors wearing a range of almost blindingly bright compression gear! I’m a big fan of wearing compression kit after a hard training session or race. Research is still being carried out on the benefits of compression kit but it is thought that by increasing blood flow, muscles are resupplied with their fuel- glycogen and metabolic waste is cleared, enhancing recovery. There is a huge range of both upper and lower body compression kit on the market. I have tried a range of compression products but my favourite make is Compressport as it feels as if it is really supporting the muscles and reducing vibration.
Lots of athletes find it hard to have a rest day but it is essential to give your body (and mind) time to recover. The muscles repair and grow when they are resting. I have one rest day a week which also gives my mind time to think of something other than training! In his autobiography Chris Hoy said “Why walk when you can sit and why sit when you can lie down?” This is so true. Try and keep the weight off your legs. My work colleagues are often shocked when I take the office lift and say they thought I was fit but it’s exactly because I am fit that I take the lift. Usually I will have already worked out before arriving at work so it’s more important for my muscles to recover than taking the stairs! Of course the most important rest time is when we are sleeping. Try and get 7-8 hours of sleep a night and maybe have a small amount of protein (e.g. a glass of milk) before going to bed.
I also do a number of other things to help recovery including Pilates once a week, a sports massage at least once a month, and a visit to the chiropractor about 3 times a year. In between massage appointments I will use a foam roller to help release any tight muscles and also use a family member’s hot-tub for a hydrotherapy massage.