As older athletes, we have a tendency to up the ante when we train, mistakenly thinking more may just be better to keep up with the pack. Truth is, there’s no faster way to harm your body and your training progress than to ignore the need to optimize recovery.
Adequate recovery time varies depending on your exercise volume and intensity any given day, week or month. And it is scientifically proven to restore body and mind for the next bout of training. We asked exercise physiologist and professional cycling coach Jeff Lockwood for guidance on how to support our bodies with proper recovery.
“The bottom line is athletic recovery is an interval as important as all the intervals found in the sets and reps of a given workout,” he says. You train to transform and you race to perform. And that training has to include recovery. And if recovery is an interval, you take it just as seriously as doing a sprint or a hill climb or a time trial.”
Recovery is multi-faceted, meaning immediate recovery begins in between intervals while you’re still training, and short-term recovery that happens within the first 24 hours post-workout. “Very few of us actually over-train. What we tend to do is under-recover,” Lockwood points out.
All too often, after we hang up our bikes, take off our sneakers or pack away our gear, we spend the rest of the day running errands, standing up in the kitchen, doing the laundry or hitting the mall. We forget that our muscle tissue is actively engaged in short-term repair and shrug off the proper protocols that will prompt our bodies to get stronger.
More is Not Better
Triathletes, in particular, manage multiple workouts in multiple disciplines every week, and unfortunately, recovery time can be sacrificed in favor of getting the workouts in.
“I call it the triathlon syndrome,” says Lockwood, who trains both amateur and professional athletes. “It is an insidious mentality because they feel like they are rushed, so in the back of their minds, they are always playing catch-up.”
At the end of the day, more is not better. More is just more, but better is actually better. “You can’t microwave your physiology. Your physiology is a crockpot experience,” Lockwood says. “When you don’t program in proper recovery intervals, your muscle tissues won’t respond as quickly. Strength comes in the recovery phase.”
As older athletes, we have to work at recovery a little more diligently, Lockwood says. In multiple research studies, walking comes up over and over as the best way for recovery while maintaining fitness. “The older we get, the more we benefit from active recovery after a bout of exercise,” says Lockwood.
“It’s so important for the aging athlete, to maintain good technique,” he adds. “You don’t have youth to compensate for inadequacies in technique. The older athlete has less elasticity in their tendons and ligaments. Additionally, the muscles don’t metabolize as well. So you had better have good form.”
7 Ways to Optimize Recovery
Lockwood points to seven solid habits to manage and optimize recovery.
- Monitor performance regularly. Today there are ample technology tools to provide training load data and performance information, including power meters on bikes. Lockwood points to turnover rate, speed and stride length changes for runners. For swimmers, data points include speed, distance and time.
- Periodize your training program. For serious amateur athletes, hire a coach to help you properly plan an effective training program based on the principles of periodization.
- Monitor psychological stress. Be aware of the stressors in your life. Are you getting enough sleep? Stress at work? Write in your training diary how stress may be affecting your workouts.
- Maintain a training diary. Unlike training data, record your thoughts on your performance that day. Recall elements that may have affected your training, like weather and wind, altitude, and other factors.
- Practice good nutrition. Without proper nutrition and adequate carbohydrate intake, athletes can experience chronic glycogen depletion and feel exhausted all the time. Adequate protein and fat intake, fluids, vitamin and mineral balance are all important elements to an athlete’s overall nutrition.
- Screen for and manage infection. Feeling a tickle in your throat or a cough coming on? Recognize that your body is working hard to fight off an infection and respect the need for additional recovery time. A handful of missed workouts due to illness will not ruin an entire training season.
- Educate yourself on the science. With data, information and research plentiful, it’s easy to be in the know on the science of recovery. Take the time (while you’re recovering) to read up on the latest information.