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Yes, runners need recovery days, but also recovery weeks

One of the most common questions runners ask me is, how can they optimise running recovery? Most runners know to take recovery days, but the best thing you can do is to also build recovery weeks into your training. This article explains how recovery weeks can help you to train smarter and avoid injuries, using my current training programme as an example. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.

Why, in addition to recovery days, recovery weeks can help runners avoid injuries and improve performance.

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I've also made a video about this:

Running recovery days are not always enough

Whenever you go for a run or do any other type of workout, various parts of your body, including your muscles, accumulate micro-damage. This is normal, and it's part of the process by which your body grows stronger.

The micro-damage sends a signal to your brain that this needs to be repaired to a somewhat stronger state than before the exercise session. This is how we become better, stronger runners with consistent training.

Our bodies need sufficient time between training sessions to repair the micro-damage to a stronger state than before, and this is where the well-known training principle of recovery days comes into play. However, there isn’t always enough time available for full recovery before the next run, especially if you’re pushing your training to the limits.

Recovery weeks help your body catch up on repair and avoid overuse injuries.

For instance, I'm currently trying to improve my 5K time. I'm following an eight-week programme where I'm adding lots of tempo runs, speedwork, and interval sessions, as well as longer runs.

Last week was my third week of the programme, and I could really feel I was pushing those sprint intervals to the limit. And if I had done any more reps than I did, I think I might have pulled a quad muscle.

So this week, my fourth week, is a recovery week. And what a recovery week does is, it helps your body to catch up on that repair that it didn't fully get to during recovery days, when you were pushing your training hard for a few consecutive weeks. Therefore, a recovery week buys you some insurance against getting overuse/overtraining injuries.

What does a recovery week look like?

The idea is to reduce your training load by about 20% to 30%.

Training load doesn't just refer to the distance you're running, it's also how fast you're running. So, if you do an interval session where you run short distances but really fast, that training load can be equal to that of a very long run.

Other factors can play a role as well. I’m in Bali as I’m writing this, and it's super humid and really hot. When I do my runs after eight in the morning, I sometimes feel like it’s just too hot to continue. And this means that the training load is higher.

For instance, this morning I went for the first run of my recovery week. Last week I did 3 x 600 metre sprint intervals, and I did it when it was already quite hot. So today I only did 3 x 400 metres, and I went out before seven, when it was still relatively cool. I still felt that I worked hard, but I wasn't at all near my limits.

Maintaining training gains during your recovery week

So, why am I not just doing easy runs the whole recovery week? Because my aim is to increase my speed, and I don't want to lose the gains that I've made in the preceding weeks.

If you’re doing a training programme where speed is your focus and getting the intensity up is your focus, then instead of stopping all high intensity in your recovery week, you just reduce the intensity sessions to short, sharp ones.

You can maintain your speed during recovery weeks by doing short sharp sessions, that don't push you to complete fatigue.
You can maintain your speed during recovery weeks by doing short, sharp sessions that don't push you into complete fatigue.

So, you're keeping that speed, keeping that intensity, having that stimulus, but you’re not pushing yourself to the extreme, and you’re stopping long before you’re really exhausted.

As for the easy runs, I will just reduce the distance to be somewhat shorter than it was in the last three weeks. For my tempo run, I will maintain the same pace as before, but go a shorter distance as well.

And then next week is Week 5, and I can push my speed, push my tempo runs again so that I can continue to improve.

How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

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Maryke Louw

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


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