i've been reading a lot lately about the virtues of both rest and active recovery. there seems to be quite a bit of debate about which is faster at getting you to feeling your best after a hard workout. as someone who would rather spend my free time running, reading (novels) or watching the red sox (the latter of which i am happy to be resting from, and certainly need a lot of recovery from after last year), i won't write today about the scientific backing for each of these approaches. i quite simply don't have all the facts. but from the limited amount that i did read and drawing from my own experience, i have found a recovery program that works for me.
first, let me define the terms i'm referring to:
recovery: any action (or lack of action) you take to bring your body back to peak physical feeling after a hard workout.
active recovery: minimal exercise, such as walking or slow jogging, light cycling which slightly elevates your heart rate and allows your muscles to stretch and your blood to flow more freely.
i typically do my long runs on sundays. assuming the long run happens in the morning or early afternoon, i start my recovery process with a stretching routine. following this, i spent at least 30 minutes icing any part of my leg that feels problematic. as someone who has had repeated lower leg injuries, i have found this part of recovery to be absolutely essential. after icing, i put on a compression sleeve and go into a general "rest mode" for the evening. i'll interrupt this rest once or twice for some further stretching or a short walk, just to ensure i don't tighten up too much.
the day following the long run is generally a "rest" day as well, meaning i am not going to run. but i consider this day to be an active recovery day, where i will definitely do some brisk walking, generally on hills, some pretty intensive stretching and some leg strengthening exercises like lunges and weightless squats. i try to get in at least an hour of nonconsecutive active recovery time throughout the day.
2 days after the long run, i schedule a workout that involves running half the distance of my long run or less. i usually run this at as high a pace as i can comfortably run without trying to push myself into the red. i find this "flushes" my legs, if you will, stretches them and allows the blood to get flowing enough to make my legs feel great by the end of the run and beyond. after this, i do my stretching routine again, followed by the ice, rest and a bit of stretching/walking.
after this, i am generally ready to approach the rest of my weekly workouts with ease leading up to the long run again on sunday.
i've found that something about the increased pace of the run 2 days after the long run (not FAST, but definitely not slow) is very important to all this.
anyway, i would love to hear your thoughts about how i can improve this, or to hear what your process is for recovery.