Too many athletes have an irrational fear of losing fitness if they take a recovery day... and thus most never allow their body to take proper rest. What should you be doing to get the most out of recovery day?
By nature, most athletes are at a complete loss when told to go EASY. What does an off day or easy workout really mean? Do not lie – for most age group athletes, it means showing up to masters swim or the group run and going 1% easier than normal. Unfortunately, you cannot go hard all the time. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your body is to actually let it recover for once. Consider – the NCAA has restrictions in place dictating how many consecutive practices may take place before a “mental health day” is required. Off-seasons are mandatory and vital to allowing your body to restore physical, mental, and chemical balance.
Most of us do not sleep enough or not well enough each night. Sleep is vital to your recovery and managing daily stress levels. On your recovery day, sleep in and get to bed early. Your mind and body will thank you for the few extra hours of sleep. Bonus: take a nap if you can make time for it!
Go for an easy technique focused swim. No intervals, no main set, no prescribed volume. Just focus on perfect technique. Time or distance does not matter here, aim for feel.
Let’s be honest, most triathletes are not good swimmers. Many triathletes swim in excess of 20k yards or meters a week and reap zero increase in speed. You have to go slow to go fast. You have to go slow and perfect technique to become a more efficient swimmer – use this time to do just that. Plus, the hydrostatic pressure of the water is an amazing recovery tool.
Sit in the steam room and relax! The high levels of moisture in the air forces you to breathe deeply, expanding your diaphragm and your chest. The steam room has also been shown to lower your blood pressure (an elevated blood pressure is a physiological marker for overtraining). Make sure you bring a bottle of water into the steam room and periodically sip on it. Never stay in past your comfort zone. Sit just long enough to feel good, never lightheaded or dizzy. Use this time to relax or practice a deep breathing exercise.
Sit in the sauna and really sweat it out after a quick steam room session. The sauna will help you to work up a sweat; releasing toxins and increasing blood flow and immune response. Again, tolerance is key – do not stay past your comfort zone. This is not a place to push it or challenge yourself.
Because of the increase in tissue temperature, the sauna is a great place to get your stretching done. Remember again, sip water!
After the swimming, steam, and sauna, your body is nice and relaxed, and your muscles should be warmed up. This is a perfect time to get in a stretch session or go to a restorative yoga class. Hard training blocks cause stiffness and restrictions in the body. If these go unaddressed, they can culminate and manifest as an injury. Consistent stretching or restorative yoga can be a game changer in your ability to train when it is time push yourself again.
6. Sip (Water)
Hydration. This is something we should always be doing, every single day. Your body and your mind need water to operate! Drink more water than you think you need – chances are that you are chronically dehydrated, anyway. In addition to water, make sure you are refueling food-wise on your recovery days. Your body needs resources to rebuild! Feed your body well and catch up on calories so your body is primed to tackle the next week of training strong.