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Run Training and Racing Recovery Tools

Consistency Consistency Consistency

This word is one of the keys to improve your running and endurance sports capabilities. One aspect of consistency includes injury prevention and recovery.

Let’s take a look at some tools that can help keep your body in a position to be consistent in your training.

Foam Roller

The foam roller is one of my top recovery tools. This round tube of dense foam provides amazing massage or myofascial release work after a run or hard workout.

Myofascial release is a form of soft tissue therapy intended for pain relief, increasing range of motion, and balancing the body.

Does this wiki definition sounds useful for runners. Um, yes! I was first introduced to foam roller about one year ago thanks to a fellow trail runner.

To use, you basically roll various parts of your body on top of the roller. It provides some serious deep tissue work that feels great once you are done. My legs will always feel quite a bit looser which will help in workout recovery and injury prevention.

I usually address my calves, hamstrings, things, IT, and butt areas. You can also use it for your upper body as well but I haven’t done much with that yet. I like to use the roller once a week after a tougher workout.

The foam rollers come in six inch diameter and one or three feet in length. I would recommend the three foot roller since it is more versatile.

Foot Massager

Running all those miles puts a lot of strain on the feet. It is only right, to give them a bit of attention as well. It is also a part of the body that is a bit of a necessity if you plan on running. Ya think!

I have been using the foot log (cheesy site) for over five years and it really has helped keep the tissue under my feet fairly loose. There has been a few times the foot log has also prevented plantar fasciitis from kicking in. I like to use it at night before bed and when I wake up in the morning. It is simple and works!

The Foot Log

The Foot Log

Here are a few other foot massaging products:

You could also send this article on how to give a foot massage to your significant other. It may be a bit hard to convince someone to touch runner’s feet. Oh, the black toenails. Good luck!

The Stick

The Stick is a hand-held massage tool. It is 24 inches long with 15 spindles that perform a massaging action that according to the company can help athletes with:

  • Warms muscle without expending vital energy stores
  • Performs both general and segmental stretching procedures
  • Removes trigger point barriers to peak athletic performance
  • Enhances strength, flexibility and endurance
  • Accelerates muscle recovery and relieves pain

You can check out the full explanation on the athletes page. The techniques page also graphically shows how to use The Stick for various parts of the body.

I have a couple friends that really like it. It definitely is a bit less cumbersome to use versus the foam roller but I think they both have their uses.

Tennis Ball

tennis-ball

The tennis ball is a great little tool that can be used to perform some deep massage to an extremely specific part of the body using your own body weight.

Here are a couple interesting articles on the subject:

I have used the handy tennis ball to help work out a tender spot around my shoulder blade during my swimming/triathlon days. I would locate the tender spot while lying on the tennis ball and then put a bit more pressure on the ball along with a very localized massaging movement.

I also used it for a piriformis issue and used it in a similar localized manner.

Stretching

There are many opinions on stretching from:

  • No stretching at all.
  • Stretch after your run, not before.
  • Short warm-up, then stretch before your main run.
  • The current method of stretching is all wrong.

So what does this mean? Find what works for you.

Here are a few references that can provide some stretching guidance.

Stretch like a cat – Learn to stretch like a cat or something like that. Eighteen different stretches. Nice pics to give an idea on how to do the stretch and provides a variety of choices that may interest you.

Five Basic Running Stretches – Five stretches: Quad, Hamstring, Piriformis, Gastroc, and Soleus. One of my favorite is the Piriformis stretch.

Full Body Stretching Programs – Containing a wide array of full body stretching options that includes the categories of The Basics, Quick and Easy, Deskbound, Standing and Walking, and A Challenge. You can click on a particular stretch which will provide a large photo of the stretch as well as a nice description of the starting position, action, and any special instructions.

I like to do a bit of head-to-toe joint movement and light stretching before a run and will always perform some post-run stretching. Sometimes my body can be a bit stiff so the joint movement awakens the entire body and prepares it for the run ahead.

Massage

There is a reason why most professional endurance athletes get massages. Here are just a few of the benefits stated on massagetherapy.com(based on clinical research studies):

  • Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
  • Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system.
  • Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
  • Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
  • Increase joint flexibility.

I have done both self-massage and have used a therapist. Both are great. The obvious things I notice after a massage is how loose and relaxed my muscles feel. I am confident this helps me with recovery and injury prevention.

A book I have been using that demonstrates sports self-massage in an easy to understand manner (for the non-therapist) is called The Healing Art of Sports Massage. The book provides short to-the-point instruction on the self-massage techniques so you can quickly read it then do it. Also included are a few massage examples using foam rollers as well as sport specific massages for bicycling, mountain biking, running, and many more.

It usually takes me about 15 minutes to complete my routine on the lower body.

Water – To Drink

What role does water have in the body?

The graphic in the Mayo Clinic article on Water clearly illustrates the important functions of water:

  • Regulates body temperature
  • Moistens tissue such as those in the mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Lubricates joints
  • Protects body organs and tissues
  • Helps prevent constipation
  • Lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products
  • Helps dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make then accessible to the body
  • Carries nutrients and oxygen to cells

By looking at the above functions of water, one could infer than it is extremely beneficial to rehydrate the body after a workout. If nearly every major system of the body depends on water and your body doesn’t have enough of it, recovery will probably not be optimal.

Low hydration levels is clearly a drag on your whole body.

Since the amount of water you needs is unique per individual and activity level, the Mayo Clinic article states some specific recommendations and also provided a useful general recommendation that can be useful:

…if you drink enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty and produce 1.5 liters (6.3 cups) or more of colorless or slightly yellow urine a day, your fluid intake is probably adequate.

Eat those fruits and vegetables as well since many of them contain water and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

If you are interested in cleaner tap water, you can look at my article on water filtration and possible ways to be plastic bottle free.

Water – Cool/Ice Bath

It feels good, really!

It feels good, really!

The scientific studies on whether an ice/cool water bath actually improves recovery is currently inconclusive but I do know many marathon friends that find it hard to miss after a long run day or race.

Do you remember me mentioning finding what works for you?

This sports medicine ice bath article provides a nice summary on the scientific theory, a couple examples of the scientific research,  real world recommendations, and the protocol.

Let’s highlight a few of the areas.

The scientific theory of the function of ice baths:

  • Constrict blood vessels and flush waste products, like lactic acid, out of the affected tissues
  • Decrease metabolic activity and slow down physiological processes
  • Reduce swelling and tissue breakdown

The real world recommendations:

  • Cold water immersion after a hard workout won’t hurt and may, in fact, help recovery.
  • Alternating Cold water and warm water baths (contract water therapy) may also help athletes recover.
  • Ice baths are not necessary; cold water baths (24 degrees Celsius) are as good and perhaps better, than ice baths.
  • Active recovery may be as good as cold water immersion for exercise recovery.
  • Passive recovery is not an effective way to recover.
  • Hot baths after hard exercise may decrease recovery time.

I personally have found a cold/ice water bath to be beneficial after a long, hard run. I base this off of subjective experience. After many years of running you start to know what you will feel like in the hours and days following a long, hard run and I continually feel less fatigue and muscle soreness when I enjoy a nice cold one shortly after the workout or race.

The cool/ice water bath protocol:

If you are going to try cool or cold water immersion after exercise, don’t overdo it. Ten minutes immersed in 15 degree Celsius water should be enough time to get the benefit and avoid the risks. Because cold can make muscles tense and stiff, it’s a good idea to fully warm up about 30 to 60 minutes later with a warm shower or a hot drink.

Note: 15 C = 59 F, The water is cool but not iceberg cold. Since my legs and waist are the only items submerged in the chilly tonic, I will put on a sweatshirt and possibly even a beanie if I am feeling cold. This makes the whole experience a bit more comfortable.

Again, what works for one person may not work for another. You are your own true experiment.

Food

The general consensus is to get some quality protein and carbohydrates in the body within 20 minutes of a workout. The Hammer Nutrition Athlete’s Guide recommends 10-20 grams of protein and 30-60 grams of carbohydrates within the first 30-60 minutes post workout/race or sooner. This can help with glycogen resynthesis which reloads your muscle with easy-to-use fuel for your next workout.

Look to nibble on some minimally process foods or healthy sports recovery products. Leave the junk (HFCS, Partially Hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors/colors, etc) out!

Sleep

bed

Adequate sleep may be the missing ingredient in your run training plan. Here are a few of the benefits that caught my attention when looking at the article Top 10 Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep (Based on at least 6-7 hours of sleep):

  • Keeps your heart healthy
  • Reduces Stress
  • Reduces Inflammation
  • Helps the body make repairs

These all seem like obvious aids to enhance recover. Now get to bed!

Have any of these tools worked for you?

What other tools have you used for injury prevention and recovery?

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Run Training and Racing Recovery Tools”

  1. on 01 Mar 2009 at 12:22 pm David

    Good stuff, David!

    The key to warding off my IT band problems seems to be hip strengthening exercises. I don’t drink nearly enough water, but I’m working on it.

    I can second the foam roller and tennis ball…in fact, I’ll be spending some time with the roller today!

    We seem to go through tennis balls, since the dog likes playing with them….and then they’re too wet to use for therapy!

  2. on 02 Mar 2009 at 5:29 pm David Hanenburg

    Thanks David!

    Nice addition – Address muscle imbalances and strength work.

    You may need to stash one of those tennis balls.