10/1/10

Art and Science of Recovery

It's been a long time since I've read a book for fun. Well, if you count textbooks as "books" then I have done A LOT of reading over the past 10 years. However, I wouldn't say that Biochemistry, Nutrition through the life cycle, Food service and management and Understanding Food are easy reads.
Because I do enjoy reading and learning, I subscribe to a lot of magazines.
I have a lot of favorite newsletters and magazines but recently, I have a new favorite magazine.
If you registered for an Ironman event or domestic 70.3 Ironman event this year, you have likely received a complimentary year subscription to LAVA Magazine. If you haven't heard about this new magazine, it is AWESOME! The content is exceptional and the articles are really well-written. I highly recommend subscribing to this magazine. Here's the link (and the website) LAVA magazine

I haven't read every article in the Oct/Nov issue (issue 2) that I just received this week, but I quickly went to the article titled:
Finding Performance: the art and science of recovery

The author, Matt Dixon, is the founder of PurplePatch Fitness. Perhaps you have never heard of him but you may know one of the professional athletes that he coaches...Chris Lieto.

This article was one of those articles that was so well-written, that you didn't need to read the entire article to understand the key concepts. You could read any paragraph and pick up on his philosophy on the recovery element in training.

As you know, recovery is now a component of my triathlon training routine. Sure, it makes sense to be included but it is hard for many people to actually implement a recovery principle into training. Although the principle of recovery primarily applies to athletes training for an event, I believe that even for the fitness enthusiast, who is exercising to burn calories and possibly receive strength gains, many of Matt's philosophy's can be applied to individuals of all different fitness levels, with different fitness goals.

Before I provide you with some key points in his article, I strongly recommend subscribing to the LAVA magazine before the next issue is delivered. Why??? Well, a certain someone, that you may know really well, is going to have an article in the KONA special - Dec/Jan issue. Ok-can't spill any more details but I am really really excited to receive the next issue!

I would like to provide Matt's thoughts and then my feedback and my experience supporting his thoughts. Just a brief background, Karel coached me specifically for IMWI for only 11 weeks. I was still some-what injured (with my 2 1/2-year injury) at my Half Ironman in Macon, GA in June. I took off (or actively recovered) 1-2 days a week, I took a recovery week every fourth week (although we may shorten my training to 2 weeks on, 1 week off this year) where I did very little to no training for the week (maybe 3-4 days of "exercise" at the most) and I only did 5 "Long" weekend workouts throughout my 11 week IM training program.

Finding Performance: the art and science of recovery

*Far too many athletes and coaches rely on high-volume training, with limited focus on other key factors that elevate performance. This approach tends to leave many, even most, athletes arriving at their key events very fit, but tired.
This year I arrived to my fourth IM feeling fresh and ready to go. Even with my taper, I was never burnout out, extremely tired or fatigued. My hormones never felt out-of-tune and my monthly cycle never changed (something that I feel is VERY important for endurance females athletes to pay attention to during training). I didn't count down the days to taper because I was burnout but rather because I was ready to go. I only tapered for 2 weeks and my last "long" ride was 2 weekends prior to IMWI. I rested a lot during race week and maintained my intensity (without volume) during my 2 week taper. /span>

*Many athletes train extremely hard but do not make noticeable gains due to accumulated fatigue.
Throughout every 3 week training block, Karel and I talked about my performance gains. I improved performance in each sport throughout my 11 week training plan....although I progressed the most in my run and cycling compared to swimming training, I PR'd in my swim at IMWI. However, given the conditions of IMWI compared to my other 3 Ironman's (I think IMWI was a much more difficult course than KONA) I had the best race of my life at IMWI even though I didn't have a best time.

*Reaping the rewards of recovery starts with understanding how it benefits you (comprehension), choosing to embrace it (commitment) and integrating it into your training (action or inaction).

*You probably know that recovery is important but you don't have time in your busy schedule to rest or you already take one day off a week. Recovery is more than taking an occasional day off and hoping for the best.
When I coach my athletes, I encourage them to stick to the schedule and take a day off even if they don't "feel" they need it. It is much more effective to take a planned day off than an unplanned day off. In the later case, your body has already reached a level of fatigue that you may not be able to properly recovery from in 24 hours.

*The main priority of recovery is not simply to recuperate from your last workouts(s), but also to maintain your metabolic health which includes strong immune system, balanced hormonal profile and free of disease. Metabolic health is the global physical state of homeostasis (balance). Being metabolically healthy is not merely the absence of disease, but having the major functions of your body perform at a good level. When you are metabolically healthy you should feel vibrant and be in a position to make fitness and health adaptations and improvements. Periods of great metabolic health and vibrancy lead to consistently great performance.
I wish I was the one who wrote this because I couldn't agree more! This is what I strive for because I know that I can't be an Ironman athlete, and train like one, 365 days a year. I can always call myself a triathlete but I don't always need to train like one .

*With all the internal and external stressors you face in daily life, with the addition of training, your body is facing an ongoing battle to resist and manage stress. Poor metabolic health is equivalent to a shaky foundation. If your training is built on a rickety structure, performance gains will come grudgingly. Worse yet, trying to build (train) on a weakened structure risks a total collapse in the form of injury. Nearly all overuse injuries are directly related to an accumulation of too much work relative to your structural ability.

*With recovery INTEGRATED into your program, you may feel like you are recovering before you really need it, but such a proactive approach allows long-term consistency- the biggest single factor in performance gains.
By taking off a day or two per week, I was able to refocus and repair for upcoming sessions. My focus was not on "burning calories" but rather experiencing gains and properly refueling and recovering in an effort to gain strength, speed and power. Certainly the "more is better" approach is no longer supported by research and simply leads to negative consequences. I always say "what's a lean body good for if you can't do anything with it". Perhaps we should take our minds off of the 'calories in/calories out' approach which makes people feel as if they can't miss one day a week from training without experiencing weight gain. As we all, training for a triathlon does not always equal weight loss and in many cases, weight gain is evident due to constant feeling that the body is never recovered. Perhaps, the body is starving for some rest.


*Lack of recovery is big weakness in training and there are many reasons (excuses) for why it is an afterthought. Lack of recovery is compounded by the dominant culture of "more is better" which promotes training as a platform to push beyond our limits to find new levels. Ultimately, this philosophy points to the primary reason athletes avoid real recovery - they are overly confident.
I admit that I sporadically questioned Karel's coaching for me. I would ask if he was sure I didn't need to do more for a workout and I always wondered if I was doing enough. Although I questioned him a lot in the beginning, I was 100% confident in our training plan as the weeks progressed and I found myself stronger then the preceding weeks. I am SO excited about our journey to Kona because I am 100% confident in our approach to training.

*It takes tremendous courage to recover properly. After all, we receive no instant validation of improvements while recovering, we do not get to enjoy the emotional high of completing a great workout and we always tend to wonder of what our competition is doing while we take time out to rejuvenate.
I'm sure EVERY athlete thinks this! Rather than counting miles per week, focus on quality per week. How much time did you spend doing quality workouts? Forget about trying to squeeze in miles in an effort to get your ideal weekly miles of swim/bike/run. The body doesn't care about miles but rather what you put into those miles. As I mentioned, I only did 5 bike rides that lasted longer than 5 hours and only 2 of them were 100+ miles. I only did 1 long run of 21 miles and the rest of my long runs were around 16-17 miles. Certainly we all come from different backgrounds so we need to take into account that the body is only going to allow you to progress to a certain point before needing a break in duration or intensity. We must respect our current fitness level and be ok with setting short and long term goals.


*The first and biggest step to prioritizing recovery is having a road map and training plan that you believe in -one that incorporates recovery. Without a plan, you are directionless and without direction you are much more likely to lack the confidence to truly recover from your hard work. With the plan, on your recovery days, you can confidently tell your buddies you are exercising; exercising your strength and willpower to be ready for your next workout and to achieve optimal performance.



For now, I will leave you with that before I discuss Matt's philosophy on integrating recvovery into your training plans. I hope you enjoyed the article and come away with a new philosophy of how to train for your upcoming event.

I'd love to hear your experience with recovery days or active recovery days? Are you struggling to take a day off? Believe me, after working out twice a day for almost half my life (with swimming competitively in college and HS), it took a good year (I think it was around the fall of 2008 when I started to be ok with everything) to not feel guilty when I didn't work out twice a day)