Recovery days - why you need them and what you should be doing

The countdown continues. 27 days until IMWI!

Although you should always value recovery in a smart training plan, it's the 4 weeks out from your race that are the most important in terms of arriving to the start line healthy, injury free and hungry to race. 

1 month out, your goal is to recover as much as possible from every workout. It's very easy to put in random "confidence building" long or intense workouts but often times, more damage can be done if you are trying to "prove" something with your body in the last few weeks before a race. Fitness is gained over time and to race strong, you have to periodize your training so that you can build, peak and taper appropriately. 

To race strong, this doesn't mean just taking a planned or unintentional day off from working every now and then but being smart with what you do on your recovery days, when you plan them. 

Many athletes are great workout followers. They have a planned workout and at any cost, they will find a way to check it off. However, sometimes this comes at a cost. A tired, worn-down, malnourished, sore, fatigued and unmotivated body does not get stronger by just going through the motions, especially in a haphazard training plan. 

With the right yearly-plan structure, fueling strategy, workouts and focus on individual needs, you will find yourself reaching performance goals and peaking appropriately on race day.
Physiologically and psychologically, athletes need rest days!

Many athletes use Monday as a recovery or off day due to higher weekly volume occurring on the weekend. However, I am also a big fan of having a day off mid-week (ex. Wed/Thurs) for the time-crunched age group athlete who is balancing family, kids, work may find him/herself feeling more like a zombie by the end of the week as oppose to fresh and energetic at the beginning of the week. This type of athlete can greatly benefit from a 2 or 3 day workout routine followed by 1 day off (or active recovery) routine as oppose to 6 days working out and 1 day off (or even worse for the busy age group athlete, 10 days working out and 1 day off).
Bottom line, you can train as hard as you want during a workout but resting your body creates better balance between your life, family, work and fitness goals. 

It's important to consider the best days  to rejuvinate, refuel and rest your body and mind. (it's ok if there is more than one, I often plan two recovery days into my weekly routine in the few weeks leading up to my IM taper)

Keep in mind that a recovery day is not used to only help you recover from previous workouts but to better prepare for future workouts. 
You can be the toughest, strongest and most hard working athlete but continuous working out without rest is a recipe for an eventual weak body and mind. 

If you put too much stress on the body for too many days, it is nearly impossible for the body/mind to recover in just 24 hours. By training smart, you can train harder by including more recovery into your training plan and find yourself making more consistent performance gains. 

So what should you be doing on your off/recovery day? 

-Sleeping in
-Moving your body with light activity throughout the day
-Movement focused stretching (ex. yoga)
-Eating balanced carb/protein-rich meals throughout the day (emphasizing easy to digest foods)
-Staying hydrated
-Catching up on to-do's and not spending any energy on the fact that you aren't training today (enjoy it - no guilt!) 
-Reflecting on last week to see if any modifications are needed 
-Early bed time
-Making sure all your gear/gadgets are ready for another week of quality training

Could you be overtrained? 
Here are some subjective measures (in addition to blood work) measures that may tell you that you need to take action now and rest your body. If you tend to find yourself injured, burnt out or overtrained throughout or at the end of a training cycle, it's recommended to work with a professional who can help you create a plan that puts the appropriate amount of training stress on the body so that you can recover and train harder the next day:
Keep in mind that it requires a long term relationship with a coach and good communication between coach/athlete to develop the right plan to help you reach your season goals.

-tired, drained and little energy
-greater RPE for a given effort, inability to hit previous paces/efforts
-decreased appetite
-unintentional weight loss or gain
-amennorhea (females)
-unable to perform consistently
-decreased motivation
-chronic aches in muscles/joints
-inability to fall asleep (insomnia or get restful sleep) at night but feeling extremely tired during the day
-depression/mood swings
-loss of enthusiasm for the sport ("I don't want to do this anymore, I don't care about my goals")
-injuries popping up (or ones that won't heal)
-decrease immunity (increased colds, sickness, headaches, etc.)