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3 Ways to Maximize Your Post-Run Recovery

Two women run together during the winter on a snow-covered track

It’s impossible to maximize the benefits of your training and racing without adequate recovery, but there’s a lot of information to sort through. With all the information floating around in cyberspace, how can you determine what the best recovery method?

Let’s start with the basics: sleep and nutrition. After a workout or training session, it is imperative that the body has what it needs in the form of macro and micronutrients, as well as adequate time to repair itself so you can come back faster and stronger.

Post-run foods, like chocolate milk, nut butters and Greek yogurt, can all help replenish the nutrients you lose during a workout.

The National Sleep Foundation says, “Along with dietary protein to aid in muscle repair and new muscle growth, your body produces its own muscle-building hormones while you sleep, including human growth hormone (HGH) … in fact, many of the critical restorative functions in the body—like tissue repair and muscle growth—occur mostly or only during sleep. A consistent sleep schedule of seven to nine hours a night (possibly more if you are a competitive athlete) will help the muscle-healing process.”

If you are an athlete who knows the basics of proper nutrition and adequate sleep, there are other things you can do to supplement your recovery and boost your performance. Massage, compression and temperature therapy come in all shapes and sizes.

Here’s what you need to know about massage, compression and temperature therapy:

A runner uses an addaday recovery tool to massage her leg

Massage

According to Novacare physical therapist Martine Marino, MPT, COMT, who specializes in working with runners, “There is research to support massage as an effective modality for decreasing perceived pain and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It increases blood and lymph flow, decreases circulating cortisol, decreases inflammation and increases beta-endorphins.”

She stresses, however, that “massage” can be a catch-all term, and it’s important to treat every athlete on a case-by-case basis.

“I perform ‘massage,’ but we usually refer to it as soft tissue mobilization because we are not doing massage in the traditional sense. Our massage is targeted and specific,” she says. “Myofascial release via instrument assisted technique (graston) or myofascial decompression (cupping) are (anecdotally) very effective. I also do strain-counterstrain and trigger point massage which is more neurological and less mechanical.”

If you are looking for the convenience and ability to perform self-massage, the Hyperice Hypervolt is one of the best products on the market. With a cordless design, three levels of vibrations and QuietGlide technology, the Hypervolt is a highly desired tool in the sports performance world.

“The Hypervolt is the preferred ‘thera-gun’ for me,” says Ron DeAngelo, the Director of Sports Performance Training at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, in an email to Fleet Feet. “ It all comes down to proprioceptors and layering. Vibration therapy, done properly, the body perceives as non-intrusive. There is no pain associated with it. Percussion tends to be too aggressive.”

“I have better results with vibration to the point that people will comment, ‘That was magic’, says DeAngelo. “Of course it’s not magic, it’s the proprioceptors taking in good information and being desensitized.”

Adam Plantz is the Manager and Co-Owner of Restore Hyper Wellness + Cryotherapy in Upper Saint Clair, Pennsylvania. Plantz says that the customer response to the Hypervolt has been tremendous.

“It sparks the interest of each person who walks through the door, and clients who regularly get stretch therapy rave about the Hypervolt,” Plantz says. “We incorporate the Hypervolt into the beginning portion of the stretch therapy service that we offer as a way to relax patients and increase blood flow. This, in turn, stimulates the parasympathetic system (relaxation) and allows patients to receive a better, more effective stretch.

“In addition, we utilize the different attachment options based on the needs of patients to break up adhesions, reduce tension and alleviate pain.”

Compression

A man and woman wearing CEP compression socks run together on a street

Compression products, like sleeves and socks from CEP, stimulate blood circulation, which can reduce inflammation, assist in injury-prevention and expedite recovery. Different levels of compression can be used for different effects, either during activity or as a purely recovery-based protocol.

DeAngelo says NormaTec’s recovery system is commonly used by professional athletes. “They usually use it right after a game or hard practice or the day after,” he says. “For runners, it would work well right after a long run and the day after.”

He says NormaTec’s boots and sleeves work like a massage, but you might not want to do it the night before or the day of a race.

Marino also stresses the efficacy of compression as a useful recovery tool. But she emphasizes that it is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“The research does find that compression in addition to ice is better than ice alone at least for tendon oxygenation,” she says. “However, compression during exercise can have negative effects if it is too tight, like knee brace straps on the calf, ill-fitting or too-high grade of compression socks.”

Marino recommends using a product like kinesiology tape during an event, then switching to compression post-race. Kinesiology tape “increases lymphatic and blood flow without compression,” she says.

What if you’re not just sore after a race, but you unfortunately injured yourself in the process?

“More research needs to be done on the effects of compression on healthy tissue vs injured,” she adds. “But I suspect that it would be helpful for recovery if it improves tendon oxygenation.”

Temperature Therapy

Two runners in warm clothes jog down a snowy road

Ice baths and cold showers have been around since the beginning of sports, and contrast temperature therapy is starting to gain traction in the industry. Filling up a huge tub with ice water or standing under a steamy shower not only wastes a lot of water, but also time, energy and attention. There are better ways.

Plantz says cryotherapy is a popular technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for a very short period of time to reduce inflammation, in addition to a host of other health benefits including promoting muscle growth and pain reduction.

“We believe everyone can benefit from whole-body cryotherapy,” says Plantz. “The three-minute treatment reduces inflammation and releases endorphins that help alleviate pain, boost energy and metabolism, and increase the body's natural healing abilities.”

Marino advises utilizing cryotherapy as a recovery modality, but only under the right circumstances.

“Research finds no benefit to full-body cryotherapy unless it's done within five hours post-activity,” Marino says.

Understanding the intent, purpose and application of these popular recovery methods can help runners remain resilient and injury-free to enjoy long-term performance.


By Timothy Lyman. Timothy is the director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh and an ACE certified personal trainer. With over a decade of experience in the field, his education ranges from sports psychology to exercise physiology. He has coached runners at all levels on every surface at any distance, with an emphasis on economy, injury-prevention and functional fitness.

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