The concept underlying the recovery run – active recovery – starts out with some good sport science to support it. The theory underlying active recovery is simple - recovery post-workout can be facilitated if the athlete continues to perform lower intensity activity during their cool-down process.
This assumes that the active recovery is done immediately after the completion of the main training session.
What it has become in today’s training regimes is far from the original intent of the activity.
Gentle movement after a training session fosters good blood flow to the affected areas. This circulatory response aids in the removal of the metabolic byproducts of exercise. The circulatory response also assists by providing nutrients necessary for tissue recovery and adaptation. This would be of great benefit immediately following a training session, at a time when it is beneficial at the cellular level.
But the present-day application of sound sport sciences research is a little off the mark. Once again, we are faced with the hallmark of most training myths – a bad twist on good science.
In today’s training world, the recovery run is typically something done a day – or more – later. It is a run consisting of a few (or more than a few) easy miles the day after a hard training session. It is performed at a pace that is significantly slower than most training sessions.
What does it do? It serves to add more miles to the training log. Adding these miles doesn’t serve any benefit from a training perspective as they are typically not done at an intensity level that will stimulate training adaptations. But it does add more training stimuli that will require some degree of further recovery.
Oh, and a not-so-minor aside: by the day after a hard training session, the process of recovery is well on its way. Waiting 24 or 48 hours for that “recovery run” misses the most beneficial window for active recovery to optimize training recovery and adaptations.
The reality of the recovery run is that it becomes a convenient way to add miles to the training log – plain and simple. It is done so under the loosely-veiled theory of promoting the ability of the athlete to adapt to their training demands, but in fact it may accomplish exactly the opposite.
Photo credits: pheezy