Recovery Runs are Not for Recovery
Recovery runs don’t exist.
What you think of as a recovery run does not enhance recovery.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
There are two main types of runs.
Workouts and easy runs.
Key workouts are done at anything faster than your habitual easy pace and typically require a number of non-hard days between them so you can again do a key workout at a high quality. Easy runs are done at an easy conversational pace.
People will often title the run proceeding a key workout, a recovery run. This implies that the purpose of this run is to enhance recovery.
However, I’m inclined to disagree with this.
Don’t get me wrong, you should still do the run, however this is more an issue with semantics.
If you think this run is augmenting your recovery or adaptation, you’re mistaken.
All runs are training. Every time you lace up your shoes and hit the ground running, you’re stimulating your body. It does not matter how slow or short the run is, if you’re running, you’re giving your body stimulation for adaptation.
When does this adaptation and recovery occur? When you’re sleeping, eating, walking, working, etc. Any time you are not running, you’re recovering.
With athletes I work with, I do use the term regeneration run to emphasize the easy nature of the run, however for all purposes it’s simply another easy run.
These runs, while they do not enhance recovery, do inflect less stress on the body. They are crucial for running more, which is one of the best way to become a better runner.
So if these runs do not benefit recovery, why not just skip them and let the body recover better?
Because for the same reasons doing doubles is beneficial, so are these “recovery runs”. These workouts, done in a semi-fatigued state after a hard run, are simply great stimulants for adaptation. Hard workouts take you to fatigue, these easy runs are ran fully fatigued.
That’s very important. If the regeneration run is also done in close time proximity to the key workout, your glycogen stores (body carbohydrate used as fuel) is probably a bit depleted, and training in a glycogen depleted state has also been shown to possibly improve fitness. This study from the University of Copenhagen shows that when a leg is trained more frequently (but at the same total volume) than the other leg, the leg that experiences two sessions in a day instead of one two sessions over two days adapted and strengthened more.
Another way that these “recovery” runs do not help recovery but instead simply improve fitness is that when you run in this fatigued state, you’re legs are recruiting more and different muscle fibers. This can help improve your muscle fiber cycling, which is when the body “turns off” fatigued muscles and “turns on” more fresh fibers while running.
These runs done in a fatigued state are simply more chances for your body to adapt and grow. This makes you stronger, more fit, and faster. Not the enhanced recovery, because there is none.
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Reflections On the Easy Run / Great advice on how to actually execute an easy run. One of the most detrimental and common mistakes runners make is doing this workouts too hard (but, not hard).
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