Find out how these five bad post-run habits can impact your training and recovery, and what you should be doing instead.
Skip the Cool-Down1 of 6
While most runners implement some sort of warm-up before their workout, cooling down often gets thrown under the bus. But two top running coaches we interviewed both agree that cool-downs are critical. Why? Because recovery and adaptation starts the minute you stop running.
Dr. Richard Hansen, an Olympic-level coach with the Roots Running Project and owner of High Altitude Spine & Sport in Boulder, Colorado, believes what runners do before and after a run is every bit as important as the run itself. He says a cool-down should gradually ease the muscular and nervous systems back to a state of rest.
Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39 marathoner, best-selling author and creator of the wildly popular Strength Running blog, has built an entire system around the exercises runners should do before and after their runs. Like Hansen, he stresses that every run needs to be bracketed by a series of dynamic exercises, so that the body can adapt to the demands placed on it by the workout.
Here are some options for post-run cool-down routines.
Too Much or Improper Foam Rolling2 of 6
There was a time when it seemed experts were telling runners the more foam rolling, the better, but it now appears that may not be the case. The problem isn't with the foam roller itself, but rather that many runners do it far too much or use improper technique.
Dr. Hansen explains that prolonged or very intensive foam rolling can be counterproductive, causing muscle or nerve trauma that actually inhibits recovery. While some experts still argue in favor of foam rolling, they may be missing the main issue. According to Dr. Hansen, foam rolling would likely not be necessary if runners just addressed the root causes behind those tight, knotty muscles.
Muscle tightness in one area is often the result of compensation for weakness in another. That's why both Hansen and Fitzgerald prefer a cool-down that employs run-specific strength training rather than foam rolling.
For example, Hansen puts his runners through a cool-down that transitions gradually from work to rest and includes exercises like skips, lunges, hip bridges and other floor exercises. Fitzgerald uses a routine he's dubbed the ITB Rehab Routine, though he stresses it's a great cool-down for everyone, not just those suffering from IT band syndrome. The routine consists of seven exercises aimed at building hip strength, stability and mobility.
Photo Credit: Roger Mommaerts (Flickr: Austin Marathon Relay 2009 116) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Forget to Rehydrate3 of 6
Failing to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost during a run can not only hamper your post-run recovery, but it can make you feel weak, tired and nauseous. It can even leave you with a splitting headache. While many factors affect how much you sweat and the concentration of key electrolytes lost through the process, you can easily determine your individual sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after you run. Based on the volume of sweat lost during your workout, the American Council on Exercise gives the following guidelines for rehydration:
Short, Easy Runs: For runs lasting 20-60 minutes, performed at a moderate pace in average heat/humidity, drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost. You should be able to replace lost electrolytes over the course of the day through your normal diet.
Longer, Harder Runs: When your run goes longer than 60 minutes, you are running hard or it's hot and humid out, both fluid and electrolyte replacement are more important. To prevent severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, hydrating with electrolytes during your run is a good idea. It's still important, however, to replace fluids and electrolytes after your workout as well. Use the same replacement formula for shorter runs (16 to 24 ounces per pound lost), but be sure to also take in some sodium and potassium, either in your recovery beverage or as part of your post-run snack or meal.
Make Poor Nutritional Choices4 of 6
Eating too much, too little or the wrong foods after a workout can undo much of the good work you just did. While post-run nutrition can seem confusing, if you keep your training goals in mind and remember a few simple tips, you'll be off to a good start.
For many runners, weight loss is a big goal, and even for those who are at their ideal weight, putting on a few pounds can hurt running performance. Unless your run involves a punishing hill or interval workout, if it lasts less than an hour, you don't really need to refuel at all. Following longer, tougher workouts, you will want to replace your glycogen stores, but that doesn't give you the go-ahead to pig out.
According to a joint position statement from the American College of Sports Medicine, Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association, you should consume around 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight for every hour you exercised. You'll also want to ingest some protein after prolonged exercise, but carbohydrates should be the main focus for runners. Your post-run meals and snacks should consist of about three grams of carbohydrate for every gram of protein.
Skimp on Sleep5 of 6
Sleep—and lots of it—may be the best recovery tool you have. It's especially important to prioritize sleep during peak training phases when running volume and intensity are high. Many elite runners report getting a whopping 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, plus a post-run nap. While most non-elites can't afford to spend that much time between the sheets, a 30-minute nap in the early afternoon can help offset a sleep deficit and speed recovery, according to a 2013 meta analysis published in the journal Strength and Conditioning.