9 Tried-and-True Approaches to Recovery

In the field of recovery science, evidence supports the use of both cutting-edge gadgets and old-fashioned chestnuts. When choosing from this menu of options to develop your own personalized R&R recipe, consider not only what you have access to but also what fits into your lifestyle and sounds fun – for instance, yoga won’t calm your muscles or your mind if you feel anxious about getting on the mat. Check out the following nine approaches to recovery, see when to use them, and discover what elite runners do to maximise the benefits.

Compression Clothing 

HOW IT WORKS: Proponents say it helps push bloodflow and extra fluids from your feet and legs back to the heart, flushing out fatigue- and soreness-causing metabolic waste products.
WHEN TO USE IT: Wear while running or right afterward for up to 48 hours. Also try it the night before a race or during travel to boost circulation and avoid swelling.

WHO DOES IT: Elite marathoner Shalane Flanagan first pulled on a pair of compression calf sleeves in 2005 after an Achilles injury. Now, she says she wears Nike calf sleeves during hard workouts and while racing because “they help me feel supported and like I’m preventing injury.”


HOW IT WORKS: May decrease tension, release adhesions between tissues, increase range of motion, realign muscle fibers, and prevent and treat minor soft-tissue injuries – plus, it just feels good.
WHEN TO USE IT: As needed – some runners find that regular massages or other manual therapies keep them feeling recovered, while others are treated when they feel an ache or other early warning sign of injury.

WHO DOES IT: Elite marathoner Kara Goucher has had the same therapist (Allan Kupczak) for 15 years; at some points in her training, she might have two two-hour sessions each week.

Cold Therapy

HOW IT WORKS: Ice baths, ice packs, or cryotherapy chambers may reduce pain and swelling by constricting blood vessels and mitigating inflammatory processes in the muscles.
WHEN TO USE IT: Soak for 10 to 20 minutes, within 30 minutes of a hard workout. Or, try a contrast bath that alternates cold and warm for 10 minutes each, ending on cold. A word of caution: Some experts say that if used too early in training or too often, tools that reduce inflammation might interfere with the process by which your body adapts and grows stronger. So it might be best to save the ice baths for your taper and after your race.

WHO DOES IT: Olympic marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein soaks in ice baths to bounce back from the final workouts before a big race or if there’s a short period of time between competitions.

Electric Muscle Stimulation

HOW IT WORKS: Activates muscles passively to decrease inflammation and increase bloodflow without stressing your tendons or joints.

WHEN TO USE IT: Place on sore, fatigued, or weak muscles for 30 to 60 minutes once or twice per day, three or more days per week.

WHO DOES IT: Canadian runner Natasha LaBeaud regularly logs 190 to 220km per week. She straps on the Marc Pro device during long plane rides to get off the plane fresh and ready to race.

Foam Roller Self-Massage

HOW IT WORKS: May increase bloodflow, relax tension in muscles, and release painful trigger points; most travel well, too.

WHEN TO USE IT: Daily or even multiple times per day, following the instructions on the particular product.

WHO DOES IT: Chelsea Reilly, 10K and 3K US national champion, uses the sticklike Addaday Pro Massage Roller on her lower legs daily – its different-sized mini-rollers help her hit sensitive spots like her ankles, Achilles and shins.

Downtime with Friends and Family

HOW IT WORKS: Making time for non-running activities you enjoy boosts psychological recovery. Social interaction lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol—high readings can hamper recovery.
WHEN TO USE IT: Join a running group so you can decompress together – or put a date on your calendar with non-running friends when you’re really feeling the pressure of training.

WHO DOES IT: Despite Tyler McCandless’s packed schedule, he makes time to go to baseball games with non-running pals. “I love my training group, but finding a group of friends who are not competitive is important to have a healthy and fun balance in your life.”

Active Recovery

HOW IT WORKS: Cross-training (cycling, swimming, strength-training) boosts bloodflow and prevents muscles and joints from stiffening up without the impact of running.
WHEN TO USE IT: Schedule an active-recovery day after a particularly long or intense run, or swap one in for an easy run on your training schedule if you’re feeling sore, fatigued or injured.

WHO DOES IT: American road 5K record holder Ben True uses the ElliptiGo outdoor elliptical; his wife, Sarah, used it while injured last year and finished 2014 as the second-ranked ITU female triathlete in the world.

Stretching and Yoga

HOW IT WORKS: Post-run stretching may reduce risk of hamstring and other injuries; yoga may reduce back pain, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and ease anxiety and depression.

WHEN TO USE IT: Immediately postrun, spend a few minutes stretching dynamically. Schedule yoga or more extended sessions for recovery days.

WHO DOES IT: 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi took a 10-week yoga class in college at UCLA and now incorporates yoga and Pilates moves into his stretching and strengthening routines, he notes in his book Meb for Mortals. Try the Runner’s World Yoga for Runners DVD set.


HOW IT WORKS: During sleep, your body repairs minor damage to your tissues, releases muscle-building human growth hormone, and replenishes energy stores, among other vital tasks.
WHEN TO USE IT: Most adults require between seven and nine hours (if you can go into a dark room at 3 p.m. and fall asleep instantly, you’re not getting enough).

WHO DOES IT: Elite runner Alia Gray – who placed 16th in the 2014 NYC Marathon – says she prioritises sleep by viewing it as productive and essential to her training; she some times catches Zs during the workday with the head-enveloping Ostrich Pillow (US$99 at ostrichpillow.com). “I sneak into a quiet side room, slip it on, and go into my own dark little cave.”

Related Articles