How Do I Know if I’m Recovered After a Workout?

Q How do you know if you are recovered after a race or workout? Sometimes I feel like I am fine, but then feel flat on my next run. My legs feel heavy and sometimes my breathing is laboured. Is there any way to know ahead of time that I am not fully recovered? – STEVE


A Recovery is a very important aspect of training and is way too often overlooked, in part because we may not know what signs to look for. Heavy legs and laboured breathing are sure signs! Another sign is a higher than normal resting heart rate (RHR). Measuring your RHR every morning can give you some clues about how your body is doing.

Recovery is the down time between workouts and it’s the time we transform into fitter athletes. Training physically stresses the body as we ask it to run longer and/or faster. In doing so, we cause microscopic tears in muscle tissue, deplete energy stores, pound bone, tax energy systems, and basically push the limits of our current fitness level. This physical stress causes a frenzy of internal activity as our body rushes to repair itself and prepares to meet this level of stress next time around. This stress and repair cycle ultimately creates a stronger version of our former selves. When the repairing and rebuilding can’t keep up with the physical demands of training, then things go awry, and injuries are usually the end result.

Monitoring your RHR is an objective measurement that can help reveal what’s going on inside your body. The flurry of repairing and rebuilding can elevate heart rate; monitoring it can let you know if you have recovered adequately from your last workout or race. Each morning, after waking up, before you even get out of bed, and certainly before you drink any coffee, measure your heart rate. Find your pulse on your wrist, at the base of your thumb. Press your first two fingers gently on the pulse and count the number of beats for 60 seconds. Measure it each morning, same time, same place, and record this number in your training log. After several days of recording this, you will know your average RHR.

Your average RHR will vary slightly from day to day, but only by a few beats.

If your pulse spikes by 6 to 9 beats, it’s a yellow flag, take notice and proceed with caution. A higher than normal pulse lets you know something is going on. It may be a lack of recovery from a workout, lack of sleep, stress, or perhaps the beginning of an illness… so take it easy. Back off a hard workout, plan a shorter run at an easy pace. When your RHR returns to your normal range, then do the hard workout.

If your pulse spikes by 10 beats or more, it’s a red flag that something is up. While we may not know the exact reason for the spike, a lack of recovery is certainly one consideration. Whatever the reason, the spike is significant enough that you need to change your plan. Sleep in and take it easy until your RHR comes back down to its’ normal level and then resume training.

Your RHR can decline too. As we become more fit, resting heart rates go down. It can be very positive feedback and good motivation to see that number come down.

Keeping a detailed training log will help you find your window of recovery too. By noting how you feel with each run, you will begin to see a pattern and learn how many days it takes you to recover from your workouts. Expect a longer recovery time after intense workouts. Alternate easy, shorter runs with hard workouts. As you adapt to longer mileage or harder workouts, your recovery time will become shorter.

Nutrition, hydration, and stretching all impact your recovery time too. If you feel it is taking you too long to recover between workouts, look at these factors. Are you taking in adequate fluids before, during, and after your runs? How is your nutrition? Are you eating appropriately for the type of training you are doing? Are you eating within 30 minutes after finishing your runs? Are you getting enough protein and carbohydrates? Pack a recovery drink with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein to drink immediately after your runs to help speed recovery and follow that with lots of water. Stretching promotes good blood flow so it can aid recovery too. Establishing a post-run stretching routine and/or some foam rolling on a regular basis may help you too. – SUSAN

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