After those high intensity workouts where our Nervous System is fried and our body needs a little recovery, what are we to do? As a coach, we have a lot of different options to choose from depending on our sport and athlete. Often, coaches automatically prescribe some form of low to moderate intensity running. While I am a fan of these tempo sessions and do find them to be beneficial for speed/power athletes that have a need for aerobic endurance in their sport, I do think there are other ways to improve upon or maintain their aerobic endurance and work capacity that should be considered.
The number one focus of a speed and power athlete is to be fast and explosive. The coach must never lose sight if this with the training. On the recovery days when work is not directly done to improve on speed or explosive power, emphasis needs to be on just that, recovery. An emphasis should be made to not fatigue and pound the body too much on these low intensity days. If you are having the athlete do nothing but running then how good are there legs actually going to feel on the days where you want them to run fast? Here is a list and explanation of different tools and ideas that you should consider when planning out recovery days.
Longer Warm-ups: I am a big fan of using warm-ups as part of the workout. As a coach and an athlete, my warm-ups could take anywhere from 20-45 minutes in length. A natural progression for me with the warm-up might consist of a 10-15’ general warm-up consisting of various skips and other movements in multiple planes of motion. From there we will do some static and dynamic stretching for 10’. Then 10’ of sprint drills followed by 10’ of hurdle mobility. You can get creative with what you do here but make sure it is specific to your sport and addresses the needs of the athlete. Don’t make it long for the sake of being long.
Foam Rolling Series: I prefer my athletes to foam roll on lower intensity days because often these are the days where they are the most sore. I like to plan out the exact areas that they will rollout because most of the time when I ask an athlete to rollout on their own, they either don’t know what areas to hit or just rollout their hamstrings and quads for a few minutes and call it a day. I prefer to add this in to the warm-up because if it is done after the workout then that just delays the amount of time before they can refuel their bodies with something to eat.
Extra Mobility Work: If you have an athlete that needs to improve upon their flexibility, this may be the best day to add in some extra stretching and mobility work. You don’t need to go crazy with the stretching here but a little extra might help. This type of work could also be in the form of a squat walk series that puts the athlete in greater ranges of motion than they are use to. Also keep in mind that if on strength days they are hitting nice deep (and safe) ranges of motion, then this is also going to address some mobility issues that may exist.
Extensive Tempo: This is what I commonly see coaches add in to the training on recovery days. These runs are usually done at a pace of 60-80% and recovery is pretty short. I personally like to stay between 65-75% depending on the day and keep volume capped at 2400 meters for my long sprinter, but most of the time they wouldn’t reach over 1600 meters in total volume though. Emphasis should always be kept on running with good mechanics. Don’t allow your athletes to get sloppy with their posture and form. Keep in mind that extensive tempo could be in the form of 50m buildups with a walk back recovery focusing on technique and posture. It could also take the form of a pool, bike, or row workout. This is another way to cut down on the pounding especially if you have an injured athlete.
General Strength Circuits: I am a huge fan of doing bodyweight exercises for my athletes. Usually these are in the form of alternating between upper, lower, and core exercises. You could also have some core specific circuits in here as well. These can be done for time or for reps. If you have an athlete go through 15 exercises for 12 reps each with no rest then they will probably be pretty gassed at the end with a similar training affect as the tempo runs, minus the pounding of the lower body.
Bodybuilding Circuits: Weight room circuit training can feel very similar to the general strength circuits only you have more of an external load to work with. These types of circuits have been said to aid in the release of hormones, leading to improved recovery. The key here is to make sure your athletes aren’t going too heavy or too light. Typically when the athlete finishes the set, they should have been able to complete a few more reps and shouldn’t feel like they are straining too much. At the same time, make sure your athlete isn’t swinging around a 5 lb. plate wasting time. These circuits can be done for time or for rep counts as well. If you don’t have access to a weight room or don’t want to drag your team in there on a recovery day, you can always use a barbell or some weight plates and make up your own circuit to do somewhere else.
Medicine Ball Circuits: Using strictly a medicine ball and your body weight as the load, you can get pretty creative and do some very tough and functional circuits with these. Typically these are done for time or rep count and have a similar training affect as general strength circuits.
Jump Circuits: These are not to be confused with plyometrics, although I see a lot of coaches do this type of work and call it plyos. I prefer to do jump circuits in the grass or sand as it cuts down on some of the pounding and controls the intensity a bit more. Usually I do them for time but they could certainly be done for rep counts. Emphasis for these should be on posture and proper foot contacts with this type of work. Rest should be incomplete for these circuits and a variety of different exercises should be used.
General Endurance Circuits: These hellish circuits are great for building or maintaining work capacity. This type of work usually takes the form of general strength exercises, sprint drills, and running all done continuously. You could use other tools as well. The great thing with these circuits is that you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can work on general strength and focus on good posture and running mechanics in a fatigued state while cutting down on some of the pounding and improper form you see with something like repeat 400’s. If you ask an athlete how they feel afterwards, they will tell you that these circuits are no joke. These circuits can last anywhere from 3-12 minutes in length and can be done a few times in one session.
Scrambles: This type of training is very similar to the general endurance work but it is a little more specific in prescription. Scrambles usually consist of a general strength exercises followed by a “sprint off.” The sprint off is done in a fatigued state so actual percentages of max velocity are often only around 80% or less. Coaches don’t need to worry about CNS fatigue for this one. The way I have used scrambles is by taking a general strength circuit containing 10-15 exercises and have the athlete perform the first exercise for 20-30” followed by an immediate sprint off. The athlete will then have the remaining time in that minute to walk back to the start before starting the second exercise and continuing through with sprints after each time interval.
I am sure there are a many other tools out there that you as a coach or athlete might be using. The key thing to remember is to make sure it is still a recovery day and fits in to the context of your training plan. Anyone can train hard but having the knowledge and discipline to allow yourself or your athletes to recover can often be the missing ingredient. What are your favorite recovery modalities to use with your athletes?