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Running Recovery: The Best Post-Run Routine

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Most runners believe that to become a faster and better runner, all that matters is what they do in their long-distance, or high-intensity running sessions throughout the week.

There’s so much more to reaching peak performance than just running.

Important details like strength training, crossing training, nutrition, sleep and rest also play a monumental part in our training.

Due to busy schedules, or just not understanding the importance of all the additional details, many runners tend to finish a run, bask in the post-run endorphin high, and rush off to continue on their day.

However, in many ways, your post-run recovery routine can be just as important as your training.

In this guide to running recovery, we will give you our top recovery tips, along with a post-run recovery routine to perform after all of your workouts or post-race.

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

Our 9 Top Tips For Running Recovery

#1: Cool Down

Just as a warm-up gets your body ready for exercise, a cool-down helps your body return to a state of rest. A cool-down will help your breathing and heart rate slow down, and your muscles relax.

It also helps your body eliminate lactic acid and waste products from its muscles by aiding blood flow to those areas.

How fast should your cool down be?

The pace will depend on your running level.

However, your cool-down run or walk should be done at a slower pace than your base training pace so that you don’t put any extra stress on your body.

How long should your cool down be?

Once again, this will depend on your experience as a runner. But your cool-down should last at least 5-10 minutes.

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

#2: Stretch

Stretching can be one of the most beneficial things to incorporate into your post-run routine.

Marathon Handbook spoke to Austin Martinez, MS, CSCS, ATC from Stretch Lab, about the benefits of stretching after a run. Here’s what Austin told us:

Stretching after a run can:

  • Improve Overall Performance – When people work out, their muscles flex and contract repeatedly. If people choose not to stretch afterward, their muscles will remain tight.

    Muscles that are lengthened over time – from stretching – increase muscle power and performance.
  • Prevent Injuries—Some of the most common injuries involve the knees and ankles, both of which can be prevented with regular stretching.

    It’s no secret that muscles need to be warmed up before physical activity. Stretching improves muscle flexibility and helps prepare muscles for the workload they’re about to take on.
  • Ample Muscle Recovery – Muscles need blood flow to help repair small tears they’ve experienced after a workout, and that’s where stretching comes into play.

    If you’re exercising and want to see improvement, stretching will help just that.

    Post-workout stretching increases blood flow in the muscles and allows them to repair themselves efficiently.
The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

How To Stretch Post-Run

Static stretches are the way to go post-run. Focus the main chunk of your stretching routine on your legs.

Don’t overstretch your muscles, just work within your normal range.

And you don’t need to stretch for long to reap the benefits,1National Health Service. (2021). Exercise. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/ just 5 minutes is better than none!

#3: Foam Roll

It is a good idea to make foam rolling a regular part of your post run routine, it’s solidly science-backed!

In a study2MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D. H., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research27(3), 812–821. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825c2bc1 by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that foam rolling for just one minute can improve an athlete’s range of motion.

Another study3MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool after an Intense Bout of Physical Activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise46(1), 131–142. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182a123db published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that foam rolling after intense exercise can relieve muscle soreness over the next two days.

Using a foam roller can also increase a runner’s mind-body connection.

Working out those tight spots in your hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes can help you combat the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

#4: Shower

This one sounds obvious, and it should be.

As you run, you sweat.

This makes your skin the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Getting straight into the shower after a run is a great way to wash off any unhealthy (and smelly) bacteria.

Showering also helps to clean your pores.

As you sweat, your pores open to release sweat from your sweat glands. These pores can then become clogged with dead skin and bacteria if you’re not able to jump in the shower soon after a sweaty run.

#5: Rehydrate

Focus on your hydration to kickstart your recovery process!

Water is essential for life, it makes up 60% of your body weight and plays a key role in almost all of your the human body’s functions. So it’s important to stay hydrated.

It is normal for you to be modestly dehydrated when you get back from a run, as long as you replenish your stocks as soon as possible.

For every kilogram of body weight you lose via dehydration, you should drink one and a half liters of water.

But there’s no need to be too fastidious about the numbers. Instead, simply drink to quench your thirst.

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

A study by the University of Iowa found that sports drinks containing carbohydrates increase water absorption into the bloodstream.

So if you’re feeling very thirsty, it might be a good idea to drink a sports drink or some diluted juice.

If you’ve been running for less than an hour, plain water is a good choice. However, if you’ve been out there for longer, you’ll need to replace your electrolytes too.

This can either be done by drinking a sports drink or by simply eating a salted or salt-containing meal or snack.

#6: Refuel

As a rule of thumb, you should try to eat a meal or snack as quickly as possible after getting back from a run.

More specifically, aim to eat within the first 30-60 minutes.

Make sure that your meal or snack contains carbs to replenish your lost glycogen stores, and protein, to help repair and rebuild your muscles.

Registered dietitian Mackenzie Burges4Cheerful Choices – Customizable Recipes with Ingredients of Your Choice – Cheerful Choices. (2022, October 16). Cheerfulchoices.com. https://cheerfulchoices.com/ spoke to Marathon Handbook;

“As a general guideline, aim for about a 1:3 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.”

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

#7: Have An Ice Bath

This is the non-essential one I mentioned, but if you’re brave, it could help boost your recovery.

Fans of the ice bath purport that taking a dip in an ice bath can help relieve muscle soreness and fatigue. This has been supported by various studies,5Ice bath research – cold water immersion (CWI) research. (n.d.). CET CryoSpas. https://www.cetcryospas.com/cold-tub/ice-bath-research/ but on the whole, the research is inconclusive.

So if you don’t feel like making an ice bath a regular part of your post run routine, don’t worry!

Research shows6Allan, R., & Mawhinney, C. (2017). Is the ice bath finally melting? Cold water immersion is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans. The Journal of Physiology595(6), 1857–1858. https://doi.org/10.1113/jp273796 that having an ice bath isn’t any better than an active recovery cool down. So, as long as you’re cooling your muscles down in some way, it’s not essential that you make an ice bath part of your post run routine.

#8: Sleep

Sleep is king when it comes to running recovery.

Ultrarunner and running coach Zach Bitter highlights the importance of sleep,

“It’s definitely quality over quantity, so getting a routine that allows you to get deep sleep, especially in peak training, is key to absorbing the hard training efforts needed to get faster and stronger.”

Performing at your peak isn’t all just about the training you do, it is also highly dependent on your quality of sleep.

A person sleeping, part of running recovery.

Here are some top tips to improve your sleep:

  • Don’t consume caffeine during the afternoons. It is best to restrict your caffeine intake to the mornings.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption before bed. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling groggy the next day.
  • Reframe your sleep as being part of your post run routine. It’s all about mindset and prioritizing this part of your recovery.
  • Avoid high stress activities during the evening. Instead of watching a stressful drama, try reading.

#9: Recovery days/runs

Unsure of what to do after a run in the days following?

The day after a big run, getting in an active recovery workout can help you bounce back quicker.

Active recovery workouts are low-intensity exercise sessions that get your body moving.

Some examples of active recovery workouts include cross-training sessions such as yoga, gentle pilates, walking, aqua jogging, easy swimming or cycling. An active recovery could also be a low-effort easy run, depending on your experience and fitness level.

It may sound counterintuitive, but active recovery can often be much more beneficial for recovery than doing nothing at all.

This is because your body recovers from exercise by delivering nutrients to your muscles via your bloodstream.

Therefore, any activity that will increase blood flow, will get the blood pumping through your muscles and will help speed up recovery (as long as it’s gentle, and not causing more damage).

Still, don’t forget to include at lease one full rest day per week in your training plan to ensure proper recovery and prevent overtraining and and increased risk of injury.

The best post run routine: 9 things to do after every run

To Summarize- What To Do After A Run

Whether you are a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon runner, here is your ideal post-run routine to bounce back from a hard running session like a champion.

Running Recovery Routine

  1. Cool Down– Wind those muscles down.
  2. Stretch– Prevent injuries and recover faster.
  3. Foam Roll– Relieve muscle soreness and increase your mind-body connection.
  4. Shower– Duh!
  5. Rehydrate– Replenish water and electrolytes lost in sweat.
  6. Refuel– Replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscle.
  7. Have an Ice Bath (optional!)- Feel invigorated and relieve sore muscles.
  8. Sleep– Absorb your hard training efforts.
  9. Recovery Days/Runs– Get your blood pumping and your muscles back in action.

Interested in whether you should be making beer a part of your post run routine?

Check out this article!

References

  • 1
    National Health Service. (2021). Exercise. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
  • 2
    MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D. H., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research27(3), 812–821. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825c2bc1 by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,
  • 3
    MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool after an Intense Bout of Physical Activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise46(1), 131–142. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182a123db
  • 4
    Cheerful Choices – Customizable Recipes with Ingredients of Your Choice – Cheerful Choices. (2022, October 16). Cheerfulchoices.com. https://cheerfulchoices.com/
  • 5
    Ice bath research – cold water immersion (CWI) research. (n.d.). CET CryoSpas. https://www.cetcryospas.com/cold-tub/ice-bath-research/
  • 6
    Allan, R., & Mawhinney, C. (2017). Is the ice bath finally melting? Cold water immersion is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans. The Journal of Physiology595(6), 1857–1858. https://doi.org/10.1113/jp273796
Photo of author
Maria Andrews is a runner, adventure lover, and UESCA certified Ultramarathon Coach. When she's not running around the woods or plotting adventures, she's spending time with her nearest and dearest, cooking up a storm, or working on Marathon Handbook's sister website, yogajala.com :)

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