Your high school coach (and every other trainer you’ve worked with since) has probably drilled a simple idea into your brain pretty well: Too many days off will ruin your fitness. But what about the opposite: How long does it take to get overtrained?
“When we think about overtraining, the most important thing is not intensity—it’s really volume,” says Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist who works with Olympic athletes. So, think you had a couple of tough workouts and you might have overtrained? You probably don’t need to worry.
When something may be up: If, for many days, you’ve been increasing the intensity and frequency of your sweat sessions without recovery. Do this and you could be on your way to what Weiss calls “overreaching”—the step before overtraining. “And within 2 to 3 weeks, you can overtrain if you’re not recovering correctly,” he adds.
But if you overdid it, that doesn’t mean you need to shut down and head for the couch. “Once that happens, we tell elite athletes that you can keep up your intensity, but you just have to alternate every day with a rest day.” Even better: You’re not doomed to regress. “A lot of people worry about how long it will take to get back on track,” Weiss says. “But if you reduce the training volume and recover right, within 21 days, you’ll be back to normal.”
Here’s the thing to remember: Rest days don’t consist of lying in bed with a shake. Here are four things you can do to speed recovery—whether or not you're already burnt out.
When Weiss worked with the U.S. triathlon team, he noticed something the athletes usually did in the medical tent post-workout. “They’d scoot their butts up against a wall, and put their feet and legs up the wall,” he says. Elevating your legs above your heart in such a manner lets gravity help prevent the pooling of blood and excess metabolites from exercise in the legs, Weiss says.
Compression gear is said to improve circulation and better deliver oxygen to your muscles—especially after a workout. Research on the products is mixed—but some studies suggest that the clothing can help with post-workout soreness. Try brands like 2XU or CEP compression—Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon last year wearing a pair of these socks.
Find the right fuel
Post-workout, you’re always going to want a solid mix of protein and carbohydrates. Foods like Greek yogurt offer a solid dose of protein, and fruits—specifically pineapple—are both a great source of carbs and also have anti-inflammatory features that help repair tired muscles.
Amp it up
A study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that when comparing passive recovery to massage and active recovery in a group of swimmers, active recovery was the most effective at clearing blood lactate. The second most efficient recovery method was massage. The takeaway: While a light jog or ride may not seem like much, it could be your ticket to a better performance next time you go hard.