Recovery runs… yay or nay?

For most of my running life, I’ve done longer runs on Saturdays, and taken Sunday completely off.  Over the last couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with a recovery run on Sundays, at an extra slow pace, as Sundays are an easy day for me to get a few miles in (family run time).

I was curious to learn more about the rationale behind recovery runs, and did a little research. Most articles agreed that a recovery run is more beneficial to your body than a complete day of rest after a long run, but for differing reasons.  Many stated that recovery runs help rid your legs of lactic acid, or increase blood flow to accelerate the healing process.

However, I found this article most helpful.  Fitzgerald disagreed with the above reasons and says there is no research to back up the claims that a recovery run actually helps your body recover.  Instead, he argues that the recovery run is important because of its potential to increase your overall fitness by asking your body to run in a fatigued state.

One of his articles was written for, and he cited the following research:

Evidence of the special benefit of pre-fatigued exercise comes from an interesting study out of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. In this study, subjects exercised one leg once daily and the other leg twice every other day. The total amount of training was equal for both legs, but the leg that was trained twice every other day was forced to train in a pre-fatigued state in the afternoon (recovery) workouts, which occurred just hours after the morning workouts.

After several weeks of training in this split manner, the subjects engaged in an endurance test with both legs. The researchers found that the leg trained twice every other day increased its endurance 90 percent more than the other leg.

He concludes that a recovery run after a hard run can teach your body to become more efficient and improves running economy.  It also allows you to find the maximum balance of training stress and running volume, by keeping miles higher than they would otherwise be without overtaxing your body.

I’ve really come to enjoy my recovery runs, and generally run as slow as I want to for 4-6 miles, usually doing at least 3 as part of a family jog.  I’ve come across a number of runners who swear by recovery runs, and others who rarely use them.

Fitzgerald’s article convinced me to hold onto the recovery run, with the understanding that it’s not actually recovery, but an important part of my training week.  (To clarify, a recovery run should not be used in place of a complete day of rest.)

I have another race tomorrow morning, a 5k.  My quads are wiped out from a killer hills spinning class this week, so I hope they’re ready to race.  I feel like I always have excuses when I get nervous before a race… need to work on confidence.  🙂

I’m linking up with Jill for Fitness Friday!

Do you use recovery runs? Why or why not?

Do you find yourself making excuses before a race?

49 thoughts on “Recovery runs… yay or nay?

  1. Interesting! I’ve always taken the day off after long runs or races too but just started a really slow run the next day in the past couple of months. I actually think it has helped, especially after a race. I seem to recover better if I do this but it’s definitely super slow and not very long, a true recovery!
    abbi recently posted..The Best $7 Ever SpentMy Profile

    • That’s true- if I were doing “real” long runs, I’m not sure I’d be up for a recovery run at all, or maybe an easy mile or two. But my “long runs” right now are only 9-10 miles, so my legs are still up for more running the day after.
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

  2. I definitely agree with Fitzgerald. I would think something like yoga would be more effective in breaking down lactic acid if that was the primary goal of a recovery run.
    Sarah S recently posted..Hope’s a bitchMy Profile

  3. I used to never run after my long runs or hard speedwork but then when I started doing really slow short ones I DID notice a difference. I think it’s the same as when you do a killer strength workout and your muscles ache but then if you push through a yoga, stretching or easier strength routine the next day all the muscles feel better.

    I’m a fan if you have the time and energy!

    Good luck on your 5k!
    Ali Mc recently posted..I miss running.My Profile

  4. My coach implemented recovery runs during my last training cycle. I remember thinking, “What?!?! Where is my rest day?” but it has worked out just fine. I run it at whatever pace feels easy, and believe it or not, it varies. There have been times when I look down at my watch and am surprised to see it in the 8s. I do think your body just gets used to it. I’m up to 5 miles now on my recovery runs the day after my long run.

    Good luck in your 5k!
    Allison @ Johnson Jocks recently posted..Spring Break, SLOTH, and Six Weeks!My Profile

    • Interesting! So do you have a rest day built in somewhere else in the week? I’ve started using the day before long runs as a rest day, since it used to be pretty easy cross training and I feel like I’m getting more out of the recovery run on Sunday.
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

      • Very little rest for the weary here! My only rest day during marathon training is on Fridays. GAH! That being said, Monday is recovery, Wed. is recovery (the day after speedwork), Friday is OFF, and Sat. is easy (day before long run). So I do try to keep it balanced.
        Allison @ Johnson Jocks recently posted..RUTMy Profile

  5. Interesting article. Although I’m not a runner. The article correlates with my workout off days. my recovery days are an active recovery. When I’m not training with crossfit on my off days I do yoga, I do a run/walk with my dog (he is older & has some injuries). I don’t just sit around and let my muscles seize up. I keep training them, but I do give myself at least one full day off.
    Lilli TOby recently posted..Clean eatingMy Profile

    • Yes, I don’t think I would have found it helpful at all as I was getting started. It’s meant more for runners who are ready to add in extra miles somewhere and want the muscles challenged after being fatigued from the long run. Keep doing what works for you!
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

  6. The timing of you posting this and me reading it are pretty cool. I’ve never incorporated recovery runs into my training before, but lately it seems like everyone is doing them. Yesterday I had a 12 mile long run and I’m pretty sore. So here I am drinking my coffee, getting ready to go for my FIRST recovery run, and I happen to read this post. Thanks for posting those resources, I’m going to check them out.
    Carrie recently posted..Long Run RecapMy Profile

  7. We don’t really do recovery runs that often and if we do they are usually a few days after we last ran. We do our long runs on Sundays and right now Monday is our only off day. I guess for the other days we run we do bike or swim recovery days! haha.

    Good luck at your race, you are going to do great!
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman recently posted..How Far We’ve ComeMy Profile

  8. I think recovery runs can be a good idea, if they are done right. The problem I see is that a lot of runners have a hard time dialing it down, so the run ends up being more about running and less about recovery. If you can keep it slow and easy, I would say go for it.

    I usually do a long run on Saturday, followed by a “run” with my friend, which generally turns out to be about 1-2 miles of running and 3-4 miles of walking. But I find this is great for both of us; I am running less than I would have otherwise (aka doing a “recovery” run) and she is running a bit more (because she normally goes for a walk only). So it’s a win win for us!

    And ps. I ALWAYS get nervous before a race. Always.
    Travel Spot recently posted..Grizzly Peak Trail RunMy Profile

    • Glad I’m not the only one who is always nervous before racing! I guess the extra adrenaline from the nerves is a good thing. 🙂 Yes- I think you’re absolutely right. I run them with my husband who is not a runner at all, so we average 10 minute miles and it’s kind of fun going that slowly and not worrying about pace!
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

  9. Laura, This is a great informative post. I haven’t done recovery runs in the past, but I have thought about it recently and wondered if it is a good, safe way to build my mileage in my next marathon training cycle. Good luck at your 5k tomorrow!
    Corey recently posted..TGIFMy Profile

    • Yes- that’s what I was thinking… a way to get some extra miles in, while still using the 3 key workouts. Mostly RLRF with a little extra mileage thrown in…. it does seem like more overall miles would be helpful as I’ve always done pretty low mileage weeks, even in marathon training. Thanks for the encouragement for tomorrow!
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

  10. I have experimented with both rest and recovery and found the recovery runs work better for my body. Thank you for validated this for me. Often times I am challenged. Good luck on your race this weekend. Looking forward to hearing about it. xo
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Trail ConfessionsMy Profile

    • Oh, wow! Glad to hear they work for you! I’m still experimenting with it, and haven’t tried it with a long run of more than 12 miles, so I’m wondering what it will feel like after “real” long runs. Thanks for the encouragement for tomorrow’s race!
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

    • Yes, I’m always run better when I didn’t run too many days in a row. So this is new territory for me, but because of the super slow pace, it seems to be working out okay. Definitely not something to implement if you are coming back from injury. 🙂
      Laura recently posted..Recovery runs… yay or nay?My Profile

  11. I usually use the day before my long run as a rest day and the day after the long run as a recovery run. I won’t run with a watch typically and will just do it based on feel.
    Kelly recently posted..10 FavoritesMy Profile

    • That’s exactly what I’ve started doing… rest Fri, long Sat and super slow recovery on Sunday. I thought my legs would be dead on Sunday, but it’s working better than I expected (of course, I’m also not in marathon training right now!)
      Laura recently posted..Boston spotlight!My Profile

  12. That is very interesting. I have always taken the day after a long run as a rest day, but usually have done some walking or something so I suppose that helps the legs too. Plus it fits with my routine, but I could see a short gentle run on a Sunday morning could help- I know some athletes do runs twice per day and I think that is to do with running at a fatigued state. And some plans say you can split your long runs and do half in the morning and half in the afternoon, but I think that would waste water (you know, having twice the showers!).
    Anyway, once I start running again that is something I would consider- but as a short gentle one.
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  13. I had trouble getting the comment box to load the other day – but wanted to make sure I commented on this one. Hope the race was awesome!

    I tend to call the first run after my long run a recovery run – typically I do them on Monday, but I don’t take Sunday off. Sunday is reserved for my long hike prep for my climb. I’m probably more in line with Fitzgerald about the benefits to working your body in a fatigued state.
    Mandy recently posted..Trail Confessions IIIMy Profile

    • Yep, after a long hike, I’d definitely say that counts as a recovery run the next day. Do you often have trouble getting the comment box to load? I’ve noticed some slow issues lately, might have to look into that…
      Laura recently posted..Boston spotlight!My Profile

  14. Thanks for your comment! I really liked this post on recovery. For me I accidentally took too long of a recovery and sunk into “I’ll run here and there” mode. Time to get back in the swing of it. Thanks for the encouragement! Love your blog!
    Kat recently posted..Flipboard & RunningMy Profile

  15. I think it depends on the person, I’m a slow recoverer and I’m very injury prone, so it’s often important for me to take full recovery days. But I have running buddies that seem like they could do hard workouts every day and be fine (my husband is like that, too).
    Great job on the race this weekend! Enjoy your massage 🙂
    Amanda K. recently posted..Hokie NationMy Profile

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