3 Self Experiments Designed to Expedite Recovery

By Tyler Tafelsky

Next to training, recovery is the most important element when it comes to endurance sports. For professional athletes and top age groupers looking to compete at their highest level, it’s all about being able to recovery faster.

In essence, quicker recovery lends to more effective training sessions, and more of them. But when extra rest days are taken as a result of fatigue or the onset of injury, race day performance can suffer.

Having experienced my fair share of injuries and over-training symptoms, I’ve become my own personal lab rat for self experimentation. From optimizing my nutrition to better structuring my training, I’ve figured out a few things that work, and work pretty damn well.

So as you dial-in your season, try dabbling in some self experimentation and learn to recover quicker from rigors of training. Here are three solid places to start.

Experiment with Mobility Training

In a previous post I wrote on the Endurance Evolution blog, I underscored the importance of mobility training. So I bring it up again because mobility is a big deal that goes beyond athletics. It’s the essence of operating as a functional human being.

I define mobility as an individual’s ability move into specific ranges of motion with some degree of load or tension. Want an example? Try this simple test:

Stand upright with your feet together, heels touching. Bring your ass down to your heels so that you’re in a deep squatting position.

This simple test assesses your ankle and hip flexion (range of motion). The load is your body weight. If you can’t hang out in this position for a few minutes, then either you have tight hips flexors or tight angles (or both.) But now you also have information. And this will guide your mobility practice and where your body needs TLC.

So if you failed the squat test, you can experiment with ankle mobility work and deep hip openers. Try with cultivating a practice that’s routinely manageable. This can include a combination of Yoga, self myofascial release, deep tissue massage or Active Release Technique. Also consider acquiring a few mobility tools, like a lacrosse ball, elastic bands, rumble roller, or my new favorite, “the peanut.”

Experiment with Training Intensity

Best said by Chris Hauth, a former professional triathlete, 2006 winner of Ironman Coeur’ D’Alene, and now reputable triathlon coach: The classic mistake athletes make is going too easy on hard days, and too hard on easy days.

This common conundrum results in plateaued growth. It can also create imbalance in one’s recovery cycle.

A good approach, in addition to practicing mindfulness, is to schedule your training in advance. Dedicate sessions focused on speed vs. strength, hard vs. easy, long vs. short, etc. Without sounding all woo woo, setting your intention for every training session will pay dividends in seeing improvements.

Lastly, it’s important to use a form of measurement when testing your experiments. Not only is it smart to measure energy output (via heart rate or wattage,) but it’s also good to document performance. Get a benchmark time on your 500 meter swim, 10K run, or a specific bike segment you train regularly. Test and re-test. If you’re struggling to improve, then something is off.

Experiment with Plant-based Nutrition

Before you get the idea that this is a push for veganism, just know that I am not vegan, nor am I promoting this type of diet. However, I have experimented with plant-based nutrition. Thanks to a handful of high-caliber vegan athletes like Rich Roll and Brendan Brazier, I was inspired to go vegan for year and I experienced the benefits almost immediately.

Let me give you another example. Local legend, Cody Sovis, is a hardocre cyclist, bike wrench, and vegetarian who’s on the forefront of Traverse City’s cycling community A couple years ago I asked Cody if he noticed any improvements since going veggie. My legs never get sore anymore, was the thesis of his response.

There’s really no mystery behind why. The fact of the matter is, animal-based foods like meat and dairy are inflammatory. And inflammation is the enemy when it comes to recovery. Additionally, the bioavailability of nutrients is often higher in plant-based foods, enabling greater extraction and absorption of the food’s vitamins and minerals.

These are just a couple reasons why I advocate plant-based eating, especially after training. While I still enjoy meat on occasion, or pop a fish oil capsules from time to time, I mostly getting my nutrients from plants. Tempeh, lentils, leafy greens, and seeds are a few whole food favorites. And as for smoothies, I’ve become privy to plant-based protein powders combined with copious fats, like coconut milk and avocado. If you’re considering vegan protein supplements, opt products with l-glutamine and branched chain amino acids, such as Vega Sport Performance and Garden of Life Sport Organic Protein. These vital ingredients will make your muscles much happier.

Test, Re-test, and Feel

Lastly, embrace your self experimentation as a scientist as well as test subject. Whenever possible test and re-test. It’s the benchmark to knowing whether or not you’re making improvements.

Your testing could be as simple as doing a 500m swim time trial every month, or seeing how long you can hang out in the deep squat position before collapsing. And as the “Iceman” Wim Hof says, feeling is understanding. So as my last words, acknowledge the changes in how you feel during and in between each training session. You are your best coach.

Images by PS, Randall Cox, David A. Bailey, Jr, Wild Tofu