5 In running/ running 101

Recovery runs – yes or no?

Now that marathon training is in full swing again and my long runs have reached 30km, I am religious about recovery runs on the days after.

I used to think that recovery runs help your legs to recover from the hard session, that they somehow repair the muscle fibers damaged (increased blood flow maybe, etc.). It turns out that this is not the case at all, recovery runs do not actually fix your muscles.

They do something else though that’s quite fascinating and very beneficial – they make your body use the muscle fibers that were not used to their maximum limit during the long run (or the high intensity run as recovery runs can be done after those as well).

This means that your overall fitness improves as your body learns to use the normally less used muscle fibers.

As the brain tries to avoid using the worn-out muscle fibers and instead involves fresher muscle fibers that are less worn out precisely because they are less preferred under normal conditions.

When your brain is forced out of its normal muscle recruitment patterns in this manner, it finds neuromuscular “shortcuts” that enable you to run more efficiently (using less energy at any given speed) in the future.


Scientifically it’s all a bit complicated but I feel that I don’t need to get my head around exactly what happens when in the muscles and the brain, and how there are different muscle fiber types and how they’re used differently depending on the type of work-out you do – what makes me keep to my recovery runs is this:

  • they add to my weekly running volume in a relaxed way – in marathon training both volume and intensity is important but no one can run all the runs in high intensity so a slow long run and an easy recovery run added to the mix is great
  • they feel good – the first few kms with sore legs are not comfortable but after that the soreness eases up

What do you tend to do? Do you rest the day after long or very hard runs or do you do a recovery run?

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  • Reply
    Long runs – What have they taught me? | Mind over Matter
    March 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    […] Have a short and very slow recovery run […]

  • Reply
    March 2, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    I like walking. Maybe walking is my recovery run? Just a thought…

    • Reply
      March 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Definitely. Lots of walking is good – recovery from LIFE & stress 🙂

  • Reply
    FitBits Tess
    March 2, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Ooh this is interesting. It’s a bit different with me as I have to be careful because of my knees – we’re not friends the day after a long or hard run so I usually have a day of complete rest (bar cycling to work or core class). Depending on how things go this week though I might give it a go 🙂

    • Reply
      March 4, 2014 at 9:02 am

      If your knees are troubling you then maybe just do the cycling on the days after, I’m sure that’s beneficial for your muscles as well. Or maybe test it with a little 4-5km run and see if the knees are better or worse afterwards?

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