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Tri 101: Recovery

Everyone wants to know how hard and long they should train. But the unsung hero that enables all that effort to work is one simple ingredient: Recovery!

Keep in mind that when you train you stimulate your body to build all the energy generating systems, muscles and coordination needed for efficient top level athletic performance. But those improvements don’t actually happen during the workouts. They take place later when you are recovering. And most of that goes on when you sleep.

The big hormonal responses to training that make you stronger happen in deep sleep. Human growth hormone and testosterone, two of the biggies, spike in the night after a day of good training. And those two hormones rev up your body’s natural ability to repair muscle that gets broken down during training. And that ends up making you stronger.

On top of that there is a learning curve to any physical movement you do that has to do with how efficiently the messages get from your brain to your muscles to make them work the way you want them to.

Those messages get transmitted more strongly over time as you train. The end result is that your body moves more effectively in the motions you train it to. Of course this means that attention must be given to having good form. You will only get better at moving in the way you actual do!

So much of that neurological efficiency gets put in place when you sleep. It’s sort of like your brain is a computer that gathers all this information during the day. Then at night as you sleep it files away the key ingredients in the right folders to be accessed later on in the future. Moving your body gets a big folder dedicated to it if you are athletic and workout a lot. The more info about what it took to get your legs to spin in say that pedal motion on the bike or to do a freestyle stroke in the water that gets uploaded into that folder, the more movement knowledge and expertise you can use later.

The key to all of this though is that sleep needs to take place. It’s also important to have time during the day where you are just idling and not using your brain at peak capacity.

Without both of those, the potential for great results gets compromised. Yes, even time during the day when you are daydreaming is part of your recovery process. I’m sure you have experienced this already. Think about the last time you got a massage. You relaxed and recharged both your body and your mind. What about your daily meditation practice? That quiets your mind and freshens up your whole being to be ready for more!

The sleep element is the most key part though. How much you need to recover and be truly fresh is going to be individual. The range can be anywhere from 6-10 hours per night depending on how you are hardwired. If you do not get as much sleep as your body needs, it actually add to any stress you may be under. And stress is the top killer of athletic performance!

If you are unsure if you are getting enough sleep and recovery one great way to measure it is with Heart Rate Variability.

If you are unfamiliar with this measure, it’s a great tool for relating how you are feeling to actually recovery markers in your body. Heart beats, although they seem regular, have slight variations. If you are well rested those variations are much greater than if your body is not recovered and under stress. There are many devices including things like an Apple Watch and Whoop that record those variations and give you a HRV (heart rate variability) score.

What score is right for you to let you know your recovery is good depends on age and sex. But the takeaway is that you may feel you are ready to charge it but your heart is telling you something else.

Backing down planned training is the toughest thing for most athletes to do. And if you are not tech and device oriented it can be even tougher. So here are a few simple rules of thumb that signal you are in need of more recovery.

  • You’ve had three or more days in a row where your arms and/or legs have felt like lead when you start out a workout.
  • You are irritable.
  • Little tasks seem like big projects.
  • Normal things that should give you pleasure have lost their positive impact.
  • Your sleep is disrupted.
  • You toss and turn before you finally fall asleep.
  • You go to sleep fine but wake up feeling exhausted.
  • Small niggling injuries start showing up.
  • You are constantly fighting off low grade colds or other illnesses.


All of those are saying slow down, cut it down, cut it out completely.

Here are a few solutions to the recovery puzzle.

  • Get to bed 15-30 minutes earlier for a few days. If that doesn’t do it, shoot for 60-minutes earlier
  • Disconnect from everything electronic at least 30-minutes before you hit the sack. You can still read a book in bed but make it paper and not electronic.
  • Cut the next day’s workouts in half and keep them all at recovery pace. That planned speed session can wait.
  • Drop alcohol consumption down if this is a regular habit. It can help you get to sleep but works the opposite for staying asleep.
  • Post workout drink water, replace fluids and eat a balanced meal for any effort over about 45-minutes within the first 30-60 minutes post workout.
  • Spend at least a few minutes outside in nature letting your mind wander and daydream. This does wonders for freshening up your attitude.


Here is a great video talking about recovery and your overall energy reserves:


Tommy Buzzcut is chiming in on Recovery also. Enjoy!



Join us at Mark Allen Coaching to get guidance in your training that takes recovery into account.

(This is the third in a 9-part series of blogs on tips to help you train and race at your best!)



  1. Thanks Mark.

    I have been with you for awhile and have heard this before but it is always good to bring these key concepts back up to remind me of their significance. Racing as a 70 yr old this year Recovery is a key ingredient to just allow me to even finish an IRONMAN.

    Thanks again,

    Rick Simpson

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