The best gentle recovery sessions for runners

man looks out at mountain view
There are benefits to rest and recvoery for runners (Image credit: Getty)

Running can be tough on the body, especially if you are following a training plan, such as for a marathon goal. So, it’s important to make sure we include gentle recovery sessions for runners into any programme.

James Kwok, a physiotherapist, says that one of the most common causes of injury that he sees as part off his work is overtraining and not recovering adequately post-exercise. 

He says: “Many athletes feel guilty when they take a break, but building in recovery days into the training schedule can, in fact, promote soft tissue adaptation, improve performance and reduce risk of running injuries.

“Our body experiences major physiological changes as a result of training. It is vital to replenish it and repair muscle tissues that have undergone stress. 

“Taking a short break from running will have little negative impact on your current fitness. The fitness you have built up over the past few months will stay with you and will contribute to an ever better foundation for your next training regime.”

Ania Gabb, a PT, running coach and physiotherapist, also points out that recovery session help with mental health.

She says: “Mental health issues can be associated with overtraining. We run to improve our well-being and happiness, however too much running can also cause poor mental health. 

“I suggest to runners that they plan their rest days and do something they enjoy, whether it’s a walk or dinner with friends.” 

Recovery days also allow runners to sleep better and unwind. Gabb says: “Have you ever struggled to sleep after a big session/race? Restless legs from overtraining can cause this.

“It’s because our bodies simply can’t relax. Sleep is possibly the best recovery tool that we can do to help recharge for our next session.” 

Woman stretching shoulder

Take time to do daily stretching  (Image credit: Getty)

Recovery after a race 

If you have taken part in a race, DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) can develop within 12 hours and last for up five to 10 days.

Kwok says: “You will feel aches from muscles you didn’t even know existed. Although it may feel like the last thing you want to do, try not to stay in bed or sit around for too long. 

“Go for short walks, bike rides or swim to improve blood circulation to tired muscles and joints. As you feel better, you may begin doing some easy jogs with walking intervals.” 

calf stretch - male runner

Include stretching and mobility exercises for better recovery after running   (Image credit: Getty)

Tips for gentle recovery sessions for runners

Kwok, who is an ambassador for revery footwear brand OOFOS (opens in new tab), suggests his tips for gentle recovery sessions for runners.

Focus on mobility 

Mobility exercises are also commonly prescribed as part of the active recovery routine to improve range of movement and reduce muscle tension. 

Kwok says: “Low-intensity exercise following a strenuous race or hard training session is often considered to be more beneficial than inactivity/complete resting. 

“Simply spending around 15 minutes a day pre and post-race or a harder training session can make a significant impact on your recovery.” 

3 top mobility exercises for runners

Modified Hamstring Rock

The dynamic exercise primarily stretches the hamstrings along with the opposing hip flexors. Both muscle groups are heavily used in running and will benefit greatly from this drill.

To do the exercise, start in a lunge position with back (right) knee touching the floor.

Shift your bodyweight to your front (left) leg until you feel a stretch at the front of your opposite hip.

Shift your bodyweight back to your back leg and straighten your front knee. During this movement, slowly lean your trunk towards the front leg. You should feel a stretch in the back of your left thigh.

Hold for five to 10 seconds at each position and perform 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg. Complete four to five times a week.

90/90 Hip Rotations

This stretch combines both hip internal and external rotations in one movement. It improves gluteal muscle imbalances in deep gluteal muscles and reduces hip joint capsule stiffness.

To do the exercise, sit on the floor. Rotate your left hip outwards, with your knee bent at 90-degree. Rotate your right hip inwards such that it forms a 90-degree angle with your left hip, bending your right knee until they reach 90-degree as well. Both ankles should be at a neutral position.

Keeping your back straight (using your hands as support against the floor if needed and rotate your hips such that both knees point at opposite sides.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions of the above, alternating between left and right positions and holding at each position for 5 seconds. Complete four to five times a week.

Dynamic Calf Stretch

Our calf complex takes four to eight times our body weight when running, and is usually one of the sorest areas post-marathon. Most stretches favor either the soleus or gastrocnemius aspect of the calf complex, but this exercise can target both of them.

Get into a plank position with hands and feet shoulder apart on the floor.

Walk your hands backwards until your body forms a triangle. Bring your right knee up and lift your right heel off the floor while shifting your weight on to the left foot, which is planted on the floor. You should feel a stretch on your left calf.

Hold that position for five to 10 seconds and alternate the stretch on the right calf. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg and complete this sequence 4 to 5 times a week.

Man performing Child's Pose on yoga mat

Yoga poses offer a great for of gentle recovery for runners  (Image credit: Getty)

Daily stretching for recovery

Another tip is to include daily stretching as part of a gentle recovery session for runners.

Gabb says: "As well as sleep being a major element of rest and recovery, stretching should be done daily to prevent stiff and achy muscles."

Spend 10 to 15 minutes every day on stretches such as hip openers, child’s pose, cat/cow, spinal twists, hamstring stretch and pigeon pose. 

Woman doing yoga at home on mat

Yoga is good for the mind and body of runners (Image credit: Getty)

When to have recovery sessions

Gabb, who is also an OOFOS ambassador, reveals that recovery needs range from person to person. She says: “When I create a running plan, I always ask my clients what day they would prefer to relax, what’s their busiest day and when they’d like to do their long run. 

“The rest day should be based on the individual, which is why some of us fail following a generic training plan that you’ve found on the internet. They can be scheduled the day after a long run or interval session, as our body is being challenged the most during these sessions.”

What about sports recovery aids?

These days, there are many recovery tools that are available for runners. Gabb has tested many of these.

She says: “I’m a firm believer in testing anything and everything that is marketed as a recovery aid. Over the years I’ve trialled massage guns, recovery compression boots, cryo therapy, Epsom bath salts, ice baths, electric shock therapy, red light therapy, compression leggings, and recovery shoes. 

“Only a few have stuck with me and passed the test. These include the massage gun, epsom salts, recovery boots, and my OOFOS recovery shoes.”

Benefits of gentle recovery sessions for runners

Including gentle recovery sessions into your regular running training plan will allow you body time to rest, repair and build strength. In doing so, you will have a better chance fo performing at your best whatever race or gaol you have as a target.

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).