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Injury-free fitness: How to take the ouch out of your workout

Brent Fougner, director of the Athletics Canada National Endurance Centre – Victoria and eight-time CIAU coach of the year, and his wife Trish Fougner, a sports consultant and former national team runner, offer an eight-week plan to give your running a spring tune-up. Follow them on Twitter at @coachfougner and @foggygirl

When is the right time to take an easy day? It's not a sign of weakness if you take an easy day to recover or a complete day off of any kind of exercise. In fact, it's integral to your training – that's when improvements can happen and the body repairs itself. It also helps keep you injury-free.

Depending on your situation, there are several different types of recovery you can try. If you have ongoing fatigue or soreness that doesn't disappear after a few days, you may need to consider cross-training. This can include anything that uses the large muscle groups and increases your heart rate, such as cycling, swimming and pool running. You can use cross-training in place of a recovery day or a workout to limit the impact on the body. If you have any persistent pain you should seek medical advice.

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Another sign to watch for is the inability of your muscles to feel recovered after increasing the intensity or distance. You will feel slight stiffness initially. If this continues over several days, it's time to consider easing back.

Your actions immediately following your workout are important components of recovery. This starts with a proper warm-down of easy running for at least 10 minutes. Eating a healthy snack right after your workout and drinking fluids is the next step. A full meal should be enjoyed within two hours to start to refuel the body. Next you should start to flush out any by-product that has accumulated in the muscle tissue, such as lactic acid. Sitting in a cold water bath for at least 10 to 15 minutes (add ice in the summer) works well. Or you can alternate between hot and cold showers (one minute cold, three minutes hot) for the same amount of time, making sure you direct the water onto the legs.

Now it's time to work the muscles with stretches and a foam roller. Start with smaller muscle groups and then move onto the larger muscles. Stretches should be held for three to five minutes, allowing the muscle and the surrounding fascia to relax to a normal state.

Finally don't underestimate the influence that stress can play in affecting your level of recovery. Simply chilling and achieving a level of relaxation through meditation, yoga or elimination of outside distractions – such as TVs, cell phones and computers – will go far in helping the body recover.

This week's suggested training:

Monday: Day off

Tuesday: Workout day – 10 minute warm-up, then two to three 10-minute intervals in zone 3, with zone 4 surges every fourth minute. Between the 10-minute segments include two minutes of zone 1 running. Finish off the session with a warm-down of 10 minutes in zone 1.

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Wednesday: Easy run in zone 1, minimum of 35 minutes

Thursday: Day off

Friday: Repeat Tuesday's workout

Saturday: Easy run in zone 1, minimum 35 minutes

Sunday: Longer run, but not more then 25 per cent of weekly volume. Include some running in zones 2 and 3 if you are feeling good.

Option: Substitute an easy day with some cross-training.

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