Rest & Recovery

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Rest & Recovery

To get the most out of your training, says Seana Hogan, you've got to rest with a vengeance.
By Mark Jannot

Seana Hogan is a world-class authority on rest and recovery, if only because she has so little time for the former and so great a need for the latter. As the women's champion in every Race Across America she's ever entered--from 1992 to 1995--Hogan has had to adapt to a grueling schedule of cycling for 21 hours a day and resting for three. Last year she won the race in a record time of nine days, four hours, and two minutes and spent the next six weeks recovering. "Once I recover, I'm a lot stronger than I was before," Hogan says. "It's definitely a good training ride."

Hogan knows better than anyone that R&R--selectively not training--is as crucial to peak performance and fitness as training is. "It's when your body rebuilds itself," she says. "It's essentially the process of building muscle: You tear it down in training, and your body rebuilds it better during rest. You don't get faster and stronger by beating yourself up." The most obvious component of a recovery plan is simple rest. But as Hogan explains with her mileage-tested tips, there's more to R&R than merely stopping.

Rest actively
"Rest and recovery comes down to lactic acid removal and muscle glycogen replacement," Hogan says. "Active rest gets blood circulating through the damaged areas, bringing nutrients for rebuilding and removing debilitating toxins." Active rest means spending some time--30 minutes is plenty--on easy exercise. It's especially critical the day after intense anaerobic training, when the lactate has really saturated your muscles. All your activity should be below 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, or you'll just be adding acid to injury. Hogan recommends spending active rest days on another sport entirely. "Not only will you be recruiting new muscles and resting the old ones, it's also easier to think of as a day for fun, which helps you maintain mental enthusiasm."

Plan your days off
In addition to active rest, take a minimum of one day a week off. "It's tough to," says Hogan, "because you think, 'Here I go--down the slippery slope.' " Nevertheless, a day off is necessary, as much for your mind as your body, and if you plan it in advance, you're more likely to take it. "Otherwise you get burned out, and you don't have fun anymore, and the quality of your training suffers." Schedule a massage or take a warm bath with Epsom salts on your days off to further remove lactic acid from overtaxed muscles.

"On typical training days it's important to replace your muscle glycogen," Hogan says. "And studies show that your body's much more receptive to carbohydrates within the first hour or two after exercise." If you don't feel like eating after a hard workout, Hogan suggests downing a sports drink.

Of course you should also rehydrate during any workout that lasts longer than 90 minutes. Hogan favors sports drinks because they replenish the electrolytes your body loses when it dries out. "The electrolytes provide a means for transferring fluid from outside to inside the cell," she says. "During the 1994 Race Across America, I quit drinking sports drinks for two days. I ended up in the hospital because I was totally bloated and dehydrated at the same time."

Sleep well
"If you're working out hard, you need at least eight hours of sleep," Hogan says. "During strenuous exercise, intramuscular serotonin levels increase, making you lethargic. When you sleep, the serotonin levels fall, so you wake revitalized. There's a synergy between working out and getting enough sleep: It causes the pituitary gland to release a growth hormone that promotes recovery and muscle rebuilding." Hogan recommends taking a one-hour nap after a hard weekend workout to help speed recovery.

For those having trouble sleeping, Hogan dons her Dr. Ruth persona: "Sex is great for relaxing. It raises serotonin levels, bringing on sleep. And hormone production and circulation increase, which are good for muscle building and toxin removal."

Resist the temptation to overtrain
Push too hard and your body can't keep up with the rebuilding process. To keep pushing is to court illness and injury. Some signs to watch for: insomnia, flagging performance, unexplained sweats, decreased appetite, irritability or depression, an elevated resting heart rate, or a persistent cold. Remember, you can take three days off without losing your level of fitness. "If I have a hard day scheduled and don't feel that zeal, I'll take it easy," says Hogan. "You have to be flexible, because your body doesn't follow a schedule."

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