There are hundreds of books written about how to run faster, more efficiently or more enjoyably, but a new book covers the 95% of the time when we’re not actively training. “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery” explores how—or if—our bodies convert downtime to better times. A quicker recovery from a tough workout means more ability to carry on daily activities, or to train more.
Author Christine Aschwanden, a science writer and former competitive cyclist and skier, tries all the purported recovery techniques to see what works best. “Recovery used to be a noun, a state of being,” she writes. ‘Today, it’s almost a verb. It has its own gear, and athletes and weekend warriors have made it an extension of working out.”
Aschwanden visits a “recovery gym” and tries out many of the offerings, including ice baths, infrared sauna, pneumatic compression pants and cryotherapy. While many of them feel good (except cryotherapy, which she describes as feeling “like standing naked in a snowstorm”), she finds little research to back up the claims.
“It’s all subjective, and the placebo effect probably accounts for most of the difference,” Aschwanden concludes. “If you expect to feel better the next day, you probably will, and that’s a good thing in and of itself.”
An important exception to her tolerance for recovery techniques is the use of ibuprofen as a recovery aid. “Using ibuprofen as a pain reliever makes perfect sense. The problem is that a lot of runners who aren’t in pain think that it will speed their recovery by reducing inflammation, but inflammation is part of the healing process,” Aschwanden notes. “In training, you’re trying to force adaptation. If you reduce inflammation, you’re reducing your body’s response to exercise.”
Aschwanden’s years of research led her to be a huge proponent of one technique. “Sleep is the most important recovery tool known to science,” she writes. “Good sleep should be as much of a priority as your training. You can actually out-sleep the competition.”