In a series of three articles by Coach Martin Trout, we look at Recovery strategies in Trail Running.

  • Types of recovery strategies
  • Which ones are shown to work
  • How they can benefit you
  • Best practices

We will be looking at:

Part 1. and introduction

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Active Recovery

Part 2.

  • Compression garments
  • Massage
  • Stretching

Part 3. and summary

  • Nutrition
  • Sleep

Recovery in Trail Running

by Martin J. Trout – Part one of three.

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Active Recovery

As athletes we know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, but many of us still over train and even feel guilty when we take a day off.

The reason that rest is important is that the body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts. We don’t become stronger, faster or more resistant during our workout, but after the workout when we conscientiously follow an optimal recovery protocol.

Recovery is important both from a physical and a psychological point of view.

On the purely physical side the organism needs to repair damaged tissue such as muscles and cartilage while at the same time replenishing it’s energy stores and optimum levels of hydration.

Recovery allows the body to build up glycogen stores and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise.

From a purely psychological point of view, continuous exercise will induce a state of staleness, general ill feeling and possibly depression.

It is clear that not training or exercising is the easiest form of recovery but that is clearly not conducive to preparing for optimum athletic performance. Therefore it is a generally accepted practice to utilise methods that can assist and promote recovery in a reasonably short time span.

The most common methods are Hydrotherapy, Active Recovery, Stretching, Compression Garments, Massage, Sleep and Nutrition.


The human body responds to water immersion with changes in the heart, peripheral resistance and blood flow, as well as skin, core and muscle temperature alterations.

It has been theorised that changes in blood flow and temperature response may have a positive effect on:

  • Inflammation
  • Immune function
  • Muscle soreness
  • Perception of fatigue

The most common forms of water immersion are:

  • Cold-water immersion (CWI)
  • Hot water immersion (HWI)
  • Contrast water therapy (CWT), where the athlete alternates between hot and cold-water immersion

From the various studies that have been carried out, there do seem to be advantages to the use of hydrotherapy, particularly following high intensity efforts.

In particular CWI and CWT appear to be more beneficial than HWT.

Active Recovery

An active recovery generally consists of aerobic exercise that can be performed using different modes such as;

  • Slow running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming

Active recovery is often thought to be better for recovery than passive recovery due to enhanced blood flow to the exercised area and clearance of lactate and other metabolic waste products via increased oxygen delivery.

No detrimental effects on performance have been reported in the comparison between active recovery and passive recovery, between training sessions.

A limited number of studies have reported enhanced performance. However many of these studies used the removal of lactate as their primary indicator of recovery and this may not be a valid indicator of enhanced recovery and ability to repeat performance at a previous level.

Active Recovery is anecdotally reported to be one of the most common forms of recovery utilised by the majority of athletes due to the perception of decreased lactate concentrations and a reduction in muscle soreness.

Read part two here.


Martin John Trout
Martin Trout is an all round Adventurer, an accomplished ultra runner, mountaineer, ski mountaineering instructor and trail running coach at Endurance Training in Progress. He’s been living in Italy since the 1990’s.