Cross Country Training: Workout Recovery Protocols

Posted by Scott Christensen

Workout recovery practices can be placed in three domains when discussing training for cross country runners.  First there is the recovery that takes place between interrupted bouts of work in anaerobic or VO2 max training.  In most cases this is some sort of incomplete recovery that takes pace for 1-10 minutes with the exact time amount based on the training effect that is desired in the workout.  We can see that the workout recovery interval will ultimately decide the strength of the training stimulus.  The second type of recovery is the long-term recovery that is applied at the end of the training macrocycle.  The time length in this type of recovery can be anywhere from two weeks to two months with the variables consisting of the athlete’s health and when the next training macrocycle need begin.  In a normal high school schedule with track competitions ending about June 1, and the first cross country competitions scheduled for September 1, it would be sensible to prescribe a three week recovery period for distance runners.  This can also be described as a time of transition as the track capacity work finishes up and the body recovers to ready itself for the demands of the higher mileage general preparation period that characterizes summer cross country training.

The third type of workout recovery is that which occurs on a day to day basis during the training season.  The recovery period from a workout is more comprehensive then just stopping practice and going home for the day.  Rather, it should be a consistent protocol of key recovery techniques that will bring the athlete back to baseline homeostasis in the quickest, least stressful way so that workout fatigue can be addressed and the improvement of fitness can begin.  Hard physical work is accompanied by lots of psychological and physical stress.  As workout recovery begins, three key metabolic issues must be addressed.  These three problems are a body temperature issue, a hydration issue and an energy issue.

The enzymes that help biochemical processes take place in the body are ubiquitous and the result of years of natural selection.  Specifically, the enzymes involved in the glycolytic anaerobic and aerobic energy pathways will work best at about 102 degrees F.  This allows for an increase of metabolic heat without compromising the action of the enzymes.  When an athlete quits working the metabolic heat production slows down and the body temperature crashes.  This is a stressful situation and can be accommodated by a cool-down run that slowly brings the temperature down toward normal.  One the temperature is addressed, water replacement becomes the next issue.  Much water is lost in workouts and racing.  Dehydration causes stress to the body in general, and specifically it dries out mucous membranes that could become cracked and serve as a portal for viruses into the body.  Lozenges or suckers after a run help the lips to stay moist.  There is mixed evidence that zinc supplementation helps cell membranes recover faster.  You might want to suggest a 15 mg zinc lozenge to your athletes for something to suck on to keep the lips moist.  Carbohydrates are the third recovery issue and the intake should begin soon after the workout with a sport drink.  The window for the main meal is two to four hours after the stressful work.  You may want to add other things to your everyday recovery protocol as well.  I like the athletes to elevate their legs to keep the blood from pooling on the lower body.  I am sure you have a must-do to add to the list.

Coach Christensen’s Cross Country Hill Workout – Click here!

The goal is to get your athletes to recover as quickly as possible for the next day.  Staying in a stressed state following a workout is a major concern in keeping athletes healthy.  Copy the protocol and give to each of your athletes.  That is how you should end practice each day on the cross country team.

Post Competition Protocol (includes hard practice days)

Immediately follow stressful workout with gradual 8 – 10 minute cool down run. 
Take in 16 ounces of water immediately from your water bottle, not the fountain.
Follow with 4 –5 minutes of general leg stretching
Elevate legs 6 – 10 minutes
Take in 12 – 16 ounces of glucose polymer/electrolyte sport drink
Take a 15 mg zinc lozenge and slowly suck on it.
Use a Massage Stick and then 10 minutes of ice therapy
Eat a proper high carbohydrate meal within 2-4 hours of the workout.
Continue zinc lozenges every 3 hours until bed
Drink 24 ounces of additional fluid two hours before bed.
Sleep 8 –9 hours, in bed normal time

Read Coach Christensen’s extremely popular program developed specifically for the high school endurance coach: Preparing the Elite Junior Cross Country Runner


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Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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