Have you ever heard a runner say they went for a recovery run? What does that mean? How can you “recover” on a run? Should you incorporate recovery runs in your training?

Trail Runner445x270Many everyday runners think recovery runs are used to aid muscle recovery in the legs, and that these runs will increase blood flow and clear away lactic acid. But experts say that there is no evidence to support any of this.

“In short, recovery runs do not enhance recovery,” writes running author and expert Matt Fitzgerald in the Active.com article “A Fresh Perspective on Recovery Runs.”

“The real benefit of recovery runs is that they allow you to find the optimal balance between the two factors that have the greatest effect on your fitness and performance: training stress and running volume.”

Recovery workouts, he says, are performed in a fatigued state, which boosts runners’ fitness. The benefit of pre-fatigued, or recovery, runs occurs when your brain is forced out of its “normal recruitment patterns,” it has to find “neuromuscular ‘shortcuts’” in order to run more efficiently.

“Pre-fatigued running is sort of like a flash flood that forces you to alter your normal morning commute route,” writes Fitzgerald. “The detour seems a setback at first, but in searching for an alternative way to reach the office, you might find a faster way–or at least a way that’s faster under conditions that negatively affect your normal route.”

Basically, a recovery run is one where you are running on tired legs in order to “train” your brain and body to become a more efficient runner. Many elite coaches use recovery runs. In fact, if you read the “Hansons Marathon Method” book, you’ll see that their training plans are built on a very similar concept. Click the link to read more about the Hansons’ way of training in Runner’s World.

Fitzgerald’s tips for using recovery runs in training:

• You only need to do recovery runs if you run four times per week or more. (Runners who run three times a week should follow every key workout with a rest day.)

• If you run five times per week, one run should be a recovery run, and if you run six times every week, two of those runs should be recovery runs.

• Recovery runs are usually not needed during base training/moderate workouts.

• “A recovery run can be as long and fast as you want,” says Fitzgerald, “provided it does not affect your performance in your next scheduled key workout.”

• Experiment to find the best recovery run formula for you, he advises. And, he says, “Don’t be too proud to run very slowly in your recovery runs, as Kenya’s runners are famous for doing.”

• Click the link to read all of his tips in the full Recovery Run article at Active.com.