As an ITU long-distance world champion, Olympian, and 10-time Ironman 70.3 champion, Helle Frederiksen knows what it takes to win. But ask her the secrets of triathlon performance, and she’ll say it has nothing to do with swim, bike, or run. “I’ve always placed a high value on recovery,” says Frederiksen. “As my career as a professional triathlete progressed, I became even more focused on recovery, as I was able to experience the role, importance, and value recovery has on performance.”
For Frederiksen, that means a holistic approach. “Recovery is not just a sport thing,” she says. “The more we do, the more we must place value on recovery. Even if athletic pursuits occupy the least amount of your time, a busy schedule will always benefit from recovery. Put simply, recovery should never be neglected – we will break if we don’t allow recovery to feature in our life.”
Helle Frederiksen’s 10 Rules of Recovery
1. Swim, bike, run, recover.
In your training plan, treat recovery the same way you would any other workout. Viewing recovery as the “fourth discipline” of triathlon makes it easier to place the appropriate amount of importance on this task. “I contribute a huge part of my success as an athlete on recovery as a discipline and how I, along with my team around me, committed to recovery as an overarching priority,” says Frederiksen.
2. Know your modes.
“Food, sleep, injury management, and rest are my four key methods of recovery,” says Frederiksen. “I stick by those religiously, and they have become a part of my day-in, day out routine.” Frederiksen says to check each of the four boxes every single day, and notice any patterns when you don’t. Chances are, when one of these recovery modes is neglected, you’ll see declines in your athletic performance. Recovery is a puzzle, and having all the pieces makes it much easier to put together a complete, healthy athlete.
3. Eat like a champion.
As soon as a workout is over, Frederiksen recommends heading to the kitchen. “Eating almost immediately post-session is a must for me, even if I’m going straight to a meeting or appointment after my workout,” she says. Sometimes, that means stashing a protein drink in her pool bag or keeping a reserve of ready-to-go meals and snacks in her fridge. Food jump-starts the recovery process and allows the muscles to refuel and rebuild in preparation for the next workout. Frederiksen keeps this mindset at all times with a daily diet that includes fresh, organic produce – this ensures she gets the highest nutrient value possible to fuel recovery.
4. Take a nap.
Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night is a proven performance enhancer. But Helle says there’s another, oft-overlooked recovery tool: naps. A 30- to 60-minute nap in the middle of the day, after the first workout of the day, is a must for Frederiksen, who says adding this element of her recovery routine made a marked difference in her ability to bounce back from each session.
5. Get the blood moving.
Though a massage is a great way to speed recovery, massages can get expensive. That’s why Frederiksen recommends the NormaTec Recovery System as part of her daily recovery routine. The physician-developed system, which uses dynamic compression massage, enhances the movement of fluid and metabolites out of the limbs after an intense workout. “Not only does it help physiologically by flushing the lymphatic system, but it gives me confidence that my work for the day is done, and I am rejuvenating my muscles with a world-class recovery tool.”
6. Tune out for a minute (or ten).
Frederiksen’s “rest” mode is more than just a physical approach – it’s mental, too. “Distraction is a key part of recovery, and I feel it’s often so under-valued,” she says. “Stress is everywhere, and under-performance is so often caused by stress and a lack of balance.” That’s why her recovery routine includes distraction – either by spending time with her husband or engaging in a low-stress activity like cooking, interior design, or watching a TV show while using her NormaTec.
7. Multitask your recovery.
Recovery doesn’t have to be time-consuming! In fact, Frederiksen says much of her recovery integrates seamlessly into her life. For example, her cooking “distraction” time can also mean prepping and preparing healthy recovery meals and snacks; she closes each day of training with time on the couch, where she answers e-mail while using her NormaTec recovery system.
8. Work hard to recover better.
Recovery is best when there is an appropriate training load to necessitate the recovery. Though recovery consistency is important, it is moot without training consistency and racing consistency. Do the work, recover, repeat – that’s the formula for performance gains. Hard work pays off in a big way, says Frederiksen: “There is no better feeling of satisfaction than reaching our goals.”
9. No shortcuts!
“It doesn’t matter if our goals are in sport, business, or life on the whole, we achieve on the things we want to by committing 100%, with zero shortcuts,” says Frederiksen. “I have seen many athletes fall short of their potential because they didn’t place a high enough value on recovery as they did on training. I contribute a huge part of my success as an athlete on recovery as a discipline and how I, and my team around me, committed to recovery as an overarching priority.”
10. Don’t buy into the hype.
Though there are hundreds of products on the market which claim to speed recovery, Frederiksen says it’s important to keep recovery simple and streamlined: “The one thing I have learned is that the topic of recovery is highly saturated with information on what to do and what not to do. This can be extremely confusing, and result in mistakes being made.” Instead of chasing after the next recovery superfood or buying the trendiest new product, Frederiksen sticks to her philosophy and clinically-proven methods of recovery.
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