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Recover with hands on knees, not over head

Your high school coaches were wrong, resting your hands on your knees is good for recovery

How many times have you had a coach tell you to recover with your hands over your head? If you played sports growing up, the answer is probably lots. But is that actually the best position for mid-workout recovery? According to a 2019 study out of the American College of Sports Medicine, the answer is no.

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What the research says

The study looked at two forms of recovery, hands on head and hands on knees, after high-intensity interval training (sprints). Twenty female Division II soccer players were tested in the first 60 seconds of their set rest. Researchers took measurements of heart rate, volume of carbon dioxide and tidal volume. Results showed faster recovery when players rested with their hands on their knees instead of behind or above their head.

When recovering, runners are looking to maximize surface area between the diaphragm and the rib cage and new research is showing that this is achieved through spinal flexion rather than extension. Because of this, bending over might actually be the better posture for recovery.

Photo: Canadian Running

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How should you recover?

The runner’s version of high intensity interval training is essentially a track workout. Especially when your rest is short (three minutes or under) and your intervals are difficult, maximizing your recovery in between repetitions is key.

Most runners’ first inclination is to put their hands on their knees, and if this is true for you, proceed. Once you feel ready, walking around a little bit before starting your next interval is recommended. Keep the legs moving, slow your breathing and focus on the interval ahead, not how (bad) your body may feel.

If you’re finding it really difficult to hit paces, consider lengthening the rest or adjusting the pace. On the other hand, if you’re getting toward the end of a workout, consider picking it up if things are feeling too easy.

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