My method for optimal recovery: POSSM

As a perpetually injured runner with some serious misalignment issues across the body, I’ve had to dial in on one key component to my training. While it would be easy to take every run slow and just enjoy being outdoors in nature, that is unrealistic of a perfectionist with aspirations of being one of the best trail runners in the country. It then becomes all the more difficult to harmonize that hard pounding of the body against the dirt with the ability to get up and do the next hard pounding of the body against the dirt.

That is precisely why recovery has become the major focus within my training philosophy. I once even heard David Roche say something to the effect of, if you recover efficiently enough, you will never get injured. Of course, there are mountain lions, and other exceptions. But David’s point definitely holds water.

In my own recovery journey and subsequent battles through injury, I’ve developed my own acronym for how I want to recover in time for the next effort. I call it ‘POSSM’ – pronounced like ‘possum’. This system cannot guarantee an injury-free running career, but it is an effective way for ensuring a speedier rehabilitation from one run to the next. This includes:

  • P: Protein
  • O: Optimal Training
  • S: Sleep
  • S: Strength
  • M: Mobility

Allow me to explain.


Look at your nearest Kleenex box, take a tissue, and tear it apart. To an extent, that is what your body looks like post-exercise. The impact of exercise like trail and ultra running creates micro-tears in the body, that are useful for adaptation for the next effort. But they are only useful for the next effort if treated with diligence and care post-exercise.

Protein is one such way that you can repair those torn up tissues and joints, including keeping your hormones and insulin response in check. It’s universal that a mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates are needed in the recovery process, including building and restoring energy for the next time. But many people can lack on the protein side of that process – which again, is integral to building and repairing those muscle micro-tears more than carbs and fats.


Even if you get every other step right along the way, you won’t recover efficiently if your training isn’t optimal to what it is that you are trying to accomplish. If you’re running too fast, too hard, too long, or too mountainous for what you are ready for, the muscle breakdown is going to be far greater, and you are not going to be ready for the next effort.

Take a recent example from my downhill crown along this steep road downhill in Cambridge, ON. Before an average interval workout, I decided to hammer this downhill segment as hard as I could to dethrone some other runner in a quest for an arbitrary icon. I ended up rolling through this downhill at 2:53/km, the fastest pace I had run since injury by far, but also ten seconds per kilometre faster than the previous guy. I got the crown, but I spent the next two days out with shin splints – ruining my plans for the next set of runs.

It’s not even as though running 2:53/km down this steep hill was a bad idea. But it was a bad idea for what I was ready for in my training. This is one of the key advantages to working with a coach who understands periodization, or sticking to a rigid plan in your training (this is the one I struggle with the most in my desire for spontaneity!).

But now weeks later, with several repeated bouts of downhill stress to no repercussions, I would be ready to do that again – and this time – would likely avoid spending the next two days out with shin splints.

This is why the 10% rule exists in our sport, why you shouldn’t train at your maximum intensity, and why hundred-mile runners never actually run a hundred miles in training. Training is meant to set you up for the next race (if that’s what you’re training for), and is also meant to be enjoyable. It’s not meant to break you. So extremes aren’t helpful if the body hasn’t properly prepared for those demands.

Another way that training must be optimal is in both meeting your strengths and weaknesses as a runner, so that you can actively develop all sides ahead of race day. If you’re not too hot on the downhills, you best be practicing the steepest downhills you can find (gradually and safely), with an air of confidence and bravado to change that mindset around. If you don’t practice it in training, how is it going to go on race day? You know the answer.

But wait! There’s more! You also need to optimize your training for a better recovery through ensuring your training stays race-specific. As a coach of soccer for the past decade, I’ve built much of my principles of play around the idea that training should be not only fun, but game-realistic, to properly prepare players for the situations that they are bound to uncover on game-day.

The same goes for endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming. Everything you do in training should be preparing you in one way or another for the exact demands of your next race. That’s one more reason to work with a coach, who can tailor your training to the exact demands of the race dynamics. Training that isn’t guided toward your race could end up being easier as you frollic around without a plan. But knowing runners, more likely, you are only risking overdoing it.


You’ve probably heard a million and one times how important sleep is to recovery, and restoring your body back to equilibrium. But a lack of proper sleep has also been associated with greater risk of injury and longer-lasting injuries. Given that sleep has clear links to performance, by sleeping more, you will only enhance the optimal training component detailed above.

Take increased reaction time as an example. Out on the trails, we are constantly tasked with shifting from left to right, intermixing small steps with giant leaps, and quickly avoiding roots, rocks, snakes, mountain lions, and people with dogs who forego the law. If you don’t have the right level of alertness to manage all of those compounding factors, you are only increasing your risk of tree-smacking, river-floundering injuries.

On that note, sleep studies have historically found that those with less than eight hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to incur an injury compared to those with greater than eight hours of sleep a night. It’s clear that sleep does more than just giving your sore legs time to rest. It’s vital for our overall ability to function as human beings and should not be taken for granted.

If you’re someone who struggles to sleep, finding what works for you has to be a priority if you want to train to your maximum potential. One thing that’s massively improved my ability to return to a state of sleep after waking up in the middle of the night has been the introduction of PEMF therapy mats. They do some voodoo magic in relaxing my mind and body, and allowing me to forget about the troubles of work or the excitement of the next day’s run. Find what works for you, and improve that sleep.


The number one element that I’ve added to my training post return to running has been an increased focus on strength. People often throw out strength training as some magic saviour toward injuries, and I’m starting to think they are right. I have two key anecdotes that go along with this idea, that are both totally backed up in the science and literature. The one is that I simply can’t stop rolling my ankles out on the trails.

The first time I rolled my ankle, it was the middle of my high school track season. Devastatingly, my ankle swelled to the size of a subway sandwich, and I missed an entire week of training. Ten years on, my ankles are like trampolines. They just bounce back with ease. Within the past week, I’ve rolled my ankle badly on two runs. Yet, I’m still kicking around and going strong like nothing’s happened. That’s because my ankle bones have endured so much suffering that they’ve strengthened to the point of seemingly instant repair. But that’s also because everything I do within my mobility work incorporates ankle and foot strength into the mix.

Here’s my other helpful anecdote to support strength as a major strength for recovery. Back in 2018, I tore my hamstring. I spent four months out moping around with only some Zone 0 training on my indoor cycle, and a few short walks. But the moment I started actually strengthening my hamstring, and started to focus on getting blood flow back into the area, I recovered within the next three weeks. I seriously wonder how quickly I might have recovered had (my training been more optimal in the first place), but also how quickly I could have recovered if I had known about the benefits of strength earlier on.

The fact that physiotherapy is even a field should tell you something about what the science says regarding injury recovery. Apart from injuries that require you not to load anything on your body, recovery will speed up with strength work. As long as it’s steady and gradual, this is universal.

This isn’t to say that strength work post-exercise has ramifications for your short-term recovery ahead of the next run. If anything, it might only make you more tired. Especially if it’s heavy lifting as opposed to mobility work. The ramifications are instead on the long term, where you are far less likely to incur injuries to the areas that you dedicatedly strengthen, and the subsequent areas of the body that are impacted by those parts.

Take the hips for example, which are known to cause a host of lower-leg injuries when tight, unbalanced, and weak. Strengthening the hips will give you the ability to not only reduce your risk of injury to the hips, but just about every other part of your body. This needs to be an ongoing process, and dedicated strength work twice a week will help you move mountains.


Saving the best for last, my favourite principle is mobility. Mobility work is often associated with increased flexibility through “static stretching” to prevent tightness and soreness the next day. But even more powerful is the art of movement. This can range from walking to cycling to swimming to dynamic stretching to yoga, pilates, core-work, foam rolling and yes, static stretching too. What all of these arts accomplish is the wonder of blood flow. You can then use different forms to accomplish different means, such as hip-specific mobility work using a resistance band, or a short walk to decrease the overall soreness in your legs.

This is something that I’ve always incorporated into my training, but I’ve only recently gotten better about using mobility to work to specifically target weak and tight areas.

We often look at “rest” as some kind of holy grail to recovery. But the problem with rest is that it puts the body in a stationary position, where your blood is no longer flowing to the areas that need it most. That’s why newer models that move away from the “RICE” methodology always incorporate movement into their model.

Speaking of blood flow, studies on athletes have found that dynamic and static stretching methods increase heart function, aiding subsequent recovery. Foam rolling has been found to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. Core strengthening exercises can increase balance both in the literal and physiological sense, ensuring that your body is both aligned and prepared for those rocky trails. It’s no secret that all forms of mobility have the potential to maximize potential in not only performance, but recovery from those performances.

As runners, we’re famously attentive to issues when they arise, out of the fear that our running careers will forever be jeopardized if we don’t fix the immediacy of the problem. But we need to do a better job preventing these issues from occurring. Strength and mobility work are both essential elements to this equation, and should be conducted with the same level of rigour and care as the actual training itself.

So there it is! My methodology toward recovery from the stress of running. Remember – why play dead, when you can play POSSM.

Thanks for reading & see you soon!

Strava Profile | Rhys Desmond


My theory on race stimulation: 2x race practices

For every short distance run I’ve done over the years, I’ve always held onto a critical rule of thumb. Sometime in training, usually with three and then two weeks to go until race day, I practice my race distance at tempo pace. The point of these runs is not to actually test the intended race…

High ambition, high caution: my new running motto

As I enter a new phase in my running career and take on a cautious approach to dedicated training, I find myself balancing the line between all of these crazy ambitions I have within my running career, and accomplishing those ambitions in the most cautious ways possible.

I consult with both professional athletes and coaches. If you are interested in taking your potential to the next level, simply reach out!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: