As a Strength & Conditioning Coach I facilitate a lot of different age groups and athletes from grassroots to the elite. But the one common denominator I find in 90% of athletes is their lack of knowledge about recovery, its importance to their training and competition and knowledge of what modalities are best to use?
Without going into to much science, this blog is aimed at explaining what recovery is, what modalities are out there and how to plan and record your recovery sessions.
Why is Recovery so important?
Athlete recovery-adaptation is crucial to the progress and performance of athletes. As part of this process muscular tenderness and stiffness is a common symptom of fatigue and exercise-induced muscle microtrauma and oedema, and this can hamper range of movement and ultimately cause the athlete injury if their recovery is not allowing the body to fully rest and repair (1).
What is Recovery?
Recovery is the one of most important aspects of any training or exercise program. Recovery allows for improved performance, permits time for our body to heal itself in preparation for the next training load, and decreases the risk of potential injury. Recovery comes in many different forms, and different sports may use different modalities as do different professionals such Physiotherapists & Strength & Conditioning Coaches. Most importantly, recovery isn’t just a physical prescription, you need to allow for your brain/mind, emotions and feelings to take a break and recover too.
So, what can we do to help athletes’ recovery better both physically & mentally?
There are numerous things you can do to recover and help reduce your chances of injury and having a strength and conditioning program or training program that periodises you training loads is no 1.
You don’t want to be overloading your body every day, your body needs rest and a deload week is very important as is tapering towards big events and competition/s. This is something you need to discuss with your coach, and good coaches will always have a program that periodises your training loads or at least takes into consideration time for recovery.
Within these training loads you can help reduce fatigue and injuries by implementing different recovery modalities each day.
Where do we start?
There are numerous recovery modalities that can range from an inexpensive foam roller to more expensive modalities such as cryotherapy, ice baths, remedial massage, infrared therapy, compression therapy and more. Then there are modalities such as 8+ hours of sleep that you can’t put a price on.
Within this blog I am going to look at some modalities I use myself in my sport of ironman triathlon and within my grassroots and elite athletes.
NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
After exercising it is important to restore your body’s fuel and fluid stores to normal levels. For most people this is easily achieved by following a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, and plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids. To replenish your glycogen stores after exercising vigorously, you need to eat 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight within the first couple of hours after exercise. Ideally, this should be in the form of high GI foods, such as sports drinks, muffins or white bread. Over the 24 hours after exercise, a total of 7 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight should be ingested to maximise the glycogen stores again, thereby preparing you for your next bout of exercise (2,3,4).
Eases sore and aching muscles, helps aid central nervous system, limit, inflammatory response, decreasing the amount of inflammation and helps you recover faster.
SLEEPING 8+ hours (COMPRESSION GARMET)
Sleep has a significant impact on muscle recovery as sleep enhances muscle recovery through protein synthesis and human growth hormone release. Wearing Compression garments whilst sleeping can also further help enhance muscle recovery.
Compression clothing works to boost recovery by narrowing your veins, forcing blood to flow faster and more effectively to your heart, which pumps oxygen-rich blood back to your aching muscles.
DYNAMIC COMPRESSION 30-60min
Helps flush the lymphatic system that stores waste such as lactic acid which causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and releases muscle tension by massaging your muscles. Dynamic compression also reduces inflammation and muscle pain and gives athletes a better range of motion.
Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release in which pressure is applied to certain body parts to relieve pain and significantly increase range of motion. It can also help flush the lymphatic system.
Unlike ultraviolet light - which has damaging effects upon the tissues and cells of the body - infrared light helps cells regenerate or repair themselves. Infrared light also improves the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in the body, promoting faster healing of deep tissues and assists in relieving pain.
Not only can static stretching improve your flexibility and range of motion, but it can also help your muscles recover faster after a workout, leading to less pain and stiffness. Static stretching is also a great way to release stress and tension in your muscles, which can help you feel more relaxed. (static stretching before activity has been found to decrease performance, but it can also leave an athlete more susceptible to injury. Static stretching can decrease the sensitivity of pain receptors in muscles).
Uses a heated pool/spa to decrease swelling, increase blood flow, and decrease pain. Hydrotherapy is also great for rehab as its allows the body a low impact session.
Lowers your chances of injury, promotes blood flow, and reduce stress to your heart and other muscles, plus, you’ll bring your heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure levels back down to their normal levels. Dedicate at least 10 minutes of your workout to warming down.
Aims to improve recovery to help reduce pain by relieving muscle tightness and tension. Muscle tightness and tension is relieved through an increase in tissue elasticity. An increase in tissue elasticity occurs as muscle temperature increases due to an increase in blood flow.
Involves non-strenuous aerobic or physical activity such as walking, swimming, cycling, yoga etc. Typically performed on a day after high-intensity exercise, or before your next workout. It helps alleviate fatigue, aids recovery and can improve the mood of an athlete.
Allows you to gain your competitive edge by reducing recovery time by promoting anti-inflammatory properties. Cryotherapy also reduced muscle soreness, numbs nerve pain, elevates the body's natural performance threshold and is responsible for lowering cortisol levels responsible for stress and other mental health related conditions.
Choose modalities that work and give you the best value for money.
Think about how and when you can incorporate these modalities into your everyday life.
Be consistent, don’t take short cuts or miss your planned recovery sessions, remember recovery is part of your training program and missing sessions can hamper your performance, just like missing training sessions.
Make sure you incorporate at least 1 modality that provides;
Lymphatic drainage and myofascial release
Allows the mind/brain to switch of
Promotes blood flow
Allows body to fuel and rehydrate
HOW CAN I KEEP TRACK OF MY RECOVERY?
Recording your recovery with the use of a 100 Point Recovery Chart can help you stay on track of your recovery. It can also help your coach predict injury and when they may need to back off your training loads. (example below)
1. Barnett, A. Using Recovery Modalities between Training Sessions in Elite Athletes. Sports Med36, 781–796 (2006). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200636090-00005
2, 3,4. Australian Institute of Sport [website]. Fluid: who needs it? (updated 2009, July). Available at: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/hydration2/fluid_-_who_needs_it(accessed 2010, Feb 9)