I feel that many coaches prescribe recovery work but don’t know how to correctly implement or perform the giving tasks. This is a difficult subject, as I believe that people react differently to certain methods of recovery. Your body is different to everyone around you, yes, similar but not the same. This is why, as a practical coach I am a big fan of going by how you feel, as well as going by the textbooks. I feel that if something genuinely makes you feel better then you should continue doing it as long as it makes you perform better in training and competition. So, if the science shows that what you are doing might not actually work, but won’t inhibit performance then carry on doing it. Recovery work is not just about muscles and joints; it’s about hormones too. If something makes you feel better, your hormone balance will be better. When our hormone balance is better, we perform better athletically!
When we take part in training or competition, we are causing our body stress. The body is in its sympathetic nervous system state or the “war” response. This nervous system response prepares the body for acts of exertion by pumping adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. Although these are great for short-term performance as they help to increase alertness, aggression, blood flow, blood glucose levels and increase metabolism, they can only be used for so long before causing problems. Staying in this hormone range too long can cause adrenal fatigue, which can be incredibly hard to get out of, especially if you are pretty dependent on high amounts of caffeine. The direct aim after training or competition should be to get your body in a parasympathetic state or “Peace” response. This will allow the release of hormones that will aim to restore the body back to homeostasis or balance. That homeostatic state is where your body will recover and repair from what you have been doing. So when your coach says take a rest day it will benefit you…take the damn rest day!
Soft tissue work
Soft tissue work should be a mainstay of any recovery protocol. The treatment of inflamed, tight tissue can be the catalyst for being able to perform at your very best, preventing injury, and allowing for consistent, quality training. There are various ways in which we can treat the soft tissues in the body. Massage and self-massage techniques are two of my favorite methods of recovery. This method of recovery is accessible for all and doesn’t necessarily call for the work of a masseuse. Self-massage or myofacial release techniques can be very easy, and cost effective to perform. My go to for self-massage are the PVC pipe and lacrosse ball. I use the PVC pipe as a roller and find that this out of all the options I have tried provided me with the “deepest” massage. For the same price as a happy meal you can get yourself endless hours in the pain cave, because trust me, this stuff hurts like a b***h. The act of massaging a muscle or tissue is used to help increase blood flow through matted areas and aid with the return to normal tissue length. Increased blood flow and a return to normal tissue length will increase contractile productivity of that muscle meaning that the next time you go to use it, your going to get more out of that muscle. Think about that before you go into your next heavy squat session, this could be the difference between you hitting a PR!
Other methods of soft tissue work such as Active Release Therapy, acupuncture, dry needle, hot cupping and Graston technique are also great ways of relieving distressed tissue, however you will need the help of a qualified practitioner. Active release therapy employs a series of movement and massage techniques to really attach the given area, along with dry needle and acupuncture his can be an effective weapon in your recovery. Graston technique is something that I have not personally tried but know various people have had success with. Graston uses a variety of metal tools, which are scraped and rubbed down muscles and tendons to disperse adhesions or scar tissue. This technique can be fantastic for chronic stiffness from scar tissue build up.
For years we have been taught that the horrid ice bath is the only way forward for recovery, well I personally tend to disagree. The act of cooling the body and in turn decreasing blood flow seems fairly counter productive considering that recovering from training or competition is flushing fresh blood and nutrients into the muscles. Now, although I just said that the act of cooling is counter productive I do believe there is a place for it in certain situations such as the treatment of injury. What I’m saying is in the hours and days between training and competition, increasing blood flow and intern nutrient output to the muscles is what I try to achieve and using hot baths is an easy and effective way. Salt baths are a great add on the hot baths. Adding salts such as Epsom salt to your bath can also help with the recovery process. The theory being with Epsom salts is that the salt breaks down in the hot water into magnesium and sulphate. The then broken down minerals are absorbed through your skin and help to relieve muscle soreness and stiffness, although not proven, but if it makes you feel slightly better then it’s a plus.
The act of compression simply restricts the inflammation and swelling of a problem area, usually the area with high involvement in your given activity. Dispersing the fluids that build up will cause less interruption in performance of the muscle.
Mobility And Active Recovery
I think that the athletic performance world is really embracing mobility. People are starting to realize that if you are stiff, rigid and missing range of motion in a joint or muscle, you are not going to be as efficient as you could be. Mobility protocols can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them. A mobility session can be a simple as sitting in their bottom of a squat for a few minutes and finding some problem areas to target. There are various ways to increase mobility, including single joint or multi joint manipulation, stretching, banded stretching and movement drills which use power bands to pull joints like the hip into the correct place in your hip capsule to allow for greater range of motion and development of mobility. There are a few people I like to look towards when it comes to mobility, and like most things I like to grasp from as broader spectrum as possible, taking snippets from everyone I meet, everything I read and experience. Some of the people I use for my mobility fix are, Kelly Starrett who’s most people’s go to guy for everything movement based, Stephen Braybrook a friend of mine who runs a company called the movement man. My personal method for mobility work is to target a specific area, firstly working single joint then multi joint to take what work I have done into a movement pattern such as squatting or overhead pressing.
Active recovery is something that was introduced to me at a young age, and is something I’ve tried to use after most competitions or matches. Active recovery is just another way of getting fresh blood through the body, get the joints supple and prepare you to go again basically. Active recovery can be as simple as going for a walk with the dogs and doing some mobility drills when you get back, taking a barbell and doing some super easy complexes to get some blood flow. If you are super sore from training or competition try doing some active recovery every couple of hours, just 10 minutes moving around should do it, provoking a fresh blood flow each time.
What are we putting in our body to replace what we have taken out? It is only in recent months that I have realized how pivotal a role nutrition plays in recovery, and specifically the quality on nutrient that we put in. When I was coming up playing what I would call an elite standard of wrestling we had some nutrition advice but not much so my after match nutrition usually consisted of as many calories as I could consume as fast as I could consume. Although the need for replacing calories burnt is important I also believe that the quality of the nutrients we place in will directly impact our rate of recovery. This is mainly due to two facts, healthier nutrient dense sources of food will have a greater impact per gram than more refined processed foods. Secondly, foods that’s irritate or enflame the digestive system will cause greater blood flow to the digestive area. Causing greater blood flow to the digestive area will in turn take away some blood flow to the muscles that we are trying to recover, even if it were 1%, we are in a world where the 1%’s win things. More on nutrition can be discussed later. Just know it is a crucial part of your training and recovery.
I left sleep until last as I find it the most interesting, and I remember a study I read in school saying that the large majority of people will remember 80% of the first and final paragraphs of an article and 20% of the rest, hurray psychology, so I wanted to finish with something I feel most people including myself neglect. I feel that sleep is the biggest aspect of recovery and the least understood. The list of adverse effects that a lack of sleep can have on human performance is just startling. From negatively effecting hormone balance and insulin sensitivity to impaired decision making and alertness. The toll that a lack of sleep will take on your training is huge. I fully understand that people’s schedules can dictate the amount of time that they have to sleep, but what I don’t understand is when they delegate unnecessary things such as Xbox over sleep. If you know that you have to be up in 8 hours to go train or compete, then get yourself to bed because you literally are whittling away the percentages of your best performance with every minute you deprive yourself of optimal sleep. If you find it hard to get a full night sleep, taking naps throughout the day if you can will help with the recovery process, especially on your off day. Chucking a mid day nap on your off day is a great way of getting extra recovery.
Overall I think that recovery should be seen like a pie chart, with different sections making the full pie. Leaning too much towards one method will not give you the benefits of a balanced recovery protocol. I also think that finding the best methods to suit your body is important and just because your favorite athlete does one thing doesn’t mean that same thing will benefit you in the same manor. Sport and athletes are evolving, and to keep up with this evolution we must be at our physical, mental and emotional peak as often as possible. In order to do this, recovery is KEY!