When we train we apply stress to the body. The body reacts in such a way as to meet the demands of the stress and prevent damage.
In the post training period the body will try to reverse the impact of stress induced by training. In an effort to cope better with future training the body will attempt reset the level of homeostasis higher than before. This adaptation is what improves our ability to perform during competition. It makes us fitter and stronger.
In order to get the most benefit, we want the body to recover fully from one workout before we train again.
The quicker we recover, the more we can get out of our training and the more progress we make.
There are processes that occur during training which lead to a reduction in function of the muscles. We can promote certain mechanisms through recovery techniques which allow us to get back to a fresh, ready to train state. I will discuss some of these mechanisms and what techniques have been shown to successfully promote them. In doing so it will allow you to construct your own recovery strategy to suit your needs. Every athlete is different in terms of what works so it is important to understand why to do things. This allows you to make an effective strategy to allow you as an individual to get the most from your training.
Step 1: Take care of your nutrition
1.1 Protein is essential for the repair of cells that have been damaged during intense training. The repair of these cells makes our muscles bigger and stronger. Most of us could benefit from increasing our intake of lean protein. Serious athletes should consult a qualified dietician to ensure they consume adequate protein within their diet.
1.2 carbohydrate: When we train at high intensity we rapidly deplete glycogen stored in the muscle. This is the fuel we need to perform. Consume quality carbohydrate as soon as possible after training. During the post workout period we make better use of carbohydrate as our muscles want to replace glycogen. Glucose is absorbed easier during this period, preventing it being stored as fat. The amount needed depends largely on duration and intensity of the training.
1.3 Vitamins and minerals: They are essential for the proper functioning of our cells and muscles. It is vital that we eat a balanced healthy diet with healthy fats and supplement with a good multivitamin. This ensures that the greater needs of repairing cells are met, allowing them to restore themselves fully.
1.4 Hydration is extremely important. When we sweat we lose water. Water is the main constituent of blood; when hydration is poor we have a reduced blood volume. Blood volume is a key factor in determining aerobic capacity and performance. Maintaining good hydration ensures our cardiovascular system is functioning at maximum capacity. As our body is made mostly of water, good hydration will also contribute to the repair and growth of cells. Monitor urine to ensure a light lemonade colour is maintained.
Step 2: Metabolite Clearance
When we exercise we produce metabolic by-products. Lactate is the most common. When by-products accumulate they significantly impact the contractile function on the muscle tissue, dramatically decreasing performance. When we stop exercising these metabolites can sometimes remain in the muscle. It is important that we try and flush them out fully. There are many methods that can be used effectively.
2.1 Active recovery: Light intensity exercise helps us to promote blood flow and clear metabolites through several mechanisms. Gentle warm down exercise after a session can be very beneficial in achieving this.
2.2 Contrast showers/Ice baths: Our blood vessels constrict in the cold and dilate in the heat. Alternating between hot and cold acts as a pump flushing blood through the muscles, promoting clearance. Ice baths have the added benefit of hydrostatic pressure. External pressure of water added to the cold, forces blood and metabolites out of the extremities.
2.3 Compression Garments: Compression garments add external pressure. Blood can easily pool in the extremities, especially in the lower limbs due to gravity. The extra compression helps squeeze the blood out of the muscles and back to the lungs and heart. This allows fresh oxygenated blood to replace it.
Step 3: Tissue Quality
During strenuous exercise we create chemical shifts in the muscle cells. These shifts are normal but can interrupt contractile function. When muscle fibres contract, sometimes they do not relax fully and we get cramping. Cramp may not always occur but over time the muscle tissue loses quality. This can eventually cause tightness and pain. In order to prevent this we must use stretching and myofascial release techniques to break up the fibres and trigger points that form. We must also perform mobility exercises to maintain good movement in our joints and prevent muscles from becoming tight and restrictive. There are several options to use.
3.1 Foam rolling: Probably the most popular. This is a cheap and accessible way to smash out any knots in the muscle and maintain good tissue quality. It should be performed on a regular basis.
3.2 Massage: A good massage can often be more effective at hitting awkward spots. While expensive, a good physiotherapist or massage therapist can make a big difference.
3.3 Stretching and Mobility exercises: These should be performed on a daily basis. When we hold certain positions for long periods of time our muscles become tight and can become an injury risk. By constantly maintaining good tissue length and joint mobility we ensure good functional movement.
Step 4: Take a proper rest
Rest is essential and often overlooked. When we rest our body is allowed to divert resources and attention to restoration. This is when the real progress is made. During rest our body makes the appropriate adaptations to the effects of training. Without it we will never truly recover physically or mentally. Good quality rest is by far the most important but the one we often neglect. Athletes should consider the following.
4.1 Adequate sleep: “Train like a lion, sleep like a baby.” The right amount of sleep varies from one individual to the next. Athletes should maintain a record of sleep. They should manage whatever factors they need to ensure they get adequate sleep.
4.2 Power Naps: A 45 min nap post training has been shown to increase alertness and motivation. It gives just enough down time for the body to prepare for the next training session.
4.3 Meditation and Chillout time: Having time to clear the mind and simply relax can be a great benefit. Our sensory inputs are reduced and it allows the recovery process to kick in.
Understanding what you are trying to achieve with recovery can help it to be much more effective. There are many methods available but not always practical given busy schedules and lifestyle. By understanding what you need to achieve you can be more effective. By employing an effective strategy, you can maximize the training effect and perform consistently at your best. The techniques described above are tried and tested. They will give you the best return in terms of the time you put into them. Athletes understand that time is extremely valuable to their success.