Recovery techniques have become an integral component of high performance sport, with new methods continuously being investigated and introduced to give athletes a competitive advantage. Adequate recovery has been shown to result in the restoration of physiological and psychological processes, with the aim of reducing fatigue and enhancing performance.
Utilising recovery techniques should not however be set aside for just the “elite”, but for all people who take part in regular exercise. Building recovery into any training program is important for both short and long term benefits and will assist you in reaching your training goals.
There are a number of different types of recovery methods available, with their use dependent on various factors, including: type and duration of physical activity performed, the time between training sessions/events, and the equipment accessible by the individual. The following are some of the most frequently used and researched techniques:
Hydrotherapy, or water immersion, has been shown to have an effect on inflammation, immune function, muscle soreness and perception of fatigue. The two most common types are:
Cold water immersion
- Temperature between 10-15°C for 8-12 minutes
- Effects = reduce swelling, constrict blood vessels and flush waste products (e.g. lactic acid), decrease metabolic activity
Contrast water therapy
- Alternating between temperatures of 10–15°C for cold water and 36–40°C for hot water
- Duration of 14-15 minutes, with a 1:1 or 1:2 ratios (e.g. 1 minute cold, 1-2 minutes hot)
- Effects = reduce swelling and muscle pain through a pumping action which is created by alternating blood vessel constriction and dilation
Sleep & Rest:
Getting good quality sleep and rest time may be the most obvious, and is an essential part of recovery. Consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery, and mood.
Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis. It is recommended adults should have a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night.
Nutrition & Hydration:
Refuelling and rehydrating is a priority in recovering from physical activity. Failing to do so adequately can result in increased fatigue, reduced performance at your next training session, suboptimal gains from the session you have just completed, and increased muscle soreness.
While everyone is different with what they like to consume post exercise, it is recommended to consume food within the first hour of finishing your training session. According to Sports Dieticians Australia, the food you consume should:
- Be rich in quality carbohydrate to replenish muscle fuel stores
- Contain some lean protein to promote muscle repair
- Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate effectively
Some examples of post-workout meals include:
- Dairy foods – flavoured milk, smoothie, fruit yoghurt
- Lean chicken and salad roll
- Small tin of tuna with crackers and a banana
- Spaghetti with lean mince meat
- Bowl of muesli with yoghurt and berries
Compression garments have become a popular item of clothing for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, with people wearing compression clothing for comfort, aesthetic appeal and/or performance. The added benefit, and what is primarily important for athletes, is their ability to promote recovery. The current body of research identifies that compression garments can:
- Increase the removal of waste products
- Increase blood flow
- Decrease the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
It is suggested that compression garments, such as 2XU, be worn both during exercise and afterwards to optimise recovery.
Massage is a widely used recovery strategy among athletes, proving to have both a physiological and psychological effect. Massage can assist in:
- Increasing and enhancing blood circulation
- Relieving muscle tension
- Reducing soreness
- Reducing stress, tension and anxiety
- Promoting relaxation
A good, and more cost effective alternative to an appointment with a massage therapist is to use a foam roller or spikey ball for self-massage.
An active recovery generally consists of performing an aerobic exercise at a low-moderate intensity. The main benefits of this type of recovery is increased blood flow and removal of lactic acid.
Examples of an active recovery post training session:
- Cycle for 15-20 minutes with 4 bursts of higher intensity efforts
- Walk/jog for 20 minutes
- Full body foam roll and stretch
While the above methods of recovery have been widely used by athletes for the best part of 10 years, there are a number of new products entering the market and re-inventing the ways in which we can best bounce back from an intense training session.
Check out these alternate forms of recovery that have become popular amongst professional athletes and celebrities, as well as the everyday gym-goer:
- Cryotherapy – exposing your whole body to electrically cooled air (below -110 °C) for a brief period of time (approx. 2 to 3 minutes)
- Gravity Float– involves lying in a pod that contains a highly concentrated Epsom salt solution which creates the buoyancy for you to float effortlessly
- RecoveryPump – delivers medical grade compression to help rid the muscle of fatigue, soreness and inflammation
- TheraGun – Uses advanced percussive frequency modulation therapy to work on persistent muscle & joint pain
With recovery research being a relatively new area for scientists, and many current recommendations used as guidelines only, it’s important to experiment with different approaches and evaluate what works best for you and your body.
If you would like to learn more about optimising your training and recovery regimes, or are interested in becoming a Personal Trainer yourself to help your clients meet their goals, then study with us to get your Cert III & IV in Fitness.