Recovery- the work that’s put in behind the scenes to make our training worthwhile.
Building an effective recovery protocol is paramount to ensure all your hard work at the gym, on the bike, in the pool, or on the track doesn’t go to waste.
Knowing how to build that protocol and what your body needs to recover fastest takes time, learning how you repair from the stesses of training, and often can take trial and error.
Recovery is based off a multitude of factors- from the type of training you do, to your age, gender, and even things like what you do for work and your life stressors.
Finding a routine that you can stick with, replicate, and gives you the opportunity to perform at your best will help ensure you can show up to train in peak performance with minimal skipped workouts.
Why is recovery so important?
Because the magic of gains actually happens BETWEEN training session.
When you train- be it a long run, a session in the gym, or laps in the pool, you are in fact breaking your body down. You’re pushing your body to a new set point, and your body responds by making positive adaptations.
Your muscles break down as you add more weight, increase reps, or go for longer, and your body seeing this damage works diligently to repair that muscle to be stonger for the next test. Then you go back to the gym and you do it again.This is how you build muscle.
Regardless of what type of exercise you’re performing- the act of training is the act of gaining strength, and that strength comes from the breakdown and repairing of muscle tissue.
Combine this with pushing your limits when performing aerobic work, and you are building a stronger, more efficient cardio-respiratory system in the same fashion.
Your heart and lungs train to work harder, to pump more blood at a faster rate to muscles that demand oxygen, and you learn to use that oxygen more efficiently.
All of this work requires downtime- requires that you give your body the opportunity to rebuild.
So how does one go about building an effective recovery protocol to ensure optimal recovery?
Remember that the intensity, duration, and volume of work an athlete performs in addition to age, work and life stressors will dictate to what degree an athlete must build out their recovery strategies.
If you’re an athlete headed to the gym four days a week for an hour running on the treadmill and using some of the gym machines, you are probably okay focusing on the basics. However if you’re an athlete looking to get to the next level in sport, you will need to spend a lot more time getting your recovery dialed in.
From the foundation to the details- here is how you can build an effective recovery protocol that helps you make all the gains you desire.
First And Foremost Is Sleep
If I had to choose between my athlete having a crappy diet or poor sleep habits, I would choose a crappy diet every time. You can go weeks if not months without food. You can’t go more than a few days without sleep before body processes begin to break down.
You should be getting no less than 7 hours of good, deep sleep a night. This is a non-negotiable. You get 24 hours in a day- 16 to do life, 8 to do sleep. Own this. Make it the number one priority.
If you are an athlete that trains for more than 2 hours a day you should be getting no less than 8 hours of sleep and you should consider taking naps if you can. Want to be world class? Than sleep like a world class athlete.
At this point sleep and how important it is has most likely been drilled into your brain. You can do your research to figure out what YOU need to do to make it happen.
Second Is Nutrition
This is also a no brainer. The better your diet the better your recovery. If you are eating crap, drinking alcohol, and not paying attention to what you put in your body, don’t be surprised if your recovery sucks.
I have my athletes track their food and I set their calories at a point to make sure they have enough food to fuel both their workouts and the recovery process. Remember I mentioned that workouts are you breaking your muscle down? You need food to rebuild the muscle stronger.
I feed my athletes 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. And we don’t ‘diet”- if they have excess body fat we organize their training and their diets to help them lean out while still being properly fueled.
Third Is Body Work
Mobilizing, addressing weaknesses, seeing a chiropractor, massage therapist, and/or PT. You need to be spending time DAILY stretching, rolling on a foam roller, getting a lacrosse ball into the tight, sore spots.
If you can’t move well, can’t reach full range of motion, you are not building yourself out to be the best athlete you can be. Especially as we get older- our muscles take longer to warm-up/stretch out and they return to the tight positions faster.
It is imperative that you build a healthy, consistent mobility routine every day- and on rest days spend even longer addressing joints and muscles.
There are a couple of terrific resources I suggest for this. ROMWOD is great for stretching and the routines are designed for weight lifters and Crossfitters. In addition, mobility guru Kelly Starrett has a website MobilityWod.com which offers a whole shlew of mobility tips and tricks.
I also suggest buying a foam roller, setting it next to your TV, and spending 5 to 10 minutes every night rolling out while you’re unwinding.
Fourth Is Rest Days
What are you doing on the days you’re not training/working out? Are you getting downtime? Are you doing things that help you facilitate recovery- such as swimming, yoga, longer mobility sessions, scheduling your body work, or taking an extra long nap?
While we are designed to move every day, we are not designed to train hard every day. Our down time/rest days must be aligned with our training schedules.
I suggest getting out into nature, heading to the beach, even crashing out in front of the TV for an hour to give your body a reprieve from the stressors of your training schedule.
From there, based on your goals and needs, you can consider adding in additional components to your routine. Such as:
We can talk supplements if your nutrition is on point. Below is a list I suggest my athletes consider adding in. If taken at the correct dosages these supplements are safe, beneficial, and have been shown to be effective in assisiting in recovery. These are suggestions only and each athlete needs to consider pros and cons prior to taking them.
Floating is relatively new any may not be available in all cities quite yet, but if you can get into a float tank on a regular basis I highly recommend it. Float tanks are large baths with water filled to the brim with epsom salts. The salts make us float on top of the water, with the temperature in the tank being set to a very comfortable 98 degrees. In addition the tanks are dark and sound proof, giving us the opportunity to be in a sensory deprived state- this encourages complete and total relaxation. Floating is now being touted as a remarkably effective recovery tool to ease overworked muscles and joints.
Saunas and Ice Baths
Both sitting in a sauna for 20 to 30 minutes and soaking in an ice bath for 5 to 10 minutes have been demonstrated to have positive effects on recovery. If you are an athlete in training, I would suggest hitting the sauna three days a week for 30 minutes.
For ice baths I would suggest using it as needed after competitions or on days of remarkably high volume- ice baths are shown to be effective in the short term but may effect long term adaptations.
Both saunas and ice baths have also been demonstrated to have positive effects on training. Sitting in an ice bath helps improve focus, resilience, and grit and using a sauna regularly for 30 minutes has been shown to improve aerobic capacity.
EMS (Electro Muscle Stimulation)
Electro Muscle Stimulation is a tool in the tool chest of most professional athletic trainers- and for good reason. EMS has demonstrated effectiveness in speeding up recovery time after intense bouts of exercise.
Consider investing in a Compex or Powerdot and adding it to your PM recovery routine.
As mentioned earlier– finding a system that works for you, you will stick with, and aligns with your training goals is crucial to ensure longevity in your chosen sport or athletic endeavors as well as helpingy you to perform at your best!