“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
Recovery is a widely covered topic in the fitness industry, like nutrition there are many versions of implementation towards specific goals causing a massive sea of information that can be hard to differentiate. Also, like nutrition, recovery implements are not as beneficial in a general setting, they should more effectively be tailored to individual and specific demands.
Everything we do relies heavily on the human body’s response to adaptation. Because we adapt we develop, but it is also this same phenomenon that forces plateau, which is why training programs must be thoughtful. The methodology of variance has been one way that we have overcome adaptation in training. Variance has become a widely known method to disrupt adaptation and expedite progression in most training programs. We must recognize that one of the things human beings are best at is adaptation, and just like in training, we adapt to methods of recovery as well. So as a general rule of thumb, your recovery should mirror your training in the sense of variance, but also in intensity and volume. For instance, when the training is at its peak recovery methods should be most intense during this time and less intense when training is not as rigorous.
The ultimate goal of our recovery is to illicit supercompensation by the next training session. Supercompensation is a response to a given stimulus, where we see an elevation in the athlete’s performance following the recovery period. When we train we are exposing our bodies to damage; this is why our performance declines during and immediately post training. But with properly executed recovery, we gradually get back to homeostasis and, in a well thought out training/recovery program, we can routinely achieve supercompensation.
Means of Recovery
It is commonly known that human beings optimally require 7-9 hours of sleep per night at a minimum, But concerning recovery the quantity of sleep is just step one, the quality of sleep is something we can dissect further into how we are sleeping.
There are four stages of sleep preceding each other in a cyclical manner in a 90-120min frame:
Stage 1- Transition- drowsiness and relaxation begin
Stage 2- Stable sleep- Chemically reduced senses
Stage 3- Deep sleep- Growth Hormone is produced
Stage 4- Rapid Eye Movement (REM)- Brain is very active, body is immobilized
Lack of sleep or sleep disturbance that inhibits REM sleep has shown to drastically increase cortisol which is our stress hormone and decrease growth hormone which stimulates the rebuilding of tissue. In athletic recovery we are very concerned with the bodies ability to decrease cortisol and increase growth hormone.
The goal of our sleep is to spend more time in deep sleep. Some methods that allow us to do so are all centered around non-disturbance and relaxation. An athlete should not eat a few hours before going to bed, immediately beforehand a glass of warm water is beneficial. Any stimulants like caffeine and alcohol interfere with getting to deeper stages of sleep as their effects are felt long after consumption. So we might even be aided in falling asleep by these stimulants, but our quality is reduced. A higher carbohydrate meal before sleep tends to provide us a more restful sleep than a lower carbohydrate meal, but it increases REM and decreases Deep sleep, as do spicy condiments.
A hot bath at any point in the evening can induce sleep faster and cause greater relaxation allowing the body and mind to progress through the first two stages more quickly.
The atmosphere of the bedroom should be as dark as possible with fresh air circulation and a cool temperature (17-19 C). The head remains cool while the feet are warmed with an even and firm mattress in order to maintain the curve of the spine.
We can even think about our recovery in the shower. Using contrasting temperatures of water as not only recovery but as a means of physical well being has been used for centuries. A 5 min shower, alternating 1min of hot water and 10s of cold water, post workout can speed up recovery by 15%.
A warm bath can be used after strength or speed workouts to flush muscular tension and fatigue pains. An endurance athlete would require the opposite, a cool bath followed by a fresh shower. As overheating the body is a great means of recovery, an endurance athlete requires a cooling of their core temperature to aid in recovery.
A sauna can help to relax muscle increase elasticity of joints and ligaments, and even increase metabolism. However, saunas do increase blood flow at a superficial level at the expense of internal organs, so a sauna should only be used during intense training and no more than twice per week. A sauna should not be used during menstruation or with an elevated core body temperature.
When using a sauna athletes should enter for 5-7min followed by a cooling period of either fresh, cool air or a cold bath for 10-15 seconds, with a 7-10min rest for 4 total rounds.
An athlete who lost more than 2% of total body weight during a workout is dehydrated and should not elevate their core temperature for more than 24 hours.
When we increase the heart rate to 50%, around 90-110bpm, for prolonged periods the body decreases cortisol and increases blood flow through the muscles which allows for increased metabolism and a reduction in lactate.
Active recovery between sets, for speed training, a 1:1 work:rest ratio is recommended; and for endurance training, it can be as little as 9:1 to see a benefit.
Active recovery in place of a workout should last 40-60mins with a heart rate between 90-110bpm. Using a method that is enjoyable to the athlete has shown to elicit an even better response. Aggressive hiking, light jogging, physical labour, cycling, swimming, cross country skiing are all great methods of active recovery. Following the session with joint mobility will allow for increased blood flow.
Post Training Recovery
We live in a world where convenience tends to take precedence over long term value, and although it is convenient to practice our recovery at the tail end of a training session, pairing the two together, it is less than beneficial. Specific recovery methods used inside a 3 hour window post training session leave athlete’s performance in worse shape the following day. However, athletes that use the same recovery methods after that 3 hour window see performance benefit. Further, athletes that recover 6-12 hours after a training session experience supercompensation the following day.
We can effectively use recovery sessions to not only see elevated performance results but to also foster healthier lifestyles. Recovery is beneficial on a cellular and hormonal level even without accompaniment by a training program. Recovery is the platform for growth in the human body whether we are attempting to become the next greatest of all time or we are simply looking to get more out of our lives.