Value of Rest and Recovery to Sports Injury Prevention and Treatment

September 18, 2012 | Brandon M. Wood

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Ever witnessed a teammate appearing sluggish and worn out towards the end of the season? You watch and wonder where their lost step went. Or maybe you've experienced this yourself. Today's athletes are more active than ever, but overtraining is unfortunately becoming a more prominent issue.

(What exactly is overtraining? Find out here.)

It's usually the most devoted athletes who overlook the need to heal after rigorous workouts. But this can lead to a drop in both motivation and performance.

As an athlete or a strength coach, you want to get better. Recovery just sounds so passive. But if you want to aid in sports injury prevention and treatment, you need to move past that attitude. Active rest and recovery—e.g., reducing workout intensity throughout the week, or mixing in light exercise—has been shown to help the rebuilding of athletes' bodies after strenuous training. (Recovering after daily workouts is important too.)

Here are three reasons why it's crucial to implement active rest and recovery in your training program:

Replenish Energy Stores

The proper amount of rest and recovery allows athletes to replenish their energy stores of muscle glycogen and hydrate thoroughly to perform at their peak level.

Muscle Growth

Muscles grow when the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Without rest, the muscle continues to break down, and you risk overtraining or possible injury.

Mental Issues

Lack of adequate recovery time and overtraining can affect an athlete's psyche. Some symptoms of overtraining are depression, irritability and flu-like symptoms.

Active vs. Passive Recovery

The difference between them is simple: active recovery rids the body of toxins and kick-starts the muscle rebuilding process through light activity. In passive recovery, we hope the process happens naturally with time away from activity.

It's easy to add active recovery to your training program. Ensure your recovery and recapture that early training spark with these tips:

Sleep 7-8 hours a night

During sleep, human growth hormone is released throughout the body to promote muscle growth and recovery.

Perform light exercise

This is the "active" part of active recovery. For example, play catch, go for a light jog or swim some laps. Just engage in some form of movement that does not tax your body.

Reduce your weight load at the end of the week

Lifting heavy all week stresses the body, and the constant breakdown of the muscles inhibits their ability to grow. Reducing the load in your lifts toward the end of the week gives you an opportunity to focus on speed of movement and gives your body a chance to heal.

Decrease intensity every three or four weeks

This can come various forms, like lowering weight loads, decreasing running distances, or lessening reps and sets. I have found that doing this every three to four weeks gives the body a chance to come back fresh and ready to take on increased loads and intensities in the weeks that follow.

Yoga

This is a great way to activate and stretch muscles while releasing bodily tension.

Foam Rolling

A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of equipment that you lie on to apply pressure by rolling back and forth over sensitive areas. A substitute for deep tissue massage, it is designed to smooth out any knots or trigger points that have accumulated over months of training, allowing you to stretch easier and increase your range of motion.

Cold Tub Immersion

Studies have shown an increase in performance following cold tub immersion and cold/warm tub contrast. Cold therapy also has a psychological benefit in that it improves an athlete's mental readiness to compete in the following days.

This summer, I traveled to four high schools to teach a rest and recovery circuit. The following four-station circuit, each about 15 minutes long, increases an athlete's performance both psychologically and physiologically leading up to the day of competition.

  1. Light Warm Up. Increases blood flow and activates muscles groups to prepare for the following stations.
  2. Foam Rolling. Replaces deep tissue massage by applying pressure to and rolling back and forth over knotted muscles, allowing for a greater range of motion.
  3. Yoga/Active Stretching. Further stimulates the muscular system while stretching the muscles for increased flexibility
  4. Cold Tub Immersion. Reduces swelling and tissue breakdown while flushing out harmful metabolic waste from the muscles.

Please see the short video below of our Rest and Recovery Program.

Brandon Wood
- Brandon Wood is the Director of Team Training and a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J. His drive...
Brandon Wood
- Brandon Wood is the Director of Team Training and a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J. His drive...
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