Optimal hockey performance demands adequate recovery. Every hockey recovery strategy has value, but recovery strategies are not interchangable because they work on different systems. Failing to address the specific recovery needs of a hockey player can lead to performance issues on the ice, and potentially overtraining.
Here are two major errors coaches make when dealing with hockey recovery:
- Athletes and coaches dump all hockey recovery strategies into the same category without doing a cost/benefit analysis.
- Strength and conditioning coaches design concurrent training programs (i.e., programs that train several attributes such as strength, power and endurance) without considering systemic fatigue accumulation.
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A multitude of recovery strategies exist, from ice baths and active recovery to hydration and manual therapy. Each targets a certain subset of recovery checkpoints, but some in particular do this at the expense of the super compensation phase. In some cases they sacrifice progress for recovery, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Below are the different systems we can target with recovery:
- Substrate replenishment
- Endocrine allostasis
- Immune allostasis
- Neurotransmitter pool balance
- Decreased inflammation
- Protein synthesis
Find Your Recovery Goal
To get the most out of recovery, you need to address your athlete's recovery goal. These fall into three categories:
- Recovery from exercise / competition
- Long-term vs. short-term recovery
- Recovery from injury
For example, ice baths can be great for recovery, although the benefits are largely anecdotal and the research is conflicting. But do you know what else they do? Ice baths limit the amount of muscle adaptation you gain from your training session. That means if two athletes train the same, and one takes an ice bath post-workout and the other does not, the athlete who did not take a bath will actually make slightly better progress in the long term as a result of his or her workout.
In addition to reduced muscular and strength adaptation, another study concluded that cold water immersion was more beneficial for endurance athletes than for strength/power athletes. This is important to care about, because hockey athletes fall closer to the strength/power side of things than to pure endurance.
So what can we conclude from all of this? I strongly urge you NOT to read this article and think, "Oh man, ice baths take away your gains; I'm never doing those again." Instead, I want you to use critical thinking and understand that not just ice baths, but all strategies within strength and conditioning have a cost/benefit or a pros and cons list.
Performance is the No. 1 priority for everyone reading this during the competitive season. If you're in the middle of the playoffs and have several games per week, or if you're in a tournament and need to play 5 games over the weekend, ice baths make sense.
Because performance is the priority, and we don't need to worry about training adaptations. Building muscle and strength is not what playoffs are for. We can save the big gym progress for the off-season, which is the exact opposite of this scenario.
During the off-season, performance is no longer the priority, because you aren't playing anything that is consequential. Instead, changes in strength, power and body composition are the priority, so you would want to only use basic recovery modalities to get the maximum super compensation per training session.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: "Do I need to be better tomorrow? Or can it be delayed a few days?"
The way you answer that question will largely determine which path you should take.
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