Athletes often ask, “How can I train heavier and harder?” The real question should be, “How can I improve my workout recovery?” In the realm of training, recovery is king. How well you recover between training sessions and competitions will be the controlling factor in your performance, your ability to maintain intensity, and your adaptability.
Here are a few recovery strategies to start with:
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)/Foam Rolling
Rapidly becoming a protocol in most training programs, SMR offers a lot of bang for your buck. During training, you actually break down muscle tissue. This can lead to built-up adhesions and stiffness that can, over time, restrict the range of motion of a given joint and cause muscular imbalances, which can further lead to faulty mechanics, neuromuscular fatigue and injury.
By using SMR with foam rollers, lacrosse balls and other tools, you can massage out the adhesions, get blood flow to the muscle for recovery, and stimulate autogenic inhibition, a process that stimulates the golgi tendon organ of the muscle to reduce muscular tension. Check out the video player above to learn from strength and conditioning coach Todd Durkin how and why to properly foam roll.
RELATED: Advanced Foam Rolling: 2 Techniques for Better Mobility
The three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) play a crucial role in recovery and energy production. Consuming an ample amount of protein is crucial for providing the body with amino acids to repair muscle tissue and organs. Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source, especially during intense activity, and they limit the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Lastly, fats are an important fuel source for the body, and they develop various hormones, like testosterone. Maintaining a balanced intake of all three—along with using important supplements like whey protein, creatine, and a good fish oil—is key for recovering well. Watch the video player above to learn more from sports dietitian Leslie Bonci about refueling after exercise.
Breathing is not just bringing in air and exhaling it. Breathing is a movement, and in most cases it’s dysfunctional. As babies, we breath perfectly. Over time, we develop bad habits that lead to muscular imbalances and, more important, dysfunctional breathing patterns.
Breathing correctly is not only important for getting enough oxygen, it is also directly linked to stress levels. With increased stress comes increased tension throughout the body and diminished recovery. Breathing from your diaphragm (the main breathing muscle) helps to re-establish vagal tone (which keeps your heart beating within a safe range) and ultimately improves recovery. Check out the Postural Restoration Institute for breathing drills you can incorporate into your training.
Performing mobility work and stretching on a daily basis can keep all your joints open and healthy. Training heavily and competing on a regular basis put a lot of compressive loading on the body, which can cause things to stiffen up. Try performing active mobility drills before and after workouts and/or practices and games, and try static stretching before going to bed. This type of work is important to maintain proper length-tension relationships in the muscles, to unwind, and to keep the joints healthy. Don’t be a robot. Be an athlete.
One thing that seems incredibly simple to do is sleeping. However, most people, including athletes, lack quality sleep and rarely feel well rested. Most people go to bed with their phones, televisions or a late night snack. This never allows you to turn your brain off and usually leads to staying up an extra hour or more. Turn off all electronics an hour before bed, perform some static stretching and do some diaphragm breathing. Getting on a routine schedule of waking up and going to bed at the same time each day will also improve your sleep quality. Aim to get six to eight hours of solid sleep each night. As quality of sleep improves, so does recovery.
RELATED: The Power of Sleep to Improve Athletic Performance
Recovery Energy System Work
Trying to go balls to the wall and killing yourself every day are never good things. Over time, your performance will falter, and soreness will increase, along with fatigue. Backing off the gas pedal on certain days is a good thing to allow the body to realize its adaptations and for tissue to recover. Performing some light-intensity, continuous cardio for 20-30 minutes at a time can be very beneficial for regulating heart rate recovery, diminishing stress and improving recovery. Try doing a single activity like biking, pushing/dragging a sled, or mobiliy drills for 20-30 minutes on certain days and feel your body recover easier.
Like it isn’t necessary to go hard every single day, it isn’t necessary to train every day either. Giving yourself occasional off days is crucial for allowing your muscles to rebuild/repair while adapting to your previous training. Working in one to two rest days, or a lighter deload week every few weeks, will increase your energy levels, strength, power and overall feel.