Based on my experience as a coach, this is the one thing ALL athletes can improve on.
Today I am going to be writing about the importance of recovery. Not only for strength athletes and powerlifters, but anyone who wants that extra edge with their training.
I have found recovery management to be a major key in achieving success in any programming and I’m excited to drill down on this today. Enjoy the read.
If you are serious about your sport and training, maximising your recovery is absolutely fundamental.
Let’s jump right in.
How much sleep are you getting a night?
You know, we spend around a third of our lives (~25+ years) sleeping. It is vital to our survival and incredibly important when trying to maximise performance in the gym or in your chosen sport. Monitoring your sleep to boost performance and recovery is something YOU should be thinking about as an athlete. If you aren’t, you’re missing out.
Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory has been following the sleep patterns and athletic performance of Stanford athletes for years. Her research continues to show that getting more sleep leads to better sports performance for all types of athletes, but we already knew that didn’t we?
One study, published in 2009, followed the Stanford University women’s tennis team for five weeks as they attempted to get 10 hours of sleep each night. Those who increased their sleep time ran faster sprints and hit more accurate tennis shots compared to when they had their usual amount of sleep.
In earlier studies, they found that getting extra sleep over several weeks improved performance, mood, and alertness for athletes on the Stanford men’s and women’s swim teams and men’s basketball team.
Research also suggests that as little as 20 hours of sleep deprivation can have a major negative effect on sports performance. This lack of sleep, or “sleep debt,” appears to not only have a negative effect on sports performance but cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. For athletes, sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of daily sleep is ideal. I know what you are thinking… I couldn’t get 9 hours sleep! Well, how bad do you want it? You see, researchers speculate that deep sleep helps improve athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released.
Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes recover. Studies show that sleep deprivation slows the release of growth hormone and can raise cortisol. Sleep is also necessary for learning new skills, so this phase of sleep may be critical for some athletes in relation to technical ability.
We are designed to rest, repair and recover through our sleep cycles.
What you put in is what you get out. You can’t run a Ferrari on low quality petrol just like you can’t fuel an athlete with poor dietary choices and nutrition.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what an athlete needs to perform at the top of their game.
Calories: It’s absolutely essential that an athlete has an adequate caloric intake to not only fuel and enhance performance but also maximise and ensure effective recovery. You need to be consuming slightly above your daily caloric needs when training hard and often, and of course, if you want to see strength improvements.
With that, we have carbohydrates. Your body metabolises carbohydrates into energy that is readily available to be used at anytime. They are broken down into smaller units of sugar that get absorbed out of your digestive tract and into your bloodstream. This blood glucose, is transported through your bloodstream to supply energy to your muscles/brain and other tissues, and whatever is left over is stored as glycogen.
We need carbohydrates as athletes because of its ready availability as an energy source. ATP – PC provides us with energy for short bursts (up to 10 seconds) and we can even oxidise fat for low intensity work. But what about the big gap in the middle of those two extremes? Carbohydrates, blood glucose and glycogen cover the rest. It’s called Anaerobic Glycolysis.
…and before all my Keto keyboard warriors get too flustered, I am not encouraging everyone to go eat refined sugars and processed foods to have energy. Although there isn’t an overwhelming amount of research done, there are some high intensity athletes that have good results on a ketogenic diet, but I’ll leave that there for now.
Keep in mind, there are more factors at play that I’m not going to cover here like: carb cycling, ketogenic diets, insulin management, fasting, meal frequency, macro adjustments, meal timing and more – but this is a blog on recovery, not nutrition.
General tips: It’s important you have a healthy macro ratio between protein, carbs and fats. Aim to eat 3-6 meals a day (depending on your size) with a high carb meal directly following your training session. Intermitted fasting and time restricted eating can be explored to manage insulin levels. Eat whole, unprocessed foods and include a healthy amount of vegetables, fruits and fibre in your meals. Consume enough protein to repair the constant tissue damage you create; a strength athlete may need up to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. Keep your carbohydrate intake at a decent level (keto can be explored for overweight lifters) and consume healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado, fish, omega 3 and nuts. Do not eat fast food, saturated and deep fried foods, refined sugars and excess amounts of alcohol.
Simple? Good luck! 🙂
Managing your fatigue is extremely important and another major key to successful gains. The stimulus you create is only as good as the stimulus you recover from. Too much will increase your risk of injury, decrease your general performance, and leave you feeling sick and tired unable to recover from anything.
When identifying some key fatigue markers with my clients, I think about a few key factors:
Metabolic Fatigue: Energy, glycogen and ATP depletion.
Neural Fatigue: CNS/PNS fatigue, other neural factors and hormonal response.
Muscle Fibre Tears/Trauma: Muscle trauma and fibre tearing from training – the breakdown of muscle.
Environmental Fatigue: Emotional stress, bad nutrition, lack of sleep, bad living environment, personal issues.
The first three are heavily influenced by your programming and how fast your coach can identify your volume/intensity thresholds. Volume is the biggest contributing factor to fatigue, followed by intensity. Together they can make one hell of a dent, so they need to programmed and managed with thought and care. The more advanced you become, the more volume you can handle, most likely. More often than not, the athlete will struggle mainly with the environmental fatigue when the programming is on point.
Active recovery is a fatigue management tool used to reduce stress on the body. It is usually performed on a deload or recovery week by reducing volume and intensity while using the same sport specific movement or exercise.
Active recovery is another very successful tool to have in your toolbox, it can help you enhance general recovery, retain motor patterns, sharpen technical abilities, promote blood flow, increase mobility and reduce excessive amounts of cortisol.
Blood flow is king:
I have found with my clients that passive rest weeks and time away from the gym with no movement tends to be ineffective. People generally feel stiff, stale, sore and achy. Powerlifters in particular often return to the gym having lost some technical ability within their movements.
You see, active recovery improves circulation of the blood throughout the entire body. This creates a better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, promoting faster recovery of damaged tissues. At the same time, this form of recovery can relieve stress, anxiety, muscle tension and enhance your mood while clearing acidity within the muscle which can build after intense training sessions.
I highly recommend you program in a deload week every 3-6 weeks based on the intensity of your training. Sometimes, more is not more; less is more.
That’s right, and based on above doesn’t it make total sense? By planning in a deload week, you allow yourself room to train harder, longer and more frequently. Stress is accumulative. I don’t care if you are superman, you CANNOT train at your best and your most effective without rest and recovery days or weeks.
Now, there are a few passive options to explore when it comes to maximising recovery and managing fatigue + inflammation. If you are an athlete or train hard, you would no doubt have experienced some type of inflammation from the trauma you put your muscle tissues through during a hard session of strength or resistance training. Research shows that acute muscle damage that is caused by mechanical stress will fade anywhere between 24-72 hours later. However, sometimes you can have further inflammation throughout the body in certain areas that may feel painful or tight and require you to apply some passive recovery methods before your next training session.
Below we are going to look at a few ways you can possibly get an extra edge when it comes to your recovery.
Research shows that heat therapy can soothe stiff joints and relax muscles, a method that has been utilised to help athletes manage their recovery better for decades. I am a huge fan of heat treatment and believe it to be highly effective.
You see, heat promotes blood flow and “Blood flow is King” as we discussed in the active recovery section above. When it comes to reducing tension, soreness or clearing inflammation/acidity within the muscle, blood flow to the area extremely important and heat treatment is a viable passive recovery option.
I personally prefer to use a wheat bag applied for 10-20 mins at a time, multiple times a day as required. I generally use this on my shoulder, quad or lower back, and I highly suggest you try it.
Although I do not personally see any benefit from this method, many athletes have had success with it. As I said above, when you are working hard and breaking down muscle tissue, you are going to experience some inflammation. You will also build up acidity and toxins within the muscle that can slow down the recovery process.
The theory for contrast showers is simple. By applying heat to your entire body you are going to dilate your blood vessels and increase blood circulation. You then alternate from hot water to cold water, and the change in temperature (and the cold water itself) constricts your blood vessels and decreases blood flow. The contrast between the two then creates a pump effect that flushes your body of acidity/hydrogen ions and other toxins that build up during hard exercise.
If you are wanting to try this method, follow the below protocol:
– 2 min hot water
– 1 min cold water
– 5 sets total
Much like heat, ice also has a strong impact on inflammation. Research has shown that ice can reduce swelling, block pain receptors, reduce inflammation, reduce bleeding into the tissues and minimise muscle spasms. We are all VERY familiar with concept of icing injuries, because we’ve seen it done for decades now.
Ice therapy can be helpful when treating acute injuries, pulls or strains directly after the injury occurs, however I would suggest you use heat treatment for post workout muscle soreness, tightness and DOMs. Although ice treatment still has a place in recovery, it is not a long term solution after the initial injury occurs. Many highly intelligent doctors and industry professionals have recently urged athletes NOT to ice, suggesting that this interrupts the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response possibly causing a longer recovery time.
Electric Muscle Stimulators
Another option you can explore is EMS. While there is not a ton of research done on this in regards to specifically improving recovery, a lot athletes still find them helpful. One thing they DON’T do is create enough hypertrophy within a muscle to grow it, so put down the remote and don’t order one of these from As Seen On TV ads.
As a another tool to use to promote recovery, yes they can be helpful. I personally own a EMS unit and use it when trying to get on top of my recovery during my deload weeks. By creating a electric stimulation to the muscle, you are still sending blood to the area. In my opinion, this is not as effective as active recovery. However, for a passive recovery method, if it promotes blood flow, it has its merits.
I hope this blog has been helpful and informative for you all. Read it through a few times and take the time to apply the methods above to see what works for YOU.As always, if you have ANY questions – drop a comment below or message me on @fight4growth or Brogan@letmecoachyou.net for those interested in coaching, head over to LETMECOACHYOU.NET.Thanks again,BroganPowerlifter/Coach/Writer