RECOVERY: Why do you need to care about it

Posted on: September 25th, 2019 by PPI No Comments

Recovery has been 2019’s buzz word, but what does it actually mean for your performance and how do you incorporate it?

The fitness and sports performance world is constantly evolving – new studies, new fitness trends, new or different movements all with the aim to make us better, stronger, faster be it for recreational health and fitness or competitive sports pursuits. It can also become overwhelming and feel like you need to always be go, go, going to stay ahead of the curve. The reality is that’s not how our bodies work. Recovery is crucial in the performance game and regardless of the activity, we all need to factor it in as part of the training schedule. Training is a stimulus. You get fitter, your body adapts to the stimulus, while recovering, in between training sessions. You must allow time for that adaptation to occur. You need to support it. And yes, it can be really hard to incorporate.

Recovery is an elemental piece of the total performance puzzle. It is crucial for optimizing all the time spent working on skill, training, and physical preparedness.

So here is the ‘why’

Why should we recover? We spend a lot of our time in a sympathetic state – which means our ‘fight and flight’ part of nervous system; it’s on much of our waking hours. If we are always adding stress to the system, even good stress in the form of working out, it is very important that we find ways to balance that out and get into a parasympathetic state (the rest and digest part of the system).

The sympathetic system has a time and place and evolved from the necessity of outrunning predators. Today we aren’t outrunning tigers, but we have added more artificial stress in the form of work deadlines, social comparison and crazy schedules, etc. This can keep the body in fight and flight mode for prolonged times resulting in many adverse health issues and preventing you from the positive benefits of your training. Working with your body to create less internal body stress will advance your results more than adding training.

Recovery options are vast. But be careful because some aren’t actually recovery! For example, the benefits of cold plunges or ice baths have been increasingly popular. Although there are many benefits of cold therapy (which we won’t get into in this article) what you need to know is cold is actually a stressor to the body, it is not solely a way to recover. Knowing the purpose of what you are doing is key when planning recovery. 

Some of the fancy technology and toys can be more gimmicky than beneficial, so knowing the purpose is key.

Sleep – The single most important recovery tool is quality sleep. It is simply crucial to the results you are looking for with your training. Researchers have found that chronic lack of sleep can be a contributor to depression and overall mental health. Sleep is where the magic happens (muscle rebuild and motor programming as well as metabolism changes). In the fully digital world we live in today, the top tip (and we know this already, but it is worth repeating here as we know we are still on our devices) is to eliminate screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime. The light in screens stimulates wakefulness of your brain. If you must be in front of a screen try blue light blocking glasses or using the built in mechanism in your device to cut the blue light emissions and give your brain a break.

Compression – The past couple years have demonstrated an increasing demand for the inflatable legs (or arms) post hard training or racing sessions. The rhythmic compression and relaxation of the device as it surrounds your limbs increases blood and lymph flow which can aide in quicker uptake of lactic acid and circulation of anti-inflammatory metabolites which can assist in less time to feeling better to train again.

Massage – With benefits similar to rhythmic compression, there is much more to massage than just feeling good. Many techniques have been developed to assist with flushing the metabolites of workouts, assisting with good fascial movement and muscle health as well as circulation.

Myofascial release/IASTM/cupping/skin rolling – The fascia is a more recently paid attention to frontier when it comes to the musculoskeletal system and its workings. Think of it like the webbing between muscles and muscle groups (kind of like that webbing when you peel apart the pieces of raw chicken). By releasing it through techniques such as foam rolling, skin massage, cupping or with other tools such as IASTM (metal tools that resemble butter knives that are used by therapists) you create more space and movement between the layers allowing for more movement within the muscles and muscle groups which in turn, help you to move more freely.

Myofascial release in recent literature reviews has shown to have positive outcomes on muscle soreness post exercise and range of motion. More variance is in the time and duration of treatments, but it can be safe to assume spending time as tolerated on these techniques will have a positive outcome for your recovery.

Stretching – Stretching techniques vary just about as much as training techniques do, and so do opinions on the benefits. Although there is no hard evidence that stretching pre or post activity will improve flexibility (personally this physio doesn’t hang her hat on it), the movements can improve flushing of post exercise chemicals in the bloodstream to help recovery. The most important thing to consider is that technique is important.

  • Ensure the muscle you are trying to stretch is what you are actually stretching;
  • Safely move into positions so that you protect your joints; and
  • Be mindful of tightness in the body… sometimes it is a sign something else isn’t optimally working.

So for example, if you have been stretching that hamstring for years it is in your best interest to have a full functional movement evaluation to determine how efficiently your body is actually working.

Stress management – No matter how much you work out and eat well, if your body is under constant stress and sympathetic fight and flight mode it will not be taking advantage of the benefits of what you are doing and giving you the results you are looking for. Take time to work on mindfulness, breathing, and awareness of your mental and emotional wellbeing. When you can shift into parasympathetic states (rest and digest) your body metabolizes differently, and you progress getting stronger, fitter, and more resilient.

Most important, be mindful of your purpose. The more aware you are of your physical, mental, and emotional state, the more aware you will be of what your body needs. Training too much or too hard can be detrimental to your outcomes. You put time and effort into achieving your goals and the proper recovery will help you get there.

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