By request – Recovery Techniques

So. I ache. I was out flipping tyres and throwing medicine balls around yesterday, and although I warmed down a bit, I didn’t really do any recovery – hence, I ache.

Generally at the end of a session it’s common to think that you can’t be bothered to do a cool down, or you don’t have time – you shoot off and do something else, and it’s not until the next day that you curse yourself for a fool as you wander around the house trying to make a coffee with what feels like battery acid coursing around your veins.

After the post on DOMS which seems to have generated some interest, I received a couple of missives to ask what kind of recovery practices are good in order to minimise the pain, and are there any diet changes that can make a difference – like chugging protein after a workout etc.

Ice Baths
or – if you can’t get any ice – really cold water bath. The colder the better, the more ice the better – within reason. The idea of this is that the ice has an anti-inflammatory effect – the muscles have already been over-heated from the exercise you were just doing- you need to cool them down. A general guideline is filling the bath up as high as it need go to cover the muscles you have been using, and try to accumulate 15- 20 mins in total. It doesn’t need to be all at once, you can have several shots at it for a few minutes. (I find that heating a flannel and using it to cover slightly more sensitive areas for the duration of the bath makes it slightly more bearable).

If you’ve just been for a fell run and there is a nice, ice cold stream to lie in – that will do the job nicely. Just ignore the weird looks from other people – you’ll be feeling fresh as a daisy tomorrow.

Recovery shower
Start warm to hot – massaging muscles for a few minutes (less than 5), then slowly turn the heat off until its properly, ridiculously cold. Unbearably so.
Man up.
for 5 minutes.
Turn the heat back on for a couple of minutes. And repeat at least twice, finishing with cold water.
Remember, 5 mins of cold water is better than feeling stiff as a board for the entirety of the next couple of days.

Foam roller
I’ve mentioned these a couple of times in various blogs – use foam ones, expensive ones, pressurised coke bottles, beer bottles, slosh pipes, anything that is cylindrical and solid. You use the roller over muscle, which has the effect of stretching and separating muscle and fascia, breaking down cross fibres which make muscles less efficient. The pain you will feel is an indication of the muscles that are bound together (a bad thing), so the more it is hurting, the better it is for you, and the more you need it.

Also, the more you use a foam roller, the easier it will be for a massage therapist to treat the areas that actually need treating as they won’t have to waste time getting through all the superficial knots and tension to get to the structural issues which may be causing inefficiencies in the way you use your body.

What should I eat?
Back in the day when I was primarily an indoor climber, I used to chug protein shakes on the way back home from a climbing session. They tasted lovely, but I was heavier than I needed to be because I really didn’t need any of the extra stuff that I was pumping into my body. No matter how much protein you take on board directly AFTER a session, it will make no difference to the immediate recovery of muscles. The protein already in your system is what helps…
they keys to recovery after workout are twofold
1- a pre-workout snack – or taking on food before the work out – and
2- the replacement of Glycogen after the workout.
At this point in time, sports nutritionists are recommending 3:1 or 4:1 ratios of carb to protein- but at best this is a generalisation. (chocolate milk has an approximate 3:1 ratio. That’s just normal chocolate milk – not some fancy expensive shake. It’s what I use when I need a quick recovery drink at the end of a hard work out and I know that I won’t be getting proper food for a while…) It will depend on the kind of effort you are expending.
Short intense workouts need little more than water, and a normal meal, up to 120 mins at a moderate pace may need up to 250cals followed by a normal meal (note, the numbers are not gospel, it will depend on your body and what you, as an individual needs), and long, long efforts will need up to 900 cals. You will know when you have got to that point. There will be no doubt.

The most important of the food advice I can possibly give is eat a balanced and intelligent diet. Eating crap, and then having energy bars and protein shakes will not get you anywhere near as good as just eating decent food. I’m not going to get into one type of diet versus another, because that is all secondary to the quality of food. Spend money on decent food. Your body is one of the best things you can invest in.

Other recovery methods
The main one is long term cross training. If you are a triathlete you bike, run and swim – this, however, is not cross training for you. There will be massive imbalances between your quads and your glutes which will inhibit your ability to go faster – find another activity to do which will help keep the non-tri muscles working.
If you just lift weights- find something else to do,
you get the picture… the reason for this is if you constantly and consistently train for a single sport imbalances will develop and the muscles that you are using will get more and more tired.

Most important. Good quality sleep. I hate people that say sleep when you are dead. That’s like saying you can have a drink while you’re drowning. Sleep time processes toxins that you have accumulated in the day – poor quality food, water, air, alcohol etc. If you suffer from poor sleep quality or quantity, do something about it. Black out curtains, music, etc. Magnesium extract is a good sleep preparation dietary addition.

Maintenance massage
Yes – regular massage can of course help – not just from a soothing and remedial point of view, ridding muscles of toxins, increasing muscle length and reworking myofascia via myofascial release to give better range of motion, but it is a time in which the therapist can see which muscles are healthy and are working in conjunction with others, and which are not taking on responsibility for their movements- and are contributing to inefficiencies in your daily life and sport. By discovering this, you can take pre-emptive care of your body, using the information to correct muscle imbalances before they become too ingrained, and your quality of life suffers from pain. The longer you leave muscles to become inefficient, and build up pain, the longer it will take to get you back into working order.

I think I’ve covered most of the things here – if only in quite a cursory way, but in enough detail for you to go away and have a think about how to recover better.

For those of you that keep a training diary – add a section- a recovery diary. Take note of what you are doing on a daily basis to help your body to recover.

If you are taking a lot out of your body with exercise, but not putting enough back in – not recovering enough, there is only one way you are heading- and that is to breakdown and injury.

Your choice, spend a bit of time doing recovery every day, or spend a lot of time out with injury and pain. I know which one I’m choosing.

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