In my experience as a private strength and conditioning coach, the majority of gym goers and athletes are so focused on their numbers on their main lifts and fulfilling the compulsive, type A need to workout that the big picture is lost. Everyone follows this basic formula: stimulus (exercise) + recovery= adaptation.
Recovery: An individual’s return to resting function and optimal physical performance.
When this equation is unbalanced, too much stimulus and little to no recovery, your adaptation is minimal or has a negative training effect. Multiply this over long periods of time and you reach a state of overtraining.
* Note your level of fitness will depict the amount of stimulus/recovery.
Overtraining: An excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training resulting in fatigue due to lack of proper rest and recovery. This may include plateau or decrease in performance.
At American Sled Dogs Gym, Virginia Beach, it is my job to design programs to control training variables that keep this equation in correct balance in order to get the greatest amount of adaptation (training gains). The difficulty is designing and controlling weekly exercise classes. Gym goers or athletes who are following a general program understand that this means you need to take ownership in controlling some of these variables for your own fitness. A beginner may not be able to complete five days in a row and have adequate recovery, or someone who has more than one training mode may not want to do the five days of training followed by endurance training in the afternoons. Besides modification of program design, which is a whole other discussion, implementation of some of these recovery strategies can increase the overall training affect.
Sleeping 8-10 hours gives your body’s natural adaptive processes time to rebuild your body from the stimulus of hard training.
Low intensity cardiovascular exercise at less than 50% of VO2 max. This is repetitive mechanical squeezing by the muscles increases blood flow, range of motion, and removal of waste. This could mean jogging at a slow pace for 20-30 minutes.
Soft Tissue and Manual Therapies
This could be as simple as working on troublesome areas post exercise on a foam roller or lacrosse ball for those who cannot see a professional therapist. Professional massage is more beneficial, and in Virginia Beach, Balance Therapeutic Massage has been great for me. I have also used Injury Solutions and Sports Performance, which focuses on a specific type of massage called Active Release Therapy that has been proven effective. Chiropractic, acupuncture, and other osteopathic modalities also have benefits.
In basic terms, thermotherapy means applying various techniques of heat to the body. Hot packs, saunas, whirlpools, and steam baths would all be considered forms of thermotherapy. These modalities increase blood flow, which results in increased nutrient delivery and waste removal at the cellular level. Another form of a thermotherapy that I use is warm Epsom salt bath for 10-15 minutes (Epson baths have more benefit than just a warm baths).
This is the application of cold temperature techniques to the body. Ice baths, local ice application with packs, or WBC (whole body cryotherapy). Personally I cannot stand sitting in an ice bath for long periods of time, so WBC is more my speed. WBC is 3:00 of ultra low temperatures -210-250F at a specified facility. Locally Cryomax is the place to go for this technique. These modalities counteract swelling, increase vasoconstriction and reduce nervous system activity.
Contrasting Showers and Baths
A mixture of both thermo and cryotherapy, most easily done in the shower. Put the shower at the highest temperature tolerable for several minutes, followed by 30 seconds at the coldest possible setting. Usually this is done for 3-5 cycles. This causes extreme vasodilation followed by vasoconstriction, and this rapid change helps flush out waste from muscles.
Visiting the Washington Nationals training center last winter for a professional development seminar, I was able to walk through their training facilities. To my surprise, these pro athletes had devoted more square footage to recovery than to their actual gym facility. Their space was filled with athletic training tables, massage tables, large baths, cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill, and a steam/sauna room. Only about one-third of their space was devoted to resistance training. What we should all take away from this example is that these pro athletes have figured out the balance to keep them on the field. Use some of these recovery modalities in your weekly routine to keep you doing what you love: training and lifting heavy stuff.
- Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Bompa, T. O., & Haff, G. G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Cook C., Kilduff L., Jones M., Recovering Effectivly in High-Performance Sports. Joyce, D., & Lewindon, D. (2014). High-Performance Training for Sports: (pg. 319-330). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Takano, B. (2012). Weightlifting programming: A winning coach’s guide. Calif.: Catalyst Athletics.