Feeling completely smashed at the end of their strength cycle a few of my athletes asked, “what should we do to recover and should we be feeling like this?”
After a heavy strength week/cycle it is very normal to feel somewhat beat up, sore and tired. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) generally peaks two days after and will then taper off. If however, you are so sore from a training session that it inhibits your ability to train the next day or the rest of the week, then you’ve gone too hard too soon. You do not want to hold back your progress because you have pushed too hard on Monday and are then not able to train for the rest of the week.
“There is no such thing as overtraining, just under recovery.” I heard this years ago from a coach, I don’t 100% agree with the statement but I can appreciate where it is coming from. He was trying to make me understand the importance of recovery and it really hit home.
I believe that recovery is the most overlooked part of training (yes, even after nutrition). You go into the gym, warm up for 10-20min, hit a hard workout and then go home sit on your couch, watch tv and then wonder why you’re so stiff 2 hours later when you go to stand up. This is where recovery can come into play. I know for a fact that for every hour put into training, the top athletes will put in 3 hours of recovery, not including sleeping and eating. I truly believe that most people do not do anything too differently to the top athletes in regards to their training. The top athletes also started with only a class a day, or working through that beginner program just as you have, however they have stuck with it and are now 3, 5 or even 10 years on. Where they differ is in the choices they make outside the gym with their sleep schedules, their eating and their overall dedication to recovery, therefore shaping them into the great athletes they are today.
Cooling down is super important and probably the easiest way to look after yourself post training. Static stretching, foam rolling or a light bike or row are great ways to cooldown so you do not pull up sore and tight the next day. Take advantage of your muscles being warm, this is the best time to try get more mobile. Sit down, put your headphones in or chat to a mate and get stretching.
Foam rolling or trigger point ball:
Another easy and cost effective way of looking after your body. This can be done anytime during the day or night, pre/post training or even during training. For me, the best time is immediately after training. Jumping on a roller or ball for 30min can be very effective to eliminate DOMS and increase your range of motion.
Hands on work:
By this I mean physio, osteo, chiro, massage, and so on. Each person is different and needs/likes vary, so find out what works for you. It is important that you find someone that you trust and who will listen to you. There is no point seeing someone or having body work done if you do not trust what they are doing for you. Trusting in the process is already the work half done.
I always suggest to athletes that they should be getting a good sports massage once a week and that injuries or niggles should be looked at ASAP by a physio, osteo, chiro, etc. This is because a massage therapist can get into spots that you will sometimes find yourself unwilling to go to with the foam roller. Additionally a practitioner can offer you rehab/prehab tools and drills that you can complete daily and are ideal for recovery.
These are great! If you don’t know what a float tank is, it is a big futuristic looking capsule/tank that is filled with about 25cm of water. The water is filled with 500 kg of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) so when you lay in it you just float on the surface, creating a 0-gravity experience. Being able to eliminate gravity your body can completely relax, decompress, and allow your muscles to recover. Epsom salts also helps to regulate muscle and nerve function which can also influence how stiff you feel.
Float tanks are often called sensory deprivation tank due to it completely depriving you of all your sensors. The tank is completely soundproof, the water and air temperature are regulated to skin temperature and all lights are off so that you are able to reset your mind by getting away from the chaos of the outside world.
Float tanks are amazing for enhancing your sleep, letting muscle recover, quickening rehab times, regaining focus and much, much more.
There is some debate surrounding whether contrast therapy works or not, however I have had some good results in the past and think it is worth a try.
Contrast therapy is taking your body from hot to cold quickly multiple time over the course of 20-30min. Typically it’s done with two baths (one hot and one cold) where you can be completely emerged in water up to your neck (or can do a single body part if need be). You sit in one for 3-5min and then in the other for the same amount of time, and then repeat.
The idea is that taking the body from hot to cold after a heavy training session can help the muscle remove the metabolic waste products from your muscles by creating a pump like effect using the different temperatures (hot= dilation and cold= constriction) . This idea is similar to active recovery techniques (light biking or rowing post training).
Again, this is a source of much debate, but if it works for you then I say roll with it.
Good quality compression clothing can help increase blood flow to the areas compressed, thus allowing more oxygen rich, red blood cells to surround the muscles and help repair the damage caused from the stresses of training. Best time to chuck these on are straight after training or even to bed.
This is probably the easiest and best way to make sure you are on track with your recovery. Making sure you get the 8hrs+ sleep every night, without fail will aid your recovery enormously. Try and keep consistent with your bedtime as your body loves routine. This means no matter if you are training or not, create a good sleep schedule and stick to it. Eliminating exposure to blue light from laptops, phones and tvs a couple of hours before bedtime can significantly aid with getting better sleep quality as well. Blue light blocks the production for melatonin which is the signaling hormone for your brain to get ready for sleep.
Finally, I know that we are not all professional athletes, we cannot just hang around the gym all day recovering between visits to the physio, massage therapist, osteo and so on, but for those that want to become the best at what you do, you may need to push yourself and try tick off as many of the above mentioned recovery options as possible. Treat yourself as a professional even if others do not.
Do the things you know you can, the things that don’t cost anything apart from your time such as cooling down correctly, rolling out, stretching, sticking to a strict eating and sleeping schedule. Then fitting in the osteo or jumping into those compression pants before bed, won’t seem like such a stretch.