Your body will not be ready to do another workout if it hasn’t adequately recovered from the last one. In between hard workouts, pro athletes will take steps to facilitate recovery and complete active recovery workouts to make sure their body is loose and adequately rested to handle the stress of another hard session. Training is a process of stringing together sessions that challenge the body. In between the challenging sessions, athletes need to do everything possible to get ready for another one. Here are some common practices to improve recovery:
Recovering from workouts first involves basic steps immediately after the session:
- Replenish post-workout with fluids and a small amount of protein. I aim for 0.2g/kg of protein and 0.8 g/kg of carbohydrate within an hour of my workout.
- In the hours following your workout, make sure you replenish all the fluid lost from the effort. Aim for 150 per cent of the fluid lost and use some electrolytes to help aid in your absorption of the fluid.
- A nap is the best way to really allow muscles to recover but even some sensory deprivation with eyes closed on the couch is going to help you shut down and allow your body to repair.
- Practice good hygiene. Washing your hands a lot will help you to avoid illness while your body’s immune system is down after hard training sessions.
- Stretching and/or mobility: I use some dynamic stretches every day to make sure I keep my muscles loose for the next training day. I also use a foam roller to try to coax tight muscles to loosen up.
In addition to a daily recovery routine, weekly or monthly treatments as below are good:
- Visiting a chiropractor for ART treatment and adjustment.
- Regular visits to a massage therapist to address the small muscles I can’t manage. I find massage particularly important for upper back/swimming related tightness that nothing I do every really sorts out.
- Epsom salt baths after training. I find these are an excellent way to help relax tight muscles and spend a bit of time really decompressing after training. Especially in the winter, a warm, steamy bath is a nice way to treat the body and the respiratory system. I put the salts and some eucalyptus oil in the bath.
- Self -massage with a foam roller.
- Consume some protein every three hours (I aim for 20g) during the day to ensure your body does not go into a catabolic state. I do this every day, not just on the days that I am training hard.
During a very heavy training block, I will add some of treatment weekly or even bi-weekly depending on how heavy the training load is. At one point I was seeing Dr. Jamie Grimes at Synergy Health Centre n Victoria four times per week to address a problem that required weeks of strength work to fix. Until I had that muscle issue solved, I needed him to treat the surrounding muscles constantly. Sometimes you need more therapy and sometimes you need less–your body will likely give you clear signals on how much you need based on its performance.
Monitoring Recovery Progress
In addition to these steps, you need to keep track of how your recovery is progressing. There are some common sense tools you can use to decide whether your body is ready to go again and there are some more objective measures you can use to cross reference what you think you’re feeling.
- When you wake up in the morning, assess how you are feeling. Record and measure your heart rate upon waking and look at the trend over time, as an elevated heart rate indicates underlying stress or fatigue.
- Another heart rate based metric is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV measures the variability between the intervals between heart beats. Lower HRV can indicate that you are overtraining or your body is becoming stressed. There are apps like Sweetbeat which can measure HRV and track the numbers over time so you can see how your body is adapting to your training load. Both morning heart rate numbers and HRV values need to be collected over a long period of time to get a baseline from which to determine what healthy and fresh numbers are relative to tired and stressed. Cross referencing how you feel to some numbers like HRV can help you make intelligent decisions on whether to go ahead with planned training or not.
- Track your progress: you should see improvement in your workouts. If you are not seeing improvement you might need to change the stimulus or look at how much load you are carrying over time and determine whether that is affecting your adaptation.
Recovery is facilitated through active habits to allow better recovery, therapy to help improve the quality of the recovery and monitoring to ensure that adequate recovery takes place between sessions. Taking care to ensure recovery is adequate will allow for a more consistent built of fitness over the course of your training block. An extra day of rest here or there is a better option than a complete week of down time due to illness or injury and a focused recovery plan will help you to determine whether that’s necessary.