Most focus in training is on performance and technique – how to get bigger, faster, stronger, better. Yet these goals cannot be reached without proper recovery.
Nobody comes into work bragging about how they “smashed their recovery this week”, but recovering properly from exercise allows your body to heal from intense training sessions – key to reaching new heights.
Recovery is one way elite athletes separate themselves from the rest of us. The personal bests generate headlines, but elite athletes know they can only keep pushing when they recover properly. The body has a great capacity to heal, and they need to fast-track that healing so they feel better and ready to go again quickly. They take it incredibly seriously to the point of being obsessive.
While we need not be so obsessive, anybody wanting to improve their health, fitness and performance can benefit from thorough recovery – the best way to fast-track your recovery is to follow these seven key points:
- Proper hydration: It’s difficult to perform well or recover if you are dehydrated. We are 70% fluid, so we need to put in what gets used. A simple way to know your hydration level before and after exercise is to notice the colour of your urine – a straw or clear colour signals you are fine. A darker yellow colour says you are dehydrated.
Athletes are so concerned about their hydration levels that the weigh themselves before and after games – any deficit is made up of drinking water after the games.
Unfortunately, many of us smash the beers, sugary soft drinks, or caffeine-packed energy drinks after training, which all reduce hydration.
- Ditch the energy drinks & only consume sports drinks with exercise: Simple rule – energy drinks are not going to help recovery. The high concentrations of caffeine give you a short-term boost but may dehydrate you, and does nothing to help your body recover. Excess consumption may also be dangerous to the heart.
Sports drinks provide better hydration because they contain sodium and magnesium that is lost in sweating, so are ideal during or after exercise. But only take when exercising, not as a social drink.
- Never underestimate good sleep: Sleep is nature’s way of helping our body and mind to recover. This time off is very important, yet many people under under-estimate its healing properties. Athletes know that sleep is so critical for their performance that they keep a sleep diary.
Yet there are signs our quality of sleep is deteriorating: The Sleep Health Foundation has found between 33 and 45 per cent of Australians have poor sleep patterns. Improvements in this one area can make a huge difference.
- Compression garments: Exercise often creates fluid build-up in muscle tissue due to microtrauma. Compression garments help prevent this pooling by providing a mild amount of pressure to the muscles. Compression is particularly ideal for the legs since gravity will pool the fluid down to the ankles, creating a “dead end”, and compression helps prevent this. Sleeping in compression garments may help minimise swelling overnight.
- Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy has been around since Ancient Egyptian times, around 5000 years ago, and can be as simple as having a bath. Bathing in warm water relieves tired muscles, joints, and ligaments. Buoyancy decreases the weight of the body and aids recovery through circulation.
Bathing in the sea is also therapeutic and the salt water has many healing qualities.
- Hot/cold contrast baths: You’ll never hear an athlete say they like hot and cold contrast baths – which may include ice baths – but they’ve been shown to be highly effective, and many athletes do this after exercise.
If you’re game you can replicate this in your shower – 30 seconds’ warm water and 30 seconds’ cold, repeat 4-6 times. If you’re lucky enough to be near hot springs or mineral spas then you may wade in the warm pool and then go into the plunge pool – alternating accordingly. The hot and cold helps our neural system and aids recovery.
- Massage/Physiotherapy: Hands on treatment including massage is one of the fastest ways to recover. Elite athletes use massage on a regular basis. But for the rest of us, a massage weekly or fortnightly will make a positive impact if we are very active – for most of us even a monthly massage will make a difference, but if you are training for a big event or trying hard to improve you may need more.
Physiotherapy is crucial to maintain your body and performance, and address injuries or tightness. How to choose the correct therapist for you? Make sure you are seeing results in three sessions or less. It means they are on track. If not, get a second opinion.