One of the most important bits of knowledge I learned in my athletic career was that my ability to train harder was primarily governed by my ability to recover faster.
I think this axiom holds true for all athletes regardless of the sports they compete in or the exercises they do. Recovering faster means we can absorb the training loads easier with less risk of illness or injury. Adapting to the stresses of training is what getting fitter and racing faster is all about.
In this final blog of our Fall Foundation Series I want to give you some insight into how our athletes incorporate recovery into their training regimen in this effort to recover faster. I will also share with you what devices we trust and use on a regular basis. I am hoping that the combination of the two helps you to create your own recovery routine. There is no better time than now to establish good habits that you can carry out for the months ahead.
I have been a big believer that it is always better to do prehab than rehab and so I always encourage our athletes to start their day off with a good warm up routine. How each athlete warms up may be slightly different depending on the areas they need to focus on most. If you read my previous post you would have seen the link for the Bunkie Test. This has been my go to test for years to find out where each athlete is tight and/ or weak. By knowing whether you need to focus on loosening up your hamstrings, hip flexors, adductors or abductors you are getting a step ahead of those nasty overuse injuries. Once you know what to focus on you can then go about setting up a warm up routine that targets those specific areas for stretching, trigger point massage, muscle activation exercises and the like. By spending as little as 10 minutes before you get out the door for a run you will not only make that run much more enjoyable you will also decrease the chance of injury. This is especially important when the training program shows that you have a hard interval session to do or maybe that tough 20 miler.
To help you get started I am sharing a typical warm up routine that many of our athletes do before they head out the door for a run. Give it a try and see what you think. It can be done right before you start and only takes a few minutes. The goal here is not to find new flexibility or strength with these movements before you run - just get yourself back to what would be your normal range of motion. All we are looking for with this routine is to prime the joints, muscles and nervous system for the task ahead. If you start off the run feeling good then there is a much higher probability that you will keep it that way all the way through to the end of the training session.
all done just with your own body weight
Ankle Circles 5-6 each direction each leg
Squats 10-15 reps
Side to Side Lunges 6-8 each leg
Forward Lunges 6-8 each leg
Reverse Lunges 4-5 each leg
Curtsy Lunges 4-5 each leg
Standing Knee to Chest Stretch 6-8 each leg
Toe Touches 8-10 reps
Shoulder Circles 6-8 clockwise & counter-clockwise
Neck Circles 6-8 clockwise & counter-clockwise
We understand that a routine like the one above is not a one size fits all approach and it will not rid us of all our tight areas. So if one of our athletes has a particular trouble spot that they need to pay attention to, such as a tight piriformis muscle or a sore calf, then we will have them address those specifically before training as well. This is where all of the various therapy devices on the market come in handy.
Our go to products to remedy any aches and pains all come from either Hyperice or NormaTec. We have been fortunate to work with them for the past few years and our athletes really believe that they have made a big impact in keeping them healthy. Both companies have excellent products that can be used both for prehab or rehab routines and the science behind how their products work is very solid. Whether it be using the Hypersphere vibrating massage ball to loosen up that tight hamstring or the Vyper massage roller to work on your IT bands, you can’t go wrong. They even have a free App that gives you guided instructions for warm up routines, post run recovery protocols and ways to loosen up the specific areas that you need help with to stay pain free.
Once you are finished your run, gym workout or cross training session the workout day shouldn’t be over just yet. Putting your body back together after training is paramount if you want to stay healthy. If you can find 15-20 minutes after the really hard or long days to put on the final touches to the recovery routine (it doesn’t have to be immediately after you exercise) you will be amazed at how much better you feel the next day. I think that one of the best times to do this is before you go to bed. Not only does it help your muscles feel better it also starts to put your nervous system into a parasympathetic state - which is what is needed to get that restful sleep that we all need as athletes.
There are many options for what routines to do or what devices to use to get the job done. When it comes to working on flexibility this is a great time to do your passive stretching, yoga routine or myofascial work with one of the rollers or vibrating massagers. The tool of choice for our athletes post training recovery has got to be the NormaTec compression boots. They love them because they can put on the boots and watch a show before heading off to bed. They don’t have to do anything else but sit there and let the boots do their thing. The compression and pulse system of the NormaTec device works to flush out the waste products from the muscles and push them through the lymphatic system. The faster that happens the better your legs will feel - all while catching up on your latest Netflix series. That’s hard to beat.
I am also a big fan of many of the old school recovery programs. Whether it be using heat or cold as a recovery modality there is a simplicity with how it works with the body to help it be its best. For example, the people of Finland have been using saunas for almost a century. The combination of the heat and steam are a tremendous detox and 900 plus years of practice can’t be wrong. By using a sauna for as little as 20 minutes a few times per week we are seeing an up-regulation in the hormones needed for recovery as well as ridding the body of a ton of toxins. This combination not only makes us feel better, it will also help to repair muscles and improve performance. It also works for heat adaptation if you happen to be racing in a hot & humid climate but live somewhere colder.
The polar opposite of the warm sauna is the ice bath. I have always had a “love-hate” relationship with this recovery modality. I love the way my legs feel when I finally warm up after taking one, but the act of keeping me inside that tub for 10-15 minutes takes a herculean effort. I guess we all have our mountains to climb and this one is mine. However, once I get to the top I really appreciate that I pushed through the pain. Whereas the heat of the sauna makes everything swell a bit and by that means it pushes the junk out from deep inside, the ice bath does the opposite. Its constriction of muscles and temporary deadening of nerves works as a sort of shock therapy. By creating this stress on the body it signals to the brain that lots of fresh oxygenated blood needs to get to those cold areas to save them. When this happens the legs will receive a lot of nourishment while they ring out the training byproducts and send them away though the lymph system. I know that it is an acquired taste, but I can’t argue with the results.
The final two pieces of the recovery puzzle are sleep and nutrition. I put them at the end, but they are not as important as what I mentioned above as they most certainly are. I am placing them here because we have already spoken a lot about them in our previous posts and articles. Check out our website for more info on these topics if you are interested. At the end of it all we are literally made up of what we eat and so it is important to eat good food that will help to both rebuild and maintain us from head to toe. We only have one body to work with and so it is important to nourish it as best we can. By paying attention to what we eat we will be nourishing our minds as well. Creating good intentions comes through paying attention and the more we can do of both the more successful we will be in sport and life.
When it comes to questions about sleep what I always remind people is that this is the time when we grow. Sleep is the time when we rebuild our bodies. So if we miss out on it then we lose that opportunity to perform at our best. By understanding that sleep, along with all of these other pieces of the puzzle that I have mentioned above, is as important as the training itself we will come to respect it more and work harder to get the proper rest we need. It starts with education and then moves forward with good decision making. Of course, we can’t always eat the best food or get the proper night sleep every day because life just happens. However, if we make our best attempt on a daily basis then we will get it right a lot more then we get it wrong. If we do that we stay in the game and we keep on running.
For more info on our therapy devices of choice check out their websites.