I now know why professional athletes start declining at a much earlier age than any other profession. While I was growing up, I would often wonder why they needed to retire in their 30’s or before and I would often question how it could be so hard to play a game. Well, now that I am almost entering my fourth decade on this earth, it is clear that the human body simply does not recover the way that it used to.
I actually felt old playing in my softball game the other night and I knew that I had to do some more planning when it came to my rest and recovery days. To me, these days have always been more than off days from the workouts. It is when we are in the restoration and recuperation periods that we are adapting and getting: bigger, faster, stronger, leaner, healthier, etc.-the list goes on. If the R and R time is when our bodies are actually adapting, doesn’t it make sense to put a little more planning into it?
There are 3 different categories of restoration that we can resort to with hundreds of different modalities. The 3 categories are physical, medical and psychological. Many of these can be done at home but nevertheless, they should be done. Here is a sample list of what each of the 3 categories could possibly entail, followed by a detailed description of a few of my favorites.
Physical recovery modalities: soft tissue work, PNF stretching, contrast baths, massage.
Medical recovery modalities: chiropractic work, laser therapy, exogenous hormone therapy, nutrition.
Psychological recovery modalities: psycho-therapy, visualization, music therapy, meditation, reading.
- Use the foam roller or tennis/lacrosse ball for soft tissue (myofascial) work. Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith did an excellent job in their Amped product. They go over different ways to use med balls, foam rollers and lacrosse balls for the self-massage. I have been using a foam roller for a number of years and be warned, if done correctly, it does not feel pleasant. I often have some of the teams I work with use tennis balls for more direct soft tissue work. If you have the means and time, a good manual myofascial massage will work just the same. It is a great idea to always stretch after performing your soft tissue work. To quote Mike Boyle, “If we stretch first, we are simply pulling the knot in the rope even tighter, roll the knot out first and then stretch the rope.”
- Low intensity cyclical work (Verkhoshansky, 2006) can be great when used at the right time. This can get the blood flowing and the joints moving at a low intensity which will enhance or speed recovery. I am not talking about aerobic conditioning; this is not for being sport specific, this is for recovery purposes. I know I will use this one tomorrow morning after my hoops game tonight. This can also be very calming. Very useful the day after a competition or game, not to mention the nice boost in the feel good hormone serotonin.
- Meditation is often quickly disregarded by many coaches. I feel this is due to not understanding it. Meditation does mean that you just have to sit with your legs crossed for hour upon hour. It means finding a peaceful setting and staying there long enough to let your thoughts stop racing. Once you reach this point, it is easy to understand why so many people get hooked on it. On the flip side, we can use visualization to enhance performance and recovery. It is important to remember that when dealing with athletes, we must take into to account the factor of the human mind and the triangle of mind, body and spirit. In his book, Sacred Hoops, Phil Jackson details how the Chicago Bulls used these two techniques several times per week on the road to their dynasty and all through it. Regardless of what Western science says, it works.
- Physical activity and recreational sport are way underused in my opinion. It can be great for a football player to take a few weeks off after the season and play some hoops. If they enjoy it, go for it. It is a great way to use the body in a new activity while keeping the muscular system active under minimal loading. Not to mention the psychological benefit of trying something new or old that you no longer get to play very often. The Russians were very big into using cross-training when they were dominating the sporting world. Just be sure to check with your coach if you are an athlete.
Recovery is too important not to be addressed, for yourself, clients or athletes. Just like any stress though, the more often it is applied, the less effective it becomes. It is vital to adaptation to switch modalities and try not to use the same mode of recovery more than twice per week. There are also times when we want our athletes to train in a non-fully recovered state to enhance the super compensation effect that will occur when training intensity and volume drop. If we rely on too many recovery modalities, it can hinder the bodies own natural processes in recovering, so be sure to ask a qualified coach when adding this into your program.