The difference between a lot of athletes and weekend warriors is the commitment to how to keep your body in its optimum shape. When we are truly committed to staying on top of ourselves and ensuring optimum performance, there is SOOOO much stuff to be done. It’s not just about to showing up to training, its about diet, planning, nutrition, resting, staying away from cakes and the social brewskies on a Sunday afternoon… the list goes on. Those of us who are truly committed adhere to all these principles. Some of us are committed to the training and performance but are perhaps less inclined to spend that extra bit of effort ensuring that absolutely everything that can be done is done.
One of the aspects that gets overlooked often enough is the recovery stage of performance. We get out on the field, we commit and perform and get muddy and sweaty and then as soon as that is over, it’s time for a beer and a sit in the stands afterward. The cool down, or recovery aspects of performance begin the moment you step off the court. it’s the de-loading after performance, the stretch down/the swim down/the walk home… there are many aspects to post performance that can contribute to you jumping out of bed the next day or slowly rolling and walking down the stairs backwards (because it’s just easier).
Sometimes it is difficult in the frenzy of post event celebration and elation to opt out of the joy of finishing/completing/winning and opt in for the ‘I’m just going to go over here and stretch down’. I mean when you have given your all and come out with a great result, it’s only the rare few who are found reaching for the sports bag, the sweats and therabands and doing the recovery exercises that we all know will result in a good feeling the next day.
But even in this situation, recovery can be part of your ongoing next day routine. There are some things that you should do post event and there are also things that you can do the next day or even the next week to try and ensure that your body stays on top and doesn’t feel like you have just run a marathon, rather that you are ready to run another one.
Some things to keep in mind:
COOL DOWN - whether this is stretching or some dynamic movement such as yoga. A solid cool down program can involve anything from some static stretching, to doing a few laps in a pool or walking out the last few kilometres. Muscles need to be unwound from the impact of having been pushed and used and doing some slow movements helps to move lymph fluid and things like Lactic Acid through the system.
REPLENISH - nutritionally you need CARBS. You need to replace lost glycogen. Now this doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of 15 Big Macs but some good carbohydrate helps to restore lost energy stores in your muscles and also in your liver. Now is not the time to be worried about maintaining your six pack - you need to replace the energy you have lost from exercise.
H20 - similarly you need to replace lost water and electrolytes. These are vital elements to ensure are in good supply as your body begins to rebuild and repair that damage it has endured during your all out event. Water is vital. ‘Drink until you pee clear’ is an old school mantra that can still have some relevance today. Being mindful that downing 2 litres straight away may not be a good idea, but consistent ingestion of water over the next 2 hours is important.
KEEP WARM - even on a boiling hot day, you need to make sure that you don’t cool down too fast. Keeping the body warm and ensuring that the core temperature stays normalised helps to regulate bodily function. Obviously this is easier in warmer climates but don’t confuse temperature with internal body function. Especially if you have been nursing an injury, using some heat to ensure there isn’t a dramatic change in temperature helps with recovery.
REST - you need adequate rest. Time to sleep and to allow the body to repair damage to soft tissues and connective tissues only happens in the sleep stages. Going out and partying all night doesn’t do you any favours. Ensuring you have adequate sleep time means that if you do have to get up and go again the next day, your body has had ample time to recover and rest the impact from the previous day. This is especially important if your event takes place over multiple days.
ACTIVE RECOVERY is more about what you are doing after you have gone home and are resting. This is often where many of us fall short. Active Recovery is all about maintaining the body and keeping it going for days afterward so you can get up and go again when the next training day rolls around. The benefit of this is also that the body gets a chance to continue repairing and feeling good about having given so much.
ROLL OUT - a little bit of foam rollering and strategic ball placement on sore bits is the ticket. Spending 20-30 min the next day on sore muscles and tissues assists greatly with the lymphatic system to move through that all important lactic and uric acid that is the leftover of all your exertion. The lymph system can only handle so much and it is guaranteed that if you have gone hard the day before, there is going to be a build up of these by-products of muscular contraction in your body. Move it through with some fascial release.
EPSOM BATHS - I am a big fan of a good soak in an epsom salt bath. Magnesium is vital for efficient muscular contractions and in helping to avoid some of the cramping that can unavoidably ensue after maximum effort. You may not notice anything at the time but the next morning feels oh so much more free after a generous amount of epsom salts in a warm bath. By generous I mean 250-500gm at least! If you are managing an injury - soaking a flannel in a warm bath of epsom salts and then heaping this on your affected area will help you feel just that little easier with movement.
MOVEMENT - you need to ‘keep moving’. Sitting on the couch after the event feels like the greatest thing to do, but you need to help the body to keep the ‘flow’ happening. Blood and lymph need to be moved through and the tendons and muscle fibres need to be flexed and stretched to keep them flushed with good blood. A light walk, some light yoga, even a different sport like going for a swim or ride can really help to move fluid and nutrients through the body and keeps everything feeling slick and satisfied.
EASY WORKOUTS - even going into a gym or onto the court again can sometimes help. You want to be making sure you don’t go above 70% of your normal routine but taking some easy sets or an easy version of your normal movement can help you to recover faster. Having a little routine of movement like Tai Chi or Chi Gung is also advised as it gently lubricates the muscles and the body and gets the soft tissues feeling mobile again.
So when you’ve given everything, try not to feel that recovery is giving more… it’s about keeping the body in a good state of movement and encouraging a good flow of the system so that processes keep on happening and helping to promote a good re-setting of the body. That way you can bounce back and get back into the activities sooner and feeling like you’ve achieved as opposed to abused your body.