As an athlete, the most crucial aspect of your training is recovery. I’ve spent the last 6 years researching, testing, and implementing different recovery methods that those of you interested in improving your performance (or just not hurting anymore) will find useful.
Interestingly enough, the tools used for high-level athletes in their recovery can also be used on those with chronic pain outside the training realm. In fact, many of these techniques are used in a rehabilitation setting or for recovery from surgery.
None of the following methods take very much time. Each may be something you use during the day— before or after training, but they aren’t things you need to structure your day around. In fact, they can really enhance your day-to-day life.
Let’s start with an overview of the most involved recovery methods and graduate to the least invasive.
Table of Contents
Ease of access really depends on your training environment. Many big box gyms have saunas inside them, so it makes it easy to pop in for 15 minutes after training. Unfortunately, we don’t have a sauna on site at BlackBox (I’m working on it), so I go to a big box gym. For $20/month (+$10 childcare), I hit the sauna 1-2 times a week.
I find the most value when I sit in it for 15-20 min after a hard training session. The profusion of blood to the surface of your skin allows for better nutrient transport throughout the muscular system and clears toxins through the lymphatic system.
I put this second because we have one at BlackBox, but I know many of you don’t access to one— yet. You can get one on Amazon for around $600. It’s a basic model but still falls within the spectrum of effectivity.
We use the Vibration plate both before and after training.
Before training, the basic idea is that it allows for a more efficient, shorter warm up. The vibration forces the nervous system to activate while allowing blood to flow to the muscles. I don’t know about you guys, but if I can save 10 minutes of warm up time, I am happy.
After training, the minimum effective dose is 10 minutes. Most of the time that means standing on the plate reading emails or coaching. Some light stretching or squatting will usually help, too. During this time, blood is driven to the extremities and the surface of the skin, which allows better nutrient distribution for the trained muscle groups
This has gained traction lately, and I only picked up on it about 2-3 years ago. It really caught my eye when I was able to use a buddy’s Normatec suit. I think compression shorts, tights and socks are legit and use them daily, BUT Normatec takes it to the next level.
Normatec ($1500) is a motorized suit that uses air chambers to apply gradual compression to your legs and arms to force blood flow to and from body parts. Again, this allows for better nutrient distribution and quicker muscle tissue repair.
The poor mans Normatec are compression shorts, tights, socks and shirts (I don’t like the shirts, but that’s a comfort thing). Make sure that the compression wear you use is good quality and will last. I like a couple brands, but my favorite is Zoot. I know Virus is the hot item right now, but I have’t tried them out yet. Good compression wear starts around $80, and anything cheaper is well, cheaper…
I wear compression gear on training days and recovery days. Especially on the recovery days when I am still feeling the previous session.
Chiropractic or Soft Tissue Work
The guy I use here in Fort Worth, TX is more of a problem-solver than a chiropractor in the traditional sense. He combines many different techniques to solve your problems. He is pretty good about getting issues solved in 2-4 visits and has consistently helped my athletes and my clients. I think this is a very specific skill he has. It’s important to work with someone that really understands what you do and how your injury needs to be treated.
Massage is great for many different reasons. When training hard, it’s important to get regular body work. Not the kind that makes you want to fall asleep and dream of Japanese gardens but the kind that gets fluid moving and works out the kinks. This doesn’t need to be incredibly painful, but it should be a bit rougher than relaxing. You may zone out, but the heavy pressure should keep you present. I also think being conscious of the areas being worked can bring more awareness to the healing process. That may be a bit mystical, but it works for me.
These generally run about $60-$80 an hour and are needed about twice a month. More frequently if you can afford it.
Good, old-fashioned stretching is a great way to increase range of motion, increase blood flow and ease soreness. You can lump mobility and self-myofascial release (rolling) in here too but I prefer stretching. With some simple tools you can maximize your stretching. A strap or band, medicine ball, pull-up bar or stall bars and a lacrosse ball. There are countless resources on the internets to show you how to address specific issues, so figure out what hurts and learn how to stretch it.
I would also include the inversion table with this method. Spending a couple minutes each day before and after training hanging upside down really helps with blood flow and spinal decompression.
These methods are not listed in order, but I would rank nutrition at the top of the recovery hierarchy. When it comes to allowing your body to recover, there is nothing more important than eating (and sleeping). All those nutrients I’ve been talking about getting distributed to the muscles must come from somewhere.
It is important to note that exercise nutrition is very individual (as are most nutritional recommendations). You are unique, and what works for you may not work as well for someone else. The bottom line here is that you need to experiment and find what works best for you.
I also want to note here that I take a BCAA drink during exercise. I am not convinced that it helps me with anything related to physiological recovery. It is, however, very tasty and makes me feel good.
I use these when I am training very hard. The basic premise is that they aid your body in adapting to stress. The natural ones include Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea and a various assortment of herbs.
I also use Phosphatidylserine which is pretty good at reducing cortisol and can reduce the perception of pain related to exertion (exercise) and muscle soreness. I like 200-300 mg/day depending on training volume and general stress levels. It is recommended and tested at much higher levels and can get expensive at those levels. I like the lower dose but think its worth tinkering with for your body.
Supplements (General Health)
The other supplements I take include fish oil, tocotrionols, and melatonin. I find that taking higher doses of fish oil at night helps me sleep and the tocotrionols are a good general health supplement. I take small amounts of melatonin if I have trouble sleeping or getting to sleep.
I have tried ZMA but don’t feel a difference when I take it versus when I don’t.
I don’t take or recommend much here. Especially if you are living right and eating well. I do, however, take BCAA as mentioned above. They are tasty and sometimes the only reason I make it through training.
I also use small amounts of caffeine via green tea, and I try to limit that to before noon.
The most anabolic thing you can do is sleep. Get lots of it and make sure its high quality. Even if you have small children…
I like aerobic exercise on off / recovery days for a couple reasons.
First, simply moving blood through activity will provide quicker recover.
Second, improving your aerobic system will allow for harder and longer training sessions. As well as better inter-and-intra set recovery.
Overall these methods don’t take a lot of time and allow for prioritization. Figure out which works best for your schedule and budget. Spend your time and effort improving the methods you control- like sleep and nutrition. Then if you’re able to access the others, jump all over them.
Did I miss anything? I love hearing about new methods that work for other people.