The 5 important R’s – Review, Reward, Repair, Recovery and Re-set
Most athletes are exceptionally good at training and preparing for events, but few are fully versed in the importance of recovery and how, through an appropriate recovery regime, an athletes’ progression can be fast-tracked.
Athletes who fail to respect the recovery time may fall into the trap of getting back into training too soon after an event, well before full cellular recovery has occurred. This can impact on the athlete in several ways.
Competing can drain ‘our cup’ of essential goodies. Our bodies churn through essential macronutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients during an event in which extended exertion is required such as endurance running, swimming, cycling, triathlon and rowing events. If an athlete returns to training again too soon after the competition when ‘the cup’ is only half full and still not replenished, the athlete can further deplete their stores, so ultimately it takes longer to recover fully. Do this too often, and for extended periods of time, systems of the body start to show signs of serious nutrient depletion and unsavoury side effects and symptoms. Recurrent fatigue and adrenal dysfunction, emotional and mental burn-out and loss of motivation, training resistance, injuries that just don’t seem to resolve despite oodles of physical therapies, recurrent colds, infections, poor training endurance, digestive symptoms, sleep irregularities, hormonal fluctuations and menstrual cycle changes.
Rest and recovery is an essential part of any athlete’s program, in fact, experts would argue, it is more important than the training. Adaptation will only occur if resting is done well both mentally and physically. Here are some tips for athletes who are after some guidance around what a rest and recovery phase may include:
TOP 10 TIPS
- A review of your performance. A review does not mean dissecting every second of the event, but rather a subjective reflection of how you handled the challenge both physically and mentally. What did you do right? How many of your race goals did you tick off? What could you improve upon next time? (e.g. improve hydration and nutritional strategies, pacing, drinking on the run, relaxing more at the start). How would you handle the same event, conditions, training preparation and life circumstances if given another chance? What resources and strategies do you need to put in place to help you next time? What were some of the most cherished parts of the experience? Write all this down in your training diary. If you are puzzled about why things panned out the way they did, get some professional help and discuss this with your coach. If there are no apparent reasons for your performance outcome (and it was disappointing), don’t bash yourself up trying to find it. Sometimes we just need more time in the bank to facilitate enough adaptation for P.B’s (personal best times) to occur. It is also critical for athletes to recognise it isn’t just one event that determines success but rather the accumulation of training, competing and recovery over many seasons and years. These cycles of training and performance form the pages and chapters of your ‘book’.
- Initiate repair. Many sports use ice therapy to reduce inflammation after an event. Ice therapy not only reduces cellular inflammation but also restores core body temperature on a warm day. The downside to just using ice therapy is that it can exacerbate muscle tightness, slow heart rate and blood circulation and this, in turn, reduces elimination of waste and toxins naturally produced as a by-product of exercise. A holistic option that elite athletes use is ‘contrast therapy’ which acts as a full body ‘pump action’ that constricts blood vessels and capillaries but then expands them again to release the toxins and improves circulation, thus reducing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and muscle tightness. Contrast therapy includes 1 minute in a cold ice bath (1 x 5kg bag of ice per standard ½ filled bath) alternating with 3 minutes in a warm bath filled with two cups of magnesium salts (Epsom salts) or flakes, Celtic or Himalayan salt and relaxing anti-inflammatory oil blends such as calendula, lavender, Frankincense or chamomile. A cycle of rotating between warm and cold baths is carried out for 20 minutes but finishes in the cold. An easy way to set this up at home is by using two garbage bins or by getting a large storage bin from a hardware shop and placing this next to your bath in the bathroom. Sit or stand in the bins, so the water covers your hips. A soak in the ocean or cold creek combined with a hot shower can also be the next best thing to contrasting. Don’t forget to also get plenty of sleep and extra afternoon naps in the days after your event to enhance recovery. Get up and stretch and walk around every 20 -30 minutes throughout the day. Athletes also find flotation tanks, infrared saunas, compression tights and compression boots (inflatable leg length booties) helpful.
- Dampen down inflammation. There are lots of natural remedies that help the body to reduce inflammation post-event. Ingesting turmeric, Frankincense, and foods high in phytonutrients such as quercetin, lutein, lycopene and high-quality fish oil are just a few of the readily available options. Dosage within the therapeutic range, the suitable frequency of ingestion and selecting quality products and food sources is essential to ensure efficacy, and bioavailability of these goodies. Topically arnica and comfrey cream are absolute winners. Wintergreen and mustard seed oil are also popular options but just be careful where you choose to apply them to avoid a rather uncomfortable burning sensation!
- Celebrate! Regardless of the outcome, it is essential to reflect on your experience with gratitude, acknowledgement and to celebrate your success. Enjoying the process rather than the just the result can help you appreciate everything that went into the event. So often the first thing I hear athletes say is “I wish I’d got a better time or placing” rather than “I did my very best today given the circumstances, preparation and time investment I put into this challenge”. Take time to pause and celebrate rather than quickly jumping onto the next thing. Use this recovery time to mix up your routine, try something new and reconnect with friends and loved ones.
- Rewarding. Some people like to use food treats after an event like chocolate, ice-cream, hot chips or several glasses of alcohol. Just remember everything in moderation is the key! Try to put decent hydration (water and electrolytes) nutrition (especially adequate quality complex carbohydrates, protein and essential fatty acids) back into the fuel tank before the splurge on treats. Otherwise, you may feel frightful in the following days and delay recovery. Other reward options that are more beneficial to your body and mind include a gentle, nourishing massage, a spa treatment, a well earnt back scratch or head rub from a loved one or some retail therapy!
- The length of recovery. The old rule of thumb is to have a day’s rest for every mile (1.6km) of the race if it is a running event, for cycling or ironman events, it may take 3- 4 weeks. A more holistic approach is to stay in the recovery phase till you feel fully recharged mentally and physically plus a week. Then resume training in a slow progressive way that starts gently and allows you to climb in volume and intensity again rather than jumping straight back into the same level as you did before the event. Renew and rebuild, rather than continually expecting yourself to start again exactly where you left off. Always keep your coach or trainer well informed on how you are feeling both physically and mentally during your recovery process.
- Physical therapies. There is a wide range of effective treatments that aid recovery such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, dry needling, cupping, massage, podiatry, myotherapy, Bowen, Neurolink, kinesiology, chiropractic care, sports psychology, ortho-bionomy and Reiki. I have tried all of them, and I’d have to say the best recovery therapy to use is the one that resonates with you and works! Often it is a combination of therapies that aid recovery more efficiently rather than just expecting one modality to solve all the issues. For example: having a myotherapy treatment using dry needling, deep massage and gentle stretching on the same morning as an osteopathic treatment. This can help release the fascia and muscles in advance of osteotherapy so a spinal and nervous system treatment can be more effective and hold for longer.
- Active recovery. Laying on the couch is great for a few hours, but beyond that, it isn’t going to assist the recovery of tired, stiff muscles. Get moving again but without strain, force or effort. Some great recovery tools include gentle swimming and water running (hydrotherapy is an excellent way to help with peripheral and lymphatic circulation which helps to drain and clear the waste produced from exercise in a non-weight bearing manner). Others enjoy power walking, hill walking is especially good for tight hamstrings, elliptical training, easy cycling in a low gear and gentle walk/running on a softer surface like grass or dirt. Gentle clinical pilates and flow/ Vinyasa yoga are also excellent ways to help release tight muscles and gain full range of motion, especially in tight hips, shoulders, quads and calves. Regardless of your preference, the idea of active recovery is to keep it enjoyable, long enough to refresh the mind and body but not too long that it generates exhaustion and fatigue.
- Let go. Once you have celebrated and reflected on your experience, let it go. Hanging on to negative experiences can hinder future performances. Learn from the mistakes, have a plan to avoid them next time, then let any negative emotions attached to the experience go. If you had an awesome experience, also let it go. You are only as good as your last performance, and previous performances will not prevent poor performance in the future. Stay grounded, humble and appreciative of all experiences.
- Re-set. It is very normal for athletes to feel a bit ‘flat’ after an event. Setting another goal or event can be the best way to pull yourself out of ‘post-event blues’. Ensure the event forms part of a sensible long-term plan that includes periodisation and allows for adequate periods of strength, endurance and speed building.
If you would like to find out more about a holistic approach to training, performance and recovery, the Athlete Sanctuary specialises in helping athletes of all levels and ages optimise their abilities and achieve goals. Visit our website or book online at www.athletesanctary.com.au