Let’s talk recovery. Seriously, how much effort do you actually put into your recovery? Sure the fun is had on the mat. It’s where the progress is made, the will is tested, relationships are forged, and the stress of your day is smashed. It’s why we pay those hefty monthly dues, sacrifice the happy hours with friends and coworkers, and forgo those comfortable evenings with ol’ pal Netflix. It’s our sanctuary.
As with any exercise program however, changes are made outside of the training room. We’ve all heard time and time again, recovery is so important…do yoga..foam roll..sleep 8-10 blah blah. Yes, we know these things are important, but how often do you actually do something to enhance recovery? I’m a big believer in the idea that repetition creates habit, so I’m here to repeat AGAIN how important recovery is, and what you should do outside of the gym to reduce overtraining, prevent injury, and increase performance.
MEASURE YOUR RESTING HEART RATE
A simple, yet effective way to test for overtraining is to measure your resting heart rate (RHR) every day. The best time to get a true reading of your RHR is upon waking. Simply download a free Heart Rate monitor app on your phone and take your heart rate every day when you wake up. The hardest part is actually remembering to do this, but it will truly help if you can commit. After you’ve taken your heart rate for 7 days, calculate the average by adding all of the rates up and dividing by 7. This is your average resting heart rate. Remember it. Now in the future, you can compare your RHR on any day to this average to determine if you should train or take the day off. If your RHR is plus or minus 7 beats from your average RHR, then you’re over-trained and should rest. There are some fancier, more high-tech devices out now to determine overtraining but this is a quick, simple, and effective way to test your bodies readiness to train. Try it for a few weeks and see what happens.
TEMPERATURE SHOCK THERAPY
Temperature Shock Therapy may not be a clinical term (I made it up), but it’s what I use to describe methods of recovery/performance enhancement techniques that subject the body to dramatic changes in temperature, mainly high heat or below freezing temperatures. The two main methods are cryotherapy and saunas.
Whole body cryotherapy (WBC), through the use of “cryosaunas,” has gained popularity as of late, and treatment locations seem to be popping up like hot cakes. The method involves subjecting the body to extremely low temperatures (200* to 240* degrees below Fahrenheit) via liquid nitrogen for periods of 1 to 3 minutes. Providers tout the beneficial effects on recovery via reduced inflammation, reduced pain, and increased endorphin release.
In one study, cryotherapy showed an improvement in recovery during high-intensity intermittent exercise via improved oxygenation of working muscles, and decreased cardiovascular strain. While another study showed a decrease in pro-inflammatory proteins in the blood of exercisers after 10 sessions of WBC.
With a lack of abundant scientific evidence, the jury is still out on WBC, however, many users hype the dramatic reduction in overall body pain, quote feeling great after treatment, and describe a noticeable improvement in their recovery time and workout performance. If you can afford the pricey (typically $70/session) treatment, WBC may be an effective way to improve recovery, reduce inflammation, and get back on the mats quicker and more ready to perform.
High heat recovery methods have been around for some time and the Soviets may have been ahead of their time as the pioneers of sauna therapy for athletes. Today, there is an abundance of research to support the benefits of heat shock therapy, specifically, that of infrared saunas.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a PhD who has released a wealth of info on the benefits of infrared saunas including “physiological adaptations that result in increased endurance, easier acquisition of muscle mass, and a general increased capacity for stress tolerance.” The studies she references showed benefits from 30-minute sauna sessions, 2x per week after training. Although, this was enough to elicit changes, she goes on to suggest more frequent sessions will lead to more powerful and longer-term benefits.
Other sources cite the sauna’s ability to improve circulation, rid toxins via sweat, improve sleep, and strengthen the immune system. If you’re not experimenting with infrared saunas, it may be a good time to crank up the heat.
Ice baths are another form of “cryotherapy” that propose similar benefits to cryosaunas. Several coaches and athletes swear by the recovery benefits of submerging the body in baths of ice for extended periods of time, with promises of decreased muscle soreness, flushing waste products from the muscles, and reduced swelling and muscle breakdown. However, the most proven benefit is a decreased perception of pain.
We’ve all sprained an ankle or twisted a knee and were told to ice the injury. Ice may reduce swelling and restrict blood flow, but it definitely lowers your perception to pain. No acceleration in the healing process has actually been measured from icing, however, decreasing pain may allow you to come back quicker. Kobe Bryant was known to ice his knees after every game, and he was also known for his durability and rarely missing games. Perhaps conviction in icing had a bit to do with his durability, but that can be said about anything. If you believe in the power of these recovery methods, you might just benefit a bit more from them.
Some researchers say you don’t actually have to use ice to get the benefits from cold-water immersion. Rather, cold water alone is enough to elicit a response. Either way, cold-water submersion won’t hurt you, so why not give it a shot and see how you feel. There is no set protocol on this one but users suggest dips of 5-15 minutes…or however long you can last!
Another technique used by athletes is contrast therapy, where you immerse yourself in ice water for typically 1 minute, then in hot water for 2 minutes, repeatedly about 3 times. The theory is that repeatedly constricting then relaxing the blood vessels will promote circulation and flush the body of waste, i.e. lactic acid/toxins. Although some research has shown benefits to recovery, they were no greater than ice baths or other recovery methods that will be discussed later in this series. One thing to note however, in much of the research I performed, recovery or perceived recovery was improved in many subjects using hydrotherapy compared to those who did not. So, in other words, something (contrast baths/ice baths/etc.) is better than nothing (passive rest between workouts) with regards to recovery.
- Measure your heart rate every morning upon rising to determine an average. Compare your future waking heart rate to this average to determine if you’re overtrained. If waking heart rate is plus or minus 7 beats from average, take the day off and rest.
- If you can afford it, experiment with Cryotherapy via cryosaunas to reduce inflammation and accelerate recovery.
- Thirty-minute infrared sauna sessions, twice a week, is enough to elicit beneficial physiological effects and improve performance and recovery, however more frequent use is suggested.
- Ice baths may improve recovery time mainly via reduction of residual pain from intense exercise. Aim for dips of 5-15 mintues.
- Contrast baths inconclusively may be effective at flushing the body of metabolic waste, however, are proven to be more effective for recovery than passive rest between workouts.