Is recovery really the forgotten pillar of performance?
It just might be, if it’s an element of your personal health and wellbeing that you’ve not been focusing on!
More often than not the question that people ask us about how to progress or getting through a sicking point with their training is always related to which drill or exercise they need to be doing or what part of their technique they need to be working on. These are all relevant questions but more often than not we are just not strong enough and the question we might be better off asking is;
“How can I recover better so that I get more out of my training sessions?”
That’s because if you want to progress at any bodyweight movement there’s always no substitute for being stronger. Strength is the bedrock upon which we can build progression. Being stronger makes you more resilient, able to handle a higher work capacity and intensities and can even make your handstand balance easier – when you have strength in abundance the brain can focus on the skill rather than worry about the strength to keep you up in your handstand!
Now strength and recovery go hand in hand – like a marriage.
You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t train you don’t require the recovery. If you do train but don’t recover you’ll not gain strength. So when we are investing in our physical pension, we’re building strength, mobility and body control (hopefully). Ensuring we recover properly between sessions is hugely important to our progress and progress is important because it keeps us all motivated when we see ourselves moving forward.
Before we get into the practical things you can do to improve your recovery, I think its beneficial to understand what we are recovering from and what the research literature says… so let me introduce you to DOMS.
Hopefully at some point in your training life you have experienced some level of muscle soreness after a session. Muscle soreness can be fairly individual from person to person but can peak up to 48 hours after a training session. The type and intensity of the training session will dictate the level of muscle soreness experienced as well as the individual’s training history .
One of the biggest factors effecting the soreness you’ll feel is how novel the training is . Or in simple terms, how new the intensity and or exercises are to you. If you do a particularly high intensity session (higher than you are used to) and couple that we various exercises you’ve never done before, even throw in some slow eccentrics and you’re pretty much guaranteed some muscle soreness, so the literature states – and so does my personal experience!
Now muscle soreness is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s part of the recovery process, what we need to ensure is that we are giving ourselves enough time and the right tools to manage the soreness as part of our recovery. One of the biggest suggestions from the literature if giving yourself enough time to recovery . Yes time. Rather than training again whilst the soreness is still high, waiting. That can be hard right?
Well the other good news from the literature is that ‘active recovery’ or low level exercise is the most effective means of alleviating pain during DOMS . So keeping moving is key, but lowering the intensity and easing off the body parts or movement patterns you’ve just trained is recommended.
Now if you are required to train back to back days the literature states,
“Athletes who must train on a daily basis should be encouraged to reduce the intensity and duration of exercise for 1-2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise.”
Now I would emphasise the ‘must train’ part of that sentence – do you ‘have to train’ or do you just want to train, day after day? That only really applied to you, if like me, you are a little addicted and prone to overtraining – the challenge in that case is do you really need to? In fact is it actually holding you back? Maybe…
Now in terms of practical things you can try to help improve your recovery above and beyond light exercise and simply waiting, we’ll list below, but first note that it’s not black and white .
There are still many unanswered questions relating to DOMS, and many potential areas for future research
Therefore it’s very much a test and try for yourself approach, to see what your body likes and what your body responds best to.
One things for certain from a physiological perspective is that training is a ‘stressor’. It’s a positive stress but it does engage us in our flight or flight (sympathetic) response. In order for the body to be in a state of recovery for the repair process from that ‘stress’ we need to engage in things that promote our rest, digest & recover (parasympathetic) response.
Below are a number of things that help with that recovery response that we personally use and recommend to professional athletes we’ve worked with over the years – and we’d love to recommend for you to try.
Now some of them require nothing more than a bit of time to plan better training habits, sleep hygiene, nutritional practises and we suggest getting these basics in order first before investing in any products that we like to use – they are like the icing on the cake.
Thanks for reading, we hope this gives you some ideas and practical solutions you can start to implement to help with your recovery from training as we all continue to invest in our physical pension.
 Sports Med 2003; 33 (2): 145-164: Delayed onset muscle soreness: Treatment strategies and performance factors – click here
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