Last week I gave a guest lecture to a high school hockey team about training and how to be more successful in the weight room. A common them was that many players don’t do all the things needed to be successful. I asked the team a question… “How many of you are currently doing things after games, practices, and lifting sessions to aid in your recovery ?” The resounding answer… 2 kids raised their hands, out of a group of 23 skaters. The other 21 didn’t know how to properly recover or even what that meant. So, before we move on I would like you to ask yourself that same question. If you answer YES to yourself thats a positive. But if you are like 90% of the teenage or college age athletes out there, there is a great chance that what you are doing now is barely even scratching the surface of what you could be doing to make sure your body heals properly after a hard training session or a long weekend road trip.
Now I understand that most people are on a tight schedule and on top of the time they spend lifting, the last thing they want to do is waste more time in the gym. But trust me, that extra 10 to 15 minutes in the gym will be invaluable to you, especially if your competition (and keep in mind this includes your teammates as well) is not doing the extra work as well.
Here are some tools to use post workout that will help your body recover properly.
* Bands – This is probably the easiest recovery method to do post workout. All you need is a medium or large size band. If the place where you train does not have them, take the time and buy one online. They are not expensive and it will be one of the best purchases you will ever make. If there is any method you do after lifting or a game to make sure your muscles recover properly, this is it.
This hamstring stretch is one of many quick stretches you can do following a lift or game with a band.
* Foam Roller – A foam roller is another must own piece of equipment for any athlete. Foam rolling is a form of recovery known as self-myofascial release, or SMR. To make sense of this for you we will just keep it simple. In your body, when a muscle is under changes in tension, a small receptor called a Golgi-Tendon Organ forces the muscle to relax, that way it does not stretch out more than it has to. Using a foam roller takes advantage of this by putting pressure on your muscles in different areas, causing the GTO’s to react, and relaxing your muscles, allowing them to be stretched to their full range of motion and for any abnormally tight areas to be relaxed to the point they return to normal. You can purchase a foam roller from a company or you can purchase a small piece of pvc pipe, which works better than a foam roller because it is harder and causes more pressure. But if you have never done this before, start out with a basic foam roller, then graduate to the pvc pipe. Here is a helpful video that will show you all of the things you can do with a foam roller.
* Spinal Decompression – This is a form of recovery that is mainly done after performing movements that are heavy on the spine such as squats and deadlifts. When you squat, the heavy load on the back will cause the spine to compress slightly, which if you recover properly, is nothing to fly to the chiropractor about, but if you do not take care of yourself, your back and hips could be paying the price later. Spinal decompression can be performed many different ways. One of the easiest and quickest ways is to hang from the chin or pull-up bar with your legs and arms fully extended. Relax your body and focus on your breathing to allow your spine to decompress fully. Hang there for about 15 to 30 seconds. Another way to perform this would be to hang off of a glute ham. It will look like you are in the bottom portion of a back extension. Relax your body, focus on slowing your breathing down and breathing through your nose. You should hang there for 2 minutes. The last way to perform this is with a piece of equipment called an inversion table, such as the product called the Teeter Hang Ups inversion table. The same guidelines apply for the inversion table as they do for hanging on the glute ham.
Next I will go over some relaxation and recovery methods that you can perform outside of the weight room that will help your body heal.
* Contrasting Shower – Contrasting a shower with hot and cold water in a great recovery method that promotes blood flow to the muscles. It should be done with alternating hot water and cold water, 30 seconds each, for 5 minutes. When finished, the shower should always end with cold water. Be aware that this contrast will have a high shocking effect on the nervous system and should only be done once a week at most.
* Sauna – If you have access to a sauna this a great recovery method for post-training or competition to sweat out any toxins that may be in your body. The temperature should be anywhere from 170 to 200 degrees F to get the best results. A guideline for the sauna is 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 10 minutes in, 5 minutes out. By adding Eucalyptus oil to the water being used in the sauna, there will be an increase in the relaxing and theraputic effect caused by the sauna.
* Massage – Massage is a recovery method that applies the same principles as using a foam roller. It can be used strictly for relaxation, such as on a download week to help the body and mind recover, or it can be applied using a method known as Neuromuscular Re-education. This type of massage should be painful as the therapist will be applying large amounts of pressure on the muscles specifically for deep tissue work. An athlete should not go in for this type of treatment if they are already sore from training or competition because the pain level would be too high. Recovery time from this type of massage is 1-2 days.
* Sleep – This is a form of recovery that is sometimes over-looked. Everyone has heard that you need to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and this is very very true. But it goes a lot further than that. Along with getting a certain number of hours of sleep each night, an athlete should also go to bed at or around the same time every night to ensure that they get the best quality of sleep possible. The reason for this is because, when you have a certain routine you follow every night, it tells your body that it is time to go into shut down mode and that this is time to recover. For example, here is my routine:
- I always try to go to bed during the week around 10:30 or 11. (Going to sleep after midnight will diminish the quality of sleep you get). The reason why is because your body functions on natural circadian rhythyms and your body releases certain hormones throughout the night regardless of when you go to bed. If you go to bed at 10pm your body releases these hormones at the right time.. If you go to bed at 2am, the hormones are not going to get done what they need to get done. This is a DUMBED down version of endocrinology during your sleep, but email us if you want more detail.
- Eat some yogurt and drink a pre-bed shake along with taking my supplements to help me recover.
- Turn most of the lights off including the TV about 20 minutes before I plan on going bed.
This is nothing insane but it helps to tell my body that it is time to shut it down. And if there are any nights where I get thrown off of my pre-bed routine, I will feel it in the morning at work.
Take some time at the end of your workout and at the end of the day to make sure your body recovers properly so you are ready to get after it again tomorrow.
By Steve Volek