Driving physical adaptations from a training program requires the blending of three key elements – training, nutrition and recovery. Training gets the most exposure, as it’s the most easily controlled of the three and lets face it man has been trying to get strong by picking up heavy objects since the beginning of time.
Nutrition has also come a long way in the last 5-10 years. Gone are the days of high carb diet, low fat diets (remember those cardboard snacks that were all the rage) Increasingly, as are the days of truly low or no carb diets. Balance in your diet and nutrition is important as well.
Where many people miss the boat, however, is recovery. Recovery should be simple – get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, stretch in between workouts, foam roll, etc. But how many people actually do these things? Many people are shocked at how much better they feel, and how much harder they can train, when they simple get enough sleep. It sounds simple (and it is!), but it makes a profound difference.
The most basic and probably most important recovery strategy first; how much sleep are you getting?
Reduced sleep for a prolonged period of time can decrease insulin sensitivity, testosterone and other anabolic hormones associated with muscle growth and strength increases are acutely suppressed with sleep deprivation. There is actually mixed evidence as to whether missing a night of sleep impairs workout performance. Although it would be safe to say that it does not help, and could potentially hinder. If your training intensely you need to be shooting for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, though this varies from individual to individual and more maybe required.
Another thing to consider is the quality of your sleep. Strategies such as manipulating light exposure for brighter white/blue/green lights in the morning and dimmer red/pink lights (or just darkness) at night definitely does aid in maintaining a proper sleep cycle. Supplements, such as melatonin, can also be used to help with sleep latency (time required to fall asleep) and abstaining from stimulants or introducing relaxing molecules (lavender and theanine) may aid in sleep quality.
Research has also pointed to shifting the majority of your protein towards the morning, and perhaps having a small carbohydrate-containing meal at night, could theoretically aid in maintaining a proper circadian rhythm.
Diet and supplementation
I will admit nutrition is not necessarily my area of expertise, so I’ll leave specific recommendations to the experts in this industry. John Berardi over at precision nutrition is one such expert whom I whole-heartedly recommend.
For the purpose of this article, it will suffice to say your body needs macronutrients to build and repair muscle when engaged in physical training. Eat a high amount of nutritional dense foods throughout the day. A post workout shake consisting of a protein powder and a carbohydrate in a 2:1 ratio, will also massively aid recovery from your workouts. Daily supplements in the form of multi-vitamins and fish oil will ensure appropriate micronutrient levels and in my experience have value for almost all.
Personally I don’t think it’s possible to overdo foam rolling. I’ll foam roll pre workout, post workout, even the night after a heavy workout, or the day before to get nice and loose. Foam rolling definitely works!
The fascial system is like a web that covers every bone, muscle, artery, vein, etc. in the body. The problem occurs when areas of the myofascia are restricted or damaged, it pulls on surrounding areas. If an area in the middle of your thigh is restricted, the surrounding areas between your knee and hip would get short and tight. Therefore your restriction in the middle of your thigh is the cause of the problem, but it may manifests itself in your upper thigh or around your knee; in fact, it could even damage areas that are very far away from your leg!
Foam rollers are used to release myofascial tissues and restore the body to its optimal state. Simply roll on the foam roller with pretty much any area of the body you can think of (IT band, calves, hamstrings, quads, adductors, back, lats are the usual suspects) complete 2 or 3 passes, pausing on areas of soreness for 15-20 seconds.
As great as SMR/foam rolling is, they definitely aren’t a replacement for quality, hands-on manual therapy.
Pricey? I have to admit yes.
Worth it? Absolutely.
Not only can hands-on therapies address tissues and restrictions that you simply can’t touch with a foam roller or lacrosse ball, but the quality of your movement will improve drastically as well.
These two options are staples in our recovery routines because of their ease of use.
One of the simplest things you can do post-workout is to ice down the specific joints you trained that day. Now obviously, icing down your hips can be a challenge. But the extremities (shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, etc.) are pretty easy to get at.
Contrast showers and baths are one of the easiest methods for speeding recovery after an intense workout. The hot water stimulates dilation of the blood vessels, while the cold water produces constriction. This contrast effect aids in the mobilization and removal of metabolic wastes, and brings fresh blood and nutrients to the damaged area to speed recovery.
The premise here is simple: Treat the area trained most intensely (e.g. low back following heavy deadlifts) with 1 minute of hot water, followed by 30 seconds of cold water; this is considered one circuit. Perform 3-5 circuits and always end on cold!
Dynamic mobility and static stretching
If you’re big, stiff, or beat-up, simply going through your dynamic warm-up on your off-days is a great way to groove better movement and restore lost function.
Static stretching seems like it’s been around since the dawn of time, but has fallen from favour rather of late. Static stretching makes this list because of its role in promoting recovery.
According to Supertraining by Mel Siff stretching increases the range of useful movement of a muscle, reduces the incidence of injury, decreases the severity of injury, delay the onset of muscular fatigue, prevent and alleviate muscle soreness after exercise, increase in muscular efficiency and prolongation of sporting life.
Low intensity cardio/Pool workout
“Cardio” seems to be getting a bad rap these days. Unfortunately, I think that’s due more to a lack of understanding and/or poor application than anything else.
Low intensity cardio such as walking, rowing, riding a stationary bike, or even pushing a Prowler/dragging a sled are fantastic for flushing metabolic waste from the muscles and providing nutrition to the joints.
The key words here are LOW INTENSITY. Keep it light and remember this is for recovery purposes – nothing more, nothing less.
The pool is a fantastic option for your low intensity cardio. The buoyancy is great for your joints, not to mention the fact there’s a fantastic therapeutic effect to hanging out in water.
Remember muscle growth occurs in the recovery time between workouts. Train hard for sure, but recover hard too!