“Elite” sport requires high-volume and high-intensity training that inevitably induces neuromuscular fatigue detrimental for physical performance. Improving recovery processes is, therefore, fundamental and to this, a wide variety of recovery modalities could be proposed. In this comprehensive article, I will try to mention everything you need to know on this interesting topic (with my weak side to write a bit wider…). I know, it’s pretty demanding work… Anyway, you can thank me later 🙂 . Enjoy!
First and foremost, I will be talking mostly about acute fatigue (long story short, if not managed well – acute fatigue leads to chronic fatigue, which means injuries, illness, out of competition for a while and similar…). There are literally thousands upon thousands of articles on how to train, but very few on how to recover… We all know that proper recovery matters equally as proper training in modern soccer (sport in general). The ironic thing is that it’s recovery that actually drives improvements in your fitness (all that’s worth happens during recovery). Anyway, if somebody get recovered faster, he/she gets a chance to do more training sessions, which potentially leads to better overall performance. For example, if one pro team plays 80 games a year, they can do “nothing” during 240 days (maybe even more) a year (from the S&C standpoint – development), because the day before and after game (at least) they are unable to do that much… Simply said, training volume needs to be reduced (and load in general very often – one short period in order to prevent overtraining) and training by itself needs to be smarter in order to keep step with modern pro sport. And the players who play less games during the year have better chance not to fail during the big competition (World cup for example) at the end of their in-season phase. Furthermore, research say that players who play 2 games a week have 6 times more chance for an injury. So, we need to pay as much attention to our recovery as we do to our training! Some players recover really quickly, while others do not (it depends on the individual). But, anyway, everyone will benefit from faster recovery by using additional, “reliable” methods. Those players who recover quickly will have a bit more advantage, of course.
“Full recovery is not possible with just two rest days between games. Teams with only two days rest score significantly less goals and concede significantly more goals in the last part of the game. This is clear proof that the unfair play is a result of player fatigue in last 30 minutes of the game after only two days rest. Teams with only two days rest win significantly less games against teams with three or more days rest.” – Raymond Verheijen.
For full post-game recovery, we need MINIMUM 3 days (most players). FIFA/UEFA has solved this problem pretty well. Tournaments (World cup for example) last around 32 days, National teams play around 7 games with 4-5 days of rest between – simply perfect! But, almost anywhere else, unfortunately, it’s still all about money solely – or something else (not about players’ health and max performance). I don’t know if it’s because of ignorance or not, but something needs to be changed ASAP.
Explosive muscle performance is enhanced 24h after power training. It seems that doing power training 1 day prior to competition is useful? It definitely makes sense, but that training can’t be long, and it should be combined with game related work (an entire training shouldn’t exceed 1 hour…). We are witnesses that number of hours (when it comes to training) has been reducing (the most exhausting sports) in last 20-30 years in general, but trainings are of higher quality – which is, honestly, a very smart approach.
There are many ways to look at fatigue. One common breakdown is peripheral fatigue and central fatigue. Peripheral muscular fatigue is simply the physical stress, break down, accumulation of metabolites, and depletion of glycogen that muscles experience during training (strength tr. mainly). This decreases strength, power, and performance and causes muscle soreness. Central fatigue is a bit different (an endurance exercise produces a high level of CNS fatigue). If you think about it, it makes sense that the central nervous system doesn’t fatigue easily. Muscle fatigue is easy to imagine: it can occur mechanically. Muscle fibers can literally tear from the tension of hard contractions. For the CNS many people speak of ‘’neural fatigue’’. The CNS is more similar to a computer than a muscle. A computer doesn’t fatigue with use. Sure, it can overheat and over the years it can become slower, but it doesn’t fatigue acutely…
The literature tends to show that central fatigue is minimal after short-duration, high-intensity exercise (strength training), but is much greater after exercise of low intensity and longer duration. Strength tr. – more peripheral fatigue (inside the muscle-tendon unit). Cardio, or light strength-endurance tr. – more central fatigue (CNS). Remember that neither heavy strength training nor light load power training cause central fatigue that impedes performance on the following day. Thats why many athletes lift (high intensity short duration) the day before or on the game day (around 6 hours before competition) – it will move CNS/body arousal up but not fatigue you (one of the most important things right before competition). This arousal/readiness will stay up next 15 hours at least.
MUSCLE DAMAGE is likely a major factor to consider in an attempt to explain post-match fatigue (characterized by muscle soreness, increased passive muscle stiffness, muscle swelling, prolonged reduction in maximal muscle force production…, so paying more attention to this while choosing recovery method makes more sense). “You can tell you are causing muscle damage because of the burning you will feel during exercise and the soreness in that muscle you feel four to eight hours later” (Strength & Conditioning Journal, October 2013;35(5):16–21). Mental fatigue is an additional factor to consider in the attempt to explain post soccer match fatigue. In summary, central fatigue seems to be the main cause of the decline in maximal voluntary contraction and sprinting ability, whereas peripheral fatigue seems to be more related to increased muscle soreness and therefore seems very likely linked to muscle damage and inflammation. Post-match fatigue may be associated with glycogen depletion, muscle damage and mental fatigue. We will return to this interesting topic later…
Ok, let’s start teasing with hydration… Plain water immediately after the game (replace 1.5x fluid lost) is very important because glycogen replenishment can’t be done without water (aside other important stuff that water is doing). Proper glycogen repletion is very important for proper overall recovery.
Research say that 48h after the game, the glycogen concentration is still much reduced in high threshold muscle fibers (eccentric-induced muscle damage). The full glycogen repletion takes up to 72h pretty often… which means that speed training is not the best choice 48h after the game (as we are told), we need to be fully recovered for it (3 days after the game, most players still have around 9% of sprint declination; even strength declination is 25-35%). We will be discussing more about post-game nutrition later…
The question is, what we can do to speed up the high threshold muscle fibers recovery (because they are important for the next game, and they are damaged after the previous game or explosive training of higher volume)? But first, a short explanation… Ok, if we make HT m. fibers tired after game, it doesn’t make much sense to activate slow twitch muscle fibers in order to speed up recovery. THE DAY AFTER, we should actually engage fast twitch m. fibers (HT) to stimulate their faster recovery (and maybe after that, the day off – if the schedule allows us… but that’s another topic – we are talking about dense/tight schedule), but in a specific way: short training, concentric-contraction-only moves and trying not to make them even more tired after that (long rest periods between sets). The eccentric (lowering or negative) movements can cause damage to the muscle and increase soreness, and it’s essentially the eccentric activity that you need to recover from. The best active recovery exercises are non-eccentric or mostly non-eccentric movements. As such, you can do them on your recovery days to increase overall blood flow (among other things), which improves recovery. An ideal example is one specific protocol on mechanical static bicycle (fast rotations every 2-3 seconds per each leg, around 15 mins long first part – 5 mins rest – and 15 mins more). This is a perfect but very boring choice considering psychology of one team sport athlete. Therefore, there are a bunch of good examples of what we can do in team sports as well. We can do a “step up” exercise (quick moves up in order to activate fast twitch m. fibers. We can do a bodyweight squat, but VERY SLOW ecc. moves and VERY FAST conc. moves. Reverse lunge is an excellent choice as well (better than forward lunges because of higher forces on joints in this case, but forward WALKING lunges could be a bit better choice than forward lunges). It’s important to shake legs between each set – because the main aim is not to make fast twitch fibers tired by doing this recovery protocol (and shaking will help – because it activates parasympathetic nervous system). You can use a deadlift, or deadlift variation, and drop the weight at the top of the lift (assuming you have a suitable platform). Doing this essentially eliminates the eccentric load and reduces total stress on various tissues while still driving blood into them. Maybe the best recovery protocol would be making some combinations because if we do 1 move ONLY for half hour (no matter how long rests are) our players could get some soreness which is not good. For example, short mobility-stability warm up, then 7-8 mins of fast walking or very slow running, step up – 1 min, slow running 1 min. (repeating step up and slow running parts 1 or 2 times more), then some running (70-80% of max speed, 30m in around 5 seconds – 30 seconds rest to get back to starting position, around 3 sets total), then 5 mins of slow running and gentle stretching (up to 80% of max) mixed with shaking at the end. It takes 25-30 mins for the entire protocol. Of course, we mentioned concentric contraction only, but this type of running doesn’t make them sore because players use to do it, plus there is no heavy ecc. contractions. When it comes to this philosophy, it makes sense that pool can be a good option as well (always concentric c., whatever move you want – ”killing 2 birds with 1 stone”…) but, of course, not too long because moving in water has its own cons.
Of course, by simply going through a bit prolonged warm-up only (mobility/stability/activation work) on athletes’ off-days, you can find a great way to groove better movement and restore lost function. It’s often not enough, but this approach could speed up recovery as well, not to mention good feeling and so forth…
“Being consistent with training is as important as being consistent with rest. One can’t thrive without the other.” – Eric Cressey (and if we can speed recovery up, it’s magical)
Now, let’s take a look at the most popular recovery methods first, and try to explain pros and cons of them (we will skip a passive rest this time because it’s not effective for quick recovery). When it comes to some of them, I will not be writing about protocols because I think that it shouldn’t be applied by physical prep. coaches.
Active recovery the day after or immediately after game or hard training doesn’t make much sense, although we have been using this method for over 50 years (low intensity low volume running mainly). The main aim of this method is to reduce/remove lactic acid and similar in a faster way. Active recovery really does this, but there is one problem – lactic a. turns back to normal level after around 90 mins of passive recovery. Lactic a. is not correlated to DOMS, and it seems that DOMS (micro muscle lesions and its consequences) and similar has the biggest influence on decreasing performance after game (CNS recovery is pretty fast as well, it takes no more than few hours, or few mins very often when it comes to strength training solely). The link between the speed of removing lactic a. after game or training and quality of the next training or game doesn’t exist or it’s very weak (Weltman et al, 1997). Ok, because the link can be weak but EXISTING – probably because long-duration cardio performed at a low intensity upregulates hormones and neurotransmitters that are conducive to the recovery state (and if players used to do it and they feel great after), I suggest doing it immediately after game/training for 15-20 mins – around 60% of max heart rate (I would choose fast walking, stationary bike or swimming pool because of less compressive forces on used joints compared to running – and if we don’t have a day after to recover it’s maybe better to do an acute recovery like active recovery than nothing). But from the psychological standpoint, I believe it’s very hard to do this post games for most players.
But 1 light training in nature (different surroundings – changing environment) after hundreds of them indoor (or at soccer field) could make some positive change when it comes to faster recovery (neural pathways recovery/refresh).
Matt Fitzgerald says that recovery training (running for example) the day after is not recovery training, it’s a work capacity training because players are still tired. CNS recognizes damaged muscle fibers (micro lesions) and inhibits them while running, so CNS will need to engage adjacent muscle fibers (that’s why it’s a work capacity training, he says).
Light movement immediately after game/training could be named cool-down as well. “It’s an activity that involves voluntary, low – to moderate – intensity exercise or movement performed within 1h after training and competition. An active cool-down does generally not improve sports performance later on the same day and may even have small detrimental effects. Conflicting findings have been reported for the effects of an active cool-down on next-day(s) performance, with some studies reporting small to moderate magnitude benefits of an active cool-down and others reporting trivial effects or small decreases. Most studies did however report trivial effects, some studies reported beneficial effects and only a few studies reported harmful effects.” (Van Hooren & Peake, 2018)
Power plate is one of the recovery techniques as well. Frequency of 25-50 Hz per second can speed up removing metabolic products, at the muscle fibers level. But, because of the same reasons mentioned above (active rec.), many think that this fact doesn’t work when it comes to better/faster “game readiness”, although “five minutes of massage on a Power Plate at either 30 Hz or 50 Hz significantly increases the skin blood flow and thus circulation in the arms” (Colleen Maloney-Hinds et al, 2008). “Despite evidence from previous studies (Bakhtiary et al., 2007, Marin et al., 2012) suggesting potential benefit, we found no significant mean improvements in peak power, mean power and fatigue index for either WAT after a single 10-min bout of LBV or LBVC recovery treatments, compared to no vibration and no cooling.” (Svetlana Nepocatych et al, 2015)
Massage is very popular recovery method and a lot of athletes are actually very addicted. We are using massage as a recovery tool because we traditionally believe that massage: reduces edema, speed up blood flow (which feeds muscles better, reduces lactic a. faster…), reduces DOMS, speed up healing of micro muscle lesions. But there are a few issues with massage: massage doesn’t speed up blood flow through treated region but even reduces it because of increasing blood flow through the skin around (Tiidus, 1995, Hints, 2004); massage doesn’t reduce feeling of muscle soreness (DOMS) (Shoemaker, 1997); massage can even worsen muscle trauma and micro lesions appeared after game (Barnett, 2006); massage doesn’t have any positive influence on increasing strength and power during recovery process (Zianuddiin, 2005). These are just few of them, but the most studies doesn’t support massage as a powerful recovery tool. Muscles need blood in order to recover better (blood brings everything needed for recovery), and massage doesn’t help that process. But we can’t separate a therapist from therapy (hmmm, everything is psychology…), plus gentle touch of some body parts makes athletes already feel better. Some research have concluded that 20 mins of massage after hard and exhaustible training or game reduces muscle pain but without any other effect. Nobody has shown convincingly that massage hastens muscle recovery or increases contraction strength (J Athl Train, 2005 Jul-Sep; 40(3): 174–180). Massage did not hasten short or long-term recovery and was less effective for recovery than light exercise (J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, Feb 1997;25(2):107–12).
At the end, massage RELAXES very well, and that’s the main reason why most athletes like it…
Water therapy (cryotherapy, contrast therapy / thermotherapy…) is very popular recovery tool as well. Cryotherapy – 12-14 degrees (celsius), 10-15 mins; contrast therapy – cold : warm/hot water = 1 : 3 (1 min cold water, 3 mins warm/hot water… finishing with cold water; or 10-15s alternately – 5-6 mins)…
Cryotherapy could even lower testosterone level in blood which is not good during recovery. But cooling your body 2-5mins pre-game (ice cold water in barrels – whole body in) may lead to better psycho-physical abilities in pro soccer players, but ONLY when it’s TOO HOT outside. That can cause less sweating during game. It makes sense that cold shower before game stimulates the athlete and increases arousal, but remember that almost everything is individual – no “one size fits all” approach.
The idea behind water therapy is: water pressure doesn’t allow edema to grow, and cold water (along with water pressure) reduce skin blood flow which increases heart b. flow and, long story short, it speeds recovery up and make it better. But there are a few issues with water therapy: contrast therapy doesn’t reduce DOMS (Cheung et al., 2003); contrast therapy doesn’t speed up recovery of strength parameters after competition (Howatson, 2003); cryotherapy after training can reduce adaptive mechanisms when it comes to AVERAGE athletes (Yamane, 2006); there was no evidence that cooling affects any objective recovery variable in a significant way during a 96 hrs recovery period (Hohenauer et al, 2015). These are just few of them (the last one is a big met analysis which makes this evidence even stronger), but the most studies doesn’t support water therapy as a powerful recovery tool. Contrast therapy may reduce lactic acid and other metabolic poisons – it’s great, but research have found that it doesn’t speed up recovery. A growing body of evidence indicates that inflammation is a necessary process for tissue regeneration and, as such, regular use of cold water immersion may impair long-term muscular and vascular adaptations to exercise. The same with ice application (inflammation after injury is needed because our immune cells require that, but unfortunately we would like to recover athletes “faster” – not better…). 6 hours after an injury, ice doesn’t have any positive effect (if had any but reducing pain sensation…). Immediately after injury, we can apply ice in order to reduce pain sensation (no more than 10 mins straight because we need to avoid a deep vasoconstriction, and not on the “naked” skin – 20 mins brake – repeat 2-3 times). Some studies have shown that ice could reduce a “secondary damage” risk after injury. Proper application of cryotherapy can reduce secondary injury and reduce edema formation if applied within the first 36 to 48 hours (remember, ice doesn’t reduce swelling after the acute injury phase, and may not play a huge role in inflammation or recovery). We do know that ice helps reduce pain, spasm, and guarding, allowing more mobility (Barber et al. 1998, Raynor et al. 2005). More than anything, ice is a convenient and potent pain reliever, so it’s ok to apply ice to ‘chronic’ conditions as a safer pain reliever at any time. In fact, cryotherapy has been shown to decrease the amount of prescription pain medications needed after surgery (Barber et al. 1998, Raynor et al. 2005). There is no direct evidence that icing reduces the healing process. In contrast, research supports the fact that ice does not impede healing (Vieira Ramos et al., 2016). So, there is no black or white answer, but it’s shown that ice doesn’t help long-term. If it helps you short-term whatever it is, great, do it. Icing offers pain relief but delays recovery from DOMS (J Strength Cond Res, May 2013;27(5):1354–61), weakens muscles and impairs training (Eur J Appl Physiol, Mar 2006;96(5):572–80). Gabe Mirkin (founder of the RICE protocol) now claims that ice can even prolong healing/recovery process (there are a few good articles at his website on this topic).
“The key findings were that cold water immersion substantially attenuated long-term gains in muscle mass and strength, and delayed and/or suppressed the activity of satellite cells and kinases in the mTOR pathway during recovery from strength exercise. We propose that regular deficits in acute hypertrophy signaling in muscle after cold water immersion accumulated over time, which in turn resulted in smaller improvements in strength and hypertrophy. The present findings contribute to an emerging theme that cold water immersion and other strategies (e.g., antioxidant supplements, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that are intended to mitigate and improve resilience to physiological stress associated with exercise may actually be counterproductive to muscle adaptation. This investigation offers the strongest evidence to date that using cold water immersion on a regular basis may interfere with training adaptations.” (Peake et al., 2015).
It seems like we all got guru’d. Jumping into a cold tub after a hard workout hampered our gains by slowing down the normal rate of progress in terms of satellite cell and mTOR pathway activation, strength acquisition, and muscle fiber hypertrophy. If you’ve heavily relied on cold tubs following your strength training workouts, you could have been more jacked. Hopefully professional sports teams, coaches, and trainers will be open-minded to ditching this common practice, as it’s used abundantly in the preparation of athletes in the NFL, NBA, UFC…
Alternating hot and cold showers provide an increase in blood flow to the working muscles and accelerate the removal of lactic acid. This method is as effective as light aerobic exercise for lactate clearance. It increases peripheral circulation and neural stimulation.
When it comes to pool strategies (around 15 mins of various light to moderate intensity moves), science doesn’t support it as well. But here is what Dr. Angela Calder says: “Both active and passive recovery techniques can be used depending on the temperature of the water in the pool. During active recovery work, water provides buoyancy and resistance properties that allow the individual to undertake exercise with minimum impact on the body. Immersing the body in cool water (e.g. 22-28 C) following hard exercise minimizes post exercise edema and much of the ensuing residual tension, as a result of the hydrostatic pressure experienced by the immersed body parts. These factors together with water’s capacity for efficient heat transfer enhance the effectiveness of recovery techniques post-game or training. Athletes should be rehydrated (sports drink or appropriate fluid) before the session begins. Drinks (water, sports drink, or cordial) should be taken regularly throughout the session, e.g. every 5 min or after the lap sequences. Stretching should be done against the wall/side of the pool as well.”
Epsom salt baths. Pretty old method. It increases the amount of magnesium in the body, resulting in an increase in the amount of serotonin produced by the brain. This increase in serotonin creates a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Those chemical benefits have a cumulative results of lowering blood pressure, increasing relaxation and improving sleep. Epsom salt used in a bath will help lower pain levels and reduce swelling, making it helpful in treating sore muscles. By soaking your body in a few cups of salts for 10 to 20 minutes, you flush toxins from the body, eliminate harmful substances and ease muscle pain. Magnesium is a mineral that the body needs and, unlike other minerals, is absorbed through the skin as you soak in the bath. The mineral helps relax skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which may occur during vigorous workout. Magnesium also plays an important role in the absorption of vitamins in the body. It also helps regulate muscle and nerve function. All of these effects may influence muscle soreness. Plus, the heat from the bath will help you release even more toxins via perspiration (or maybe not). Again, maybe it (ESB) will work for someone, maybe not for someone else…
“…all I know is this: When I was squatting heavy for multiple sets of 5, there were times when the DOMS was ridiculous. A good epsom salt bath a night or two after the workout always seemed to expedite recovery and get me ready for my next training session.” – Mike Robertson
Sauna helps detoxify, improves circulation (which could help recovery by itself), helps reduce muscle soreness and relax the muscles. Sauna temperature of just under 200 degrees F is what is generally recommended. Most saunas will have a temperature control and thermometer. 10-15 minutes, 1-2 times per week, should be done 3-6 hours after the workout, if possible, never directly after a workout! Studies suggest that 15 minutes in a sauna provides physiological effects that would take 2 hours of rest to achieve. If an athlete can recover from a bout of training more rapidly, he or she can adapt more often within the same period than those who do not utilize such means. Saunas stimulate the release of growth hormone. Direct heat for 8-10 minutes relaxes muscles and improves local and general blood flow. Saunas reduce the likelihood of neurotic reactions, improve sleep, and normalize metabolic processes. This promotes the excretion of toxins (cadmium, lead, zinc, nickel, sodium, sulfuric acid, and cholesterol) through perspiration via the vasodilatation of sweat glands. If the toxins are not eliminated, fatigue lingers and affects CNS stimulation. Heat does not reduce DOMS (J Strength Cond Res, Feb 2004;18(1):155–61), but given on the day before exercise reduced muscle pain (Eur J Appl Physiol, Jan, 2007;99(2):183-92). Saunas also encourage the body to go into a parasympathetic state which allows us to de-stress, rest, and heal. Saunas have been shown to help lower stress hormones like cortisol. There are studies which suggest that sauna sessions can increase endurance performance by as much as 19%. Saunas have also been known to increase levels of Human Growth Hormone. Finnish researchers have come to the conclusion that using a sauna can improve the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) produced by the body. Human growth hormone is extremely important in not only muscular growth but also recovery; it also helps promote protein synthesis. Ok, it would be stupid to say that sauna is a super tool for fast recovery, but maybe it’s going to help you because there are a few factors that can contribute faster recovery. Try it out!
Although scientific research hasn’t confirmed that sitting in a sauna contributes faster muscle recovery, the dry, heated spaces can relax and rejuvenate you.
Compression gear, “game ready” sleeve or similar… relatively new recovery tool/method (the idea is similar to water therapy, but the treatment lasts 30 mins, and wearing special underwear next 24 hrs is required). There is some evidence that this tool can speed up some recovery parameters and help recovering vertical jump and submaximal load economy faster but, anyway, there is no many/enough studies on this topic. But existing studies (not top quality) say that this method can speed up recovery of strength and power parameters, as well as reduce DOMS (Macrae et al, 2011). Within 24h recovery, this method speed up a lot of parameters after exhausting strength training (Kreamer, 2010).
When it comes to reducing DOMS, there are some “alternative methods” that can help, like turmeric/curcumin, ginger and so forth (but there is no enough studies to support this)… Don’t forget that rice could speed recovery up… rice is considered as one of the best sources for athletes.
So, it appears that compression garments can have a positive effect on recovery and performance, although there is a lack of knowledge on the best protocol for using this product. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that compression garments have any negative impact on recovery or subsequent performance. In response, it is suggested that athletes continue to use compression garments during exercise and afterwards as a supplementary tool for improving performance and optimizing recovery. …Better blood flow = faster nutrient delivery to the muscles = faster muscle repair… Last but not least, take a look what I found in one interesting study: “If you’re looking for ways to speed up your recovery from an intense workout, wearing a compression garment overnight may be a good option. It can enhance localized recovery in the area specific to the muscle beneath the garment. However, it’s not a solution for speeding up whole-body recovery — only in the specific area where you wear the garment.” (Shimokochi et al., 2017).
Stretching is an old, but still very popular recovery method. We believe that post training static stretching reduces an injury risk but there is one good research (met analysis) which claims that stretching doesn’t reduce soccer players injury risk (Stojanovic and Ostojic, 2011). But we can be sure that static stretching after training reduces edema growth and improves subjective feeling (Barnett et al, 2006). I found 2 reasons why max static stretching after highly intensive workouts/games is not good: 1) Because of micro muscle lesions (DOMS), which makes sense (but we can do around 85% of max stretch which doesn’t lead to additional micro tearing; 20-30s – 8-10 exercises of big muscle groups); 2) By holding max stretched position, muscle diameter/girth becomes thinner which logically slows an important blood content for speeding up recovery (as in the previous example, 80-85% of max works better). It’s up to you, but in my opinion, if I think twice, I would maybe completely avoid static stretching (whether it’s gentle or not) after intensive tr. or games because we could damage muscle fibers even more (pros are not worth the risk, it could affect each athlete differently). So, no recovery improvements nor detrimental effects on sports performance.
Reviews of the scientific literature show that stretching neither prevents nor treats DOMS (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, July 6, 2011;(7):CD004577; Br J Sports Med. 2011;45:1249-1250). It did not prevent the muscle damage induced rise in plasma-CK, muscle pain, muscle strength and the PCr/P(I) ratio (Scand J Med Sci Sports, Aug, 1998;8(4):216–21). Stretching does not: Prevent DOMS (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007, Issue 4); Lengthen muscles (Clinical Biomechanics, June 2014;29(6):636-642). It only increases pain tolerance so you can stretch further.
“Holding static stretches from 30-90 seconds while maintaining optimal body alignment in other regions of the body, most notably the spine and pelvis, can stimulate a recovery response in the parasympathetic nervous system due to receptors found in the soft-tissues themselves. Follow up the tissues you addressed in your foam rolling and self-myofascial release work with static-based stretching for optimal recovery benefit. Most people will have a great amount of success with the implementation of foam rolling and stretching in the post-workout window.” – John Rusin
Electrostimulation is very popular method as well, but not very supported by science too. “Electrical stimulation performed about as well as traditional recovery methods (like a jog or a massage) when it came to improving performance or clearing metabolic waste products. Electrical stimulation does seem to work at enhancing blood flow through activation of the muscles. In fact, it works about as well as many other recovery methods. The major problem is that there is a great degree of variability between people when it comes to the exact level of electrical stimulation required. It is possible to make it too intense, creating either pain or further muscle fatigue. While electrical stimulation may work pretty well in studies, it doesn’t work well enough to offset its potential downsides. Stick with the old standards for recovery.” (John Malone, et. al., “Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) during recovery from exercise: A systematic review”). When used as a recovery modality, electrical stimulation demonstrated some positive effects on lactate removal or creatine kinase activity but evidence regarding performance indicators restoration, such as muscle strength, is still lacking. EMS on reducing DOMS? No significant difference in most studies.
Although electrical stimulation is often used for recovery, limited evidence exists regarding its effects for an improvement of most physiological variables or reduced subjective rating of muscle soreness. (Babault et al, 2011).
Kryochamber is relatively new method as well. 1-2 mins from -120 to -180 (Celsius). The good think about this one is that the whole team can be done in 25 mins. But, excluding psychological effects, there is no strong evidence that this method has positive effects on recovery speed (Russel et al, 2017; Veira, 2015). There is some evidence that this method can improve quality of sleep, but when it comes to general population. If it improves sleep quality of athletic population, it would be great, but there is still no research on this topic.
Blood flow restriction training (BFR) is a super new TRAINING method first and foremost (and when it comes to recovery from injuries), and it’s included as recovery method as well because of potentially good effects on some parameters. The good thing about this method is that we can lift 20-30% of 1RM and still have the same influence on hypertrophy (ideal for tired players while recovering). Growth hormone is increased 290% during and up to 30-40 mins after BFR training. We know how GH is important when it comes to protein synthesis and injury repairs (micro lesions as well), so it makes sense that this method could speed recovery up, which some new studies have concluded. In my opinion, this method is more useful when it comes to sports rehab., and maybe not that significant as a post-game recovery tool.
But, there is one interesting thing about BFR. It probably contributes to muscle growth by accelerating the rate at which peripheral fatigue develops. This faster increase in peripheral fatigue may be (at least in part) caused by a reduced level of muscle oxygenation. This fatigue increases levels of motor unit recruitment in order to compensate for the reduced force being produced by each working fiber. This allows us to stimulate the muscle fibers of high-threshold motor units, despite using very light loads. Just stimulating the MF of high-threshold motor units can speed up their recovery by itself – which is highly recommended after the game. We actually need more research on the topic. For now, hmmm – think about it…
Last but not least, think about patella tendon pain for example. BFR can be a great addition to a well-structured program to help with pain relief and sub-maximal strengthening to a muscle that has been weakened by surgery, desease, injury, swelling, etc. You can do knee extensions, nordic quads… So, BFR can be a good rehab method as well. It could be good the day after a game, because we are already tired for something harder (with similar effect at the end)…
Cupping therapy is a relatively new treatment. Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction. People get it for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. Why is cupping potentially beneficial for athletes? Because the suction ruptures the blood-bearing capillaries just beneath the surface of the skin. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this promotes increased blood flow in the area. Increased blood flow helps the body more efficiently get rid of waste products and old blood and bring in fresh, oxygen-rich blood. The body uses oxygen and nutrients from the blood to function, and it does this at a higher rate when we exercise intensely. When our cells can’t get enough oxygen to keep up with strenuous activity, performance suffers and excess lactic acid builds up. For those who believe in the power of cupping, the technique is thought to help flush out the deoxygenated blood, lactic acid and other waste products from the extremities so that oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood can flow back in more effectively. Ok, the theory says that, but evidence (research) doesn’t support this theory. Overall, the researchers found the studies and reports had a high amount of bias in their trial designs. So, while some illustrated benefits related to pain relief, there were no concrete recommendations or conclusions claiming cupping is good or bad for sports performance. So, it works similar to many other methods, then – why would be much better?
So, the science doesn’t support almost all the procedures mentioned above when it comes to improving objective parameters of recovery / training (excluding compression gear, maybe sauna, and BFR). But some newer Barnett’s research (Barnett et al, 2012) show that subjective feeling may be improved after using those methods so athletes believe that they work great and they endure easier the next training sessions (Placebo effect is proven and can be pretty strong if one used to use some methods and believes in them). So, even if science doesn’t support majority of them, if one loves something and trust it – we should support him/her because we need our athletes in good mood the day after. Of course, we (coaches) know that it doesn’t work so we will not give them speed work or similar the day after recovery (for example) because they are not recovered enough (athletes are commonly even slower than usual). I mean, we can give them mentioned in order of “activation”, but not in order to improve performance (we need to reduce volume a lot).
So, whatever we use (whether it’s useful or not when it comes to recovery) if our athletes are truly not comfortable with it – we should stop using it. We need to agree that the human brain plays a huge role in recovery.
But what science says/supports? Science says that 3 things have the biggest positive influence on recovery speed: rehydration, nutrition and sleep (it is important to note that no recovery technique will be REALLY effective without proper sleep and nutrition)! The first 2 hours after game/training is probably the most important period for proper rehydration and nutrition. First and foremost, I mean on water, carbs and oligo elements (electrolytes). Some studies say that chocolate milk (low-fat) has an ideal ratio of carbs and protein (3:1) for proper recovery, therefore it’s highly recommended (around 0.5l immediately after the match, plus water). Plus, honey is an excellent source of fast absorbing carbs (which is way better after game than slow carbs – high glycemic index carbs are better post-game in general). Bagel, banana, dried grapes (raisins)… also great post-game. Nuts are full of electrolytes… Add salt on hot days if your muscles feel excessively fatigued or if you develop cramps. Gabe Mirkin believes that it doesn’t matter what you eat in your post-intense-workout meal, as long as it contains lots of protein and carbohydrates. Also, I need to say that pre-game nutrition (and during the game of course) is very important for faster post-game recovery as well… Also, take a look below what Christian says.
“As far as feeling good, especially if your life is stressful, carbs can help by elevating serotonin, a hormone that helps you relax. I recommend carbs in the evening for those who have a lot of stress in their professional life.” – Christian Thibaudeau
I would avoid supplements in general because everything you need can be found in food. But let’s say a word two about them. A study from a 2007 edition of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that supplementing with creatine did not reduce muscle damage or enhance recovery after a resistance-training workout. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Sport notes that creatine has not yet been widely studied in elite athletes. But: “Endurance athletes who use creatine recover faster from their training efforts. In terms of metabolism, creatine supplementation possessed the advantages of decreasing muscle glycogen and protein degradation, especially after endurance exercise, although it might not benefit the endurance performance.” (Source: Eur J Nutr. 2014 Feb; 53(1):61-71). So, it might work for soccer players… Some research have even shown that creatine may help improving nutrient partitioning, driving those carbs into the muscle for fuel and recovery. Therefore, it could be a smart idea to include it as well after training/game. One study looked at its effects when carbs were taken after the workout and measured blood glucose (sugar) levels. It found that the creatine group had improved carbohydrate absorption (Gualano et al., 2008). Leucine amino acid might work, 1.5g per day (4 weeks) reduces muscle soreness. Arginin, lizin, ornitine… – amino acids which stimulate producing growth hormone and insulin, and increase anabolism in recovery time. One more thing about creatine, what it’s going to do is hyper-volumize your muscle cells and draw water into them so that they’re more hydrated, while also driving more nutrients – which could help recovery.
Also, avoid caffeine post-game because it can interfere (slow down) with glycogen replenishment (it’s a potent diuretic as well, and it can lead to fluid loss which can interfere with hydration and proper recovery could suffer consequently). In order to get recovered faster post-game, you should eat well pre-game as well (another topic but, shortly, avoid sodas/simple sugar and high in fat foods – begin several days before competition, especially when it comes to rehydration). The first 45-60 mins post-game, we should start rehydrating and eating hi carbs snacks (plus a little bit of protein). This is critical, especially for games played in the heat. This strategy should be continued next 24h as well (but remember that first 1-2 hours post-game are crucial). When it comes to rehydration, plain water is an excellent choice, but add some sports drink as well (because it has water, carbs and electrolytes – basically almost all we need post-game). But, of course, it depends on food you eat or not. Recently, I found one interesting thing in one study… It says that, if we don’t have any supplement or healthier food immediately post-game, fast food has the same effect as sports supplementation SHORT-TERM. In one study, fast food such as French fries, hash browns and hamburgers helped athletes recover just as quickly from hard workouts as sports nutrition products such as Gatorade, Power bars and Cliff bars (International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, March 26, 2015). Of course, nobody recommends it, but better than nothing when it comes to the faster glycogen replenishment at least, during 2 hours post-game window (remember that eating within 3 hours BEFORE competition helps you process the sugar in your after-work out meal faster, which will help you recover faster). “If you are in a competitive event within eight hours of a previous event, you will recover much faster by eating any source of sugar and protein immediately after finishing your first competition. In training, you will recover faster from your hard workout by eating immediately afterwards. Snacking throughout the day also helps muscles to recover faster.” – Gabe Mirkin
Also, try not to be under stress during recovery because stress/cortisol eats carbs a lot (which is not bad often, but in this case it’s bad – because our glycogen stores need to be replenished ASAP, plus if cortisol is high permanently – it uses proteins for energy as well which everything together slows recovery speed down). Also, alcohol consumption should be avoided after a match as it delays the ability to recover. Firstly, alcohol has diuretic properties, which increases urinary output and consequently the level of dehydration. Secondly, it delays the muscular recovery process. Thirdly, it impairs sleep efficiency, a vital function in the recovery process. But ONE glass of alcohol BEFORE sleep if adrenaline is high (adrenal fatigue syndrome could be caused by hard trainings / long-term stress) is a good choice because it helps decreasing blood adrenaline, and helps sleeping as well (which could “prevent overtraining”). When it comes to supplementation helping sleep, glycine could be a good option (it is an amino acid and neurotransmitter). It can play both stimulatory and depressant roles in the brain. Supplementation can improve sleep quality. For glycemic and sleep benefits, doses of 3-5 grams with meals and around 1 hour before bed, respectively, have been used successfully in clinical research. Beyond melatonin and glycine, other possible options include generally relaxing compounds (lavender and l-theanine) or other endogenous agents that seem to regulate sleep (oleamide being the latest up-and-comer supplement). Lavender is actually an interesting option since it appears to be somewhat effective as aromatherapy as a “relaxing” scent, and aromatherapy may be the only way to continuously administer a supplement throughout sleep (via putting a few drops of lavender oil on a nearby object and continuing to breathe while you sleep).
“Some juices such as tart cherry juice, tomato juice or berry juice are also recommended to enhancing the recovery process. These juices are loaded with a high antioxidant capacity, which reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. The ingestion of these juices prior to and following exercise-induced muscle damage is able to accelerate muscle strength recovery” (McLeay Y. et al, 2012; Howatson G. et al, 2010). The pic below shows recovery protocol (just one of many…) recommended by the same authors (as scientifically proven). After all, you may like it or not, your choice…
“Cherry juice increased recovery for strength, but did not lessen pain or increase range of motion” (Br J Sports Med, Aug 2006;40(8):679–83). “I am always skeptical of studies that offer financial gain for a product. You would probably see the same benefit from a variety of other fruit juices or beverages.” – Gabe Mirkin
There are a ton of similar examples… The combo of ibuprofen, vitamin C and E, ice bath, and a protein shake may mitigate power losses. Less of a drop in anaerobic power may help give you the edge later in competition that you need for a victory (Al-Nawaiseh et al, 2016). But, it doesn’t mean that those will help EVERYBODY. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill/recipe – we need to keep experimenting…
I will mention just Zink and Magnesium specifically because they are two of the only micronutrients known to affect recovery from physical exercise. Although neither is commonly deficient in sedentary people, their accelerated loss through sweat, paired with an insufficient dietary intake could mean insufficiency in athletes.
You can have a high-fat, pre-bed protein snack to avoid blood sugar crashes that will wake you up. Also, I recommend taking 15-20 gr of whey protein before sleep because this one is pretty good for tissue repair, especially during the sleep when our bodies do their best job when it comes to tissue repair (or you can take milk if you like as well – it’s proven that casein can help sleeping by relaxing our body mainly). By far the best “recovery method” is a high quality sleep (nothing can replace it). Increasing the quality and quantity of your sleep comes with multiple benefits, ranging from higher levels of testosterone to faster muscle recovery and to just feeling better in general. I’ve even found one research claiming that 10 hours of sleep is much better than 8 hours when it comes to sports performance… “Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery. And it’s very tough with our schedule. Our schedule keeps us up late at night, and most of the time it wakes us up early in the morning. … There’s no better recovery than sleep.” – LeBron James. “This may sound weird to you,” said James, who aims for 8-9 hours of sleep a night, “but for my 13-year career, I’ve taken a nap for the most part every day — and for sure on game days.” Never forget how naps are important too (just up to 30 mins a day does miracles)! Napping helps athletes to recover faster after intense workouts (some studies have shown). Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist and winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, naps regularly.
Scientists are in agreement that even one sleepless night is the equivalent of having a few alcoholic drinks; 22 hours without sleeping has been shown to cause cognitive and reactive impairment comparable to being legally drunk.
“Think about it: you’ll likely spend close to 1/3rd of your life lying in bed. The right bed can literally make a life-changing difference and is one of the best investments you can make in your health and fitness.” – Joel Jamieson
If you don’t sleep for a long enough period, you might get the majority of deep sleep, but there’s no way to get REM sleep (rapid eye movement). This is where we learn our playbooks, remember who to pass to when you have two seconds left, remember the play that was just drawn up and stay cool under pressure… First comes non-REM sleep, followed by a shorter period of REM sleep, and then the cycle starts over again. Dreams tipically happen during REM sleep.
Deep sleep is important for tissue repair and REM for neural functions. During the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.
Good quality sleep gives the body a chance to repair, recover and heal. We get our physiological recovery between 10pm and 2am and our psychological and nervous system recovery between 2am and 6am (of course, it’s not that strict – but this is maybe an ideal situation for most people; anyway – if we miss physiological recovery we can start losing muscle mass at least). Sleep is the simplest way to reduce injury/illness risk, improve concentration and performance. For elite athletes, sleep is a crucial part of their preparation for sports and an even more crucial part of their recovery from matches and injury. “Less sleep has been found to be a risk factor for higher injury rates in adolescents and poor sporting performance” (Luke et al, 2011; Milewski et al, 2014; Juliff et al, 2017). “The national sleep foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours sleep per night (and consider naps during the day if less than 7 hours sleep per night). We should sleep in cool (but not cold), dark room. We should avoid using electronics or personal devices in bedroom. We should limit technology use 1 hour before bed. We should reduce caffeine after lunch, and minimise alcohol at night.” (Simpson et al, 2016). Ok, I mentioned just a few interesting things when it comes to nutrition/hydration side, so if you want to know more – I advise you to take a look at additional resources.
“Tips to help you fall asleep faster and wake less during the night: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (restrict sugar-added foods and drinks and restrict sources of saturated fats), get plenty of exercise during the day so you are physically tired, try to sleep in the same bed each night, try to go to sleep at the same time each night, turn off all noisemakers such as radio/TV/noisy clocks and so forth, avoid alcohol and smoking, do not take caffeinated drinks after 12 noon, use a comfortable mattress and pillow, sleep in a darkened room.” – Gabe Mirkin
Even mild sleep deprivation can decrease performance and recovery while increasing the risk of injury. According to one study, athletes who sleep less than 8 hours a night have 1.7 times greater risk of getting injured. Sleep deprivation could decrease GH and Testosterone levels, and we know that these hormones are crucial for proper recovery. “Try to sleep within a few hours after your intense workout as you may recover faster by sleeping than remaining awake” (South African J Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation, Jan 2012; 34 (1): 167-184).
SMR work (foam rolling and similar, including TheraGun) is relatively new method as well. Foam rolling can tap into the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce sympathetic nervous system activity by inducing a global short-term decrease in muscle tone. Muscle tone is the continuous passive contraction of a muscle controlled subconsciously by the brain. In other words, it’s a muscle’s resistance to passive stretch. Performing intense SMR work (10 mins is plenty) greatly increases the blood flow to and from the muscle. This translates to an increased pump, which facilitates growth. More blood flow means more nutrients being uploaded. It seems that it might increase healing and recovery. It’s very important to say that a bumpy foam roller works better than the flat one while rolling after hard training or game, because it relaxes us but without “moving blood out of muscles” as a side effect (blood is an important factor for recovery and needs to be in).
One study showed that DOMS was significantly reduced when foam rolling was performed (Gregory E.P. Pearcey et al, 2015). However, they also discovered 30 meter sprint time, broad-jump distance, and change-of-direction speed were all negatively affected by the presence of DOMS, but the impact was lower if they performed foam rolling. Of course, there is some studies that don’t support FR as a recovery tool. So, as with many other methods – we can believe or not… Bottom line, there is some weak evidence that foam-rolling may assist with post-activity recovery, through reducing DOMS.
Dr. Perry Nickelston says that doing SMR of your plantar fascia with a golf ball or similar (rolling the bottom of your barefoot) 2-3 mins a day can do miracles when it comes to more flexibility, less tightness, less stiffness… which all can improve recovery. Take a look at the superficial back line below – fascia is connected from the big toe all the way up to the forehead. This really makes sense because we use the back line (blue) a lot during sports activities (posterior chain muscles). You can find a local reflexology place that offers foot massages too.
Dr. Perry says that lymphatic system is crucial when it comes to proper recovery (and performance) as well, so it definitely makes sense that working on it (by using special/simple techniques) could help a lot. This is maybe not scientifically proven (very tough to investigate) but common sense matters always. Check out his website and Instagram profile and you will see what I am talking about.
“From limiting delayed onset muscle soreness to aiding in lymphatic drainage, f. rolling may just be the quickest and easiest way to get the recovery process going. In your post-training window, put a priority on addressing the soft tissues that were more highly active during that day’s workout. For example, if you hit legs, then your post-workout rolling should focus on the muscles of the legs. It’s not rocket science, but here’s where it gets interesting. When using foam rolling in the pre-training routine, pick a targeted problem area that you’re objectively working to remediate. However, it’s the opposite for sparking recovery. The recovery window is the time to work entire tissues, spend time on multiple segments, and really “waste” some time down on the floor addressing every aspect of the region. To get the most out of your practice, place an emphasis on addressing large superficial muscles as opposed to small acute muscles of the body. For example, rolling the glutes thoroughly from origin to insertion would be more appropriate than hitting trigger points on the piriformis. Take your time. Get the rest of your body that’s not on the roller in a good comfortable position and start rolling away.” – John Rusin
“For most athletes, there are significant levels of local inflammation, delayed onset muscle soreness, and increased neurological tone in the tissues. So it makes sense to target soft tissues that have been trained earlier in the day or the day before. Extended duration foam rolling sessions that target specific tissues for a few minutes will help stimulate the active muscle pump of the body, clear out inflammation and lymphatic pooling, and tap into the neural recovery system by reducing local tone of the tissues. Rolling helps drive blood into local areas, which allows nutrient exchange and waste to be cleared out. Emphasize large superficial muscles as opposed to small acute muscles of the body. ” – John Rusin
Last but not least, research shows that FR and massage have mixed results in alleviating DOMS. Of course, those methods will certainly reduce muscle tension, which can make you feel better while not eliminating the soreness totally.
PS: Don’t take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve muscle soreness. NSAIDs can block gains in strength and endurance. Nonsteroidals (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen) can decrease muscle soreness but do not hasten muscle recovery (J Strength Cond Res, Feb 2003;17(1):53–59). In many studies, nonsteroidals did not even decrease muscle soreness (Brain Behav Immun, Nov 2006;20(6):578–84), or offered no benefit whatever (J Sports Sci, Mar 1999;17(3):197–203). But, a study from Emory University School of Medicine shows that nonsteroidal arthritis medicines help to prevent muscle damage caused by hard exercise (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, July 2000, 1191-1196). This study and others show that aspirin-like drugs help muscles heal faster after a single training bout, but no studies show whether it is safe for athletes to take these drugs day after day. “Aspirin comes from willow bark, and most plants are loaded with antioxidants that help prevent tissue damage. We still don’t know if taking nonsteroidal drugs will help you recover from exercise faster, but we do know that eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds will. Plant or animal sources of protein eaten after hard exercise help you recover faster as well.” – Gabe Mirkin
“Foam rolling isn’t just a way to prepare for training, but also a useful tool to recover from training. Foam rolling should be performed both before and after training, and likely even on off days after training. Doing so will reduce the amount of soreness you have after a hard session and allow you to train hard or perform better next time. This is important for everyone from the personal training client to the in-season athlete. Put simply, foam rolling helps you recover faster and then perform better, I know everyone at Champion is definitely still foam rolling!” – Mike Reinold
For potentially better effects, consider using a foam roller (if it fits you) combined with deep breathing (the next one below).
Bottom line: Apart from the positive effects of foam rolling upon DOMS (many studies), little else is known regarding how foam rolling can influence the speed of recovery from physical activity. Regardless, the ability of foam rolling to reduce the sensations of DOMS following exercise should suggest that this technique may serve as a valuable tool for athletes – particularly during strenuous training and competition periods.
When it comes to TheraGun (and similar vibration therapy), there is no many studies on this topic. The scientific concept behind this type of therapy is based on the gate control theory, which holds that a nonpainful stimulus (in this case, vibration) can suppress the feeling of pain (vibration therapy creates a unique combination of frequency and amplitude which helps prevent the brain from recognizing pain signals being sent from the muscle). Powered by a 2,000-rpm motor, the TheraGun moves a dense foam ball attachment back and forth in a woodpecker-like motion at a rate of 33-40 times per second. When the vibrations and jabbing movements of the dense foam ball attachment combine and strike the muscle, it relaxes, allowing you to get into deeper layers of the tissue. “When a person gets a massage or just uses a foam roller on their own, you can’t get into that spot as effectively,” says physical therapist David Reavy. “The vibration is so fast, you don’t feel the pain and the muscle actually relaxes.” TheraGun relieves tightness, increases blood flow in muscles… but we still don’t know if it speeds recovery up post games. Considering similar outcomes like after some other methods, I personally believe that there is no significant difference. More studies needed.
Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing (parasympathetic recovery breathing). Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique used to reduce stress and relax the mind at least (comes from yoga and meditation practices). Deep breathing and meditation increases parasympathetic nervous system activity (rest, digest, recover) and decreases sympathetic nervous system activity (“fight or flight”). We are talking about peripheral nervous system (PNS). “Stress takes its toll by negatively affecting our neuroendocrine, metabolic, and immune systems. This stress even affects the way we breathe – upper chest breathers exhibit poor cardiovascular efficiency and nervous system balance. The good news is that breathing retraining is very effective, and by practicing various breathing techniques you can reduce anxiety, reduce oxidative stress, achieve better balance of the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous systems, reduce blood pressure, and reduce resting heart rate. In short, it’s well worth it to spend a few minutes per day on specialized breathing techniques.” – Bret Contreras
Of course, it makes sense that all the mentioned, when it comes to the breathing section, helps improving recovery. You can literally de-stress and boost recovery in 3 minutes. Bret gives us some guidelines below.
“Lie down and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Relax all your muscles and begin breathing deep. Pull air into your belly first and then into your chest. If you do it correctly, you’ll feel the hand on your belly rise for the first two-thirds of the breath, then the hand on your chest will rise for the last-third of the breath. Make sure your exhalation lasts longer than your inhalation, ideally around twice as long. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.” – Bret Contreras
“Even something as simple as spending 10-15 minutes a day listening to relaxing music and focusing on deep breathing can be a game changer for the type-A personality that’s always on the go.” – Joel Jamieson
“If you think about this (recovery) in practical terms, the longer you stay in a jacked-up state, the less overall time you have to recover between training sessions. For some of us that train daily, delaying the parasympathetic response even a few hours can make a marked difference in recovery as a whole, and especially in high central nervous system dependent activities.” – John Rusin
Take a look at the John’s video below, it’s not all about breathing – pay attention to your arms and legs as well (more about active lymphatic drainage soon…)
“…But before you walk out the door, we want you to chill out and relax. That’s why every training session at IFAST ends with some recovery breathing or relaxation techniques – to help you kick start the recovery process and get ready for the next training session. It’s counterintuitive, but the training session isn’t necessarily what makes you better. It’s your ability to recover and adapt from the training session that is most important. That’s why it’s so critical at the end of your session to chill out and relax. Take 3-5 minutes and breathe. Your body will thank you for it.” – Mike Robertson. As Mike says, just 8-10 deep breaths could do a lot from the reducing tone standpoint. We increase the tone after strength session especially at that’s good, but if we don’t shut it down – we could fall in adrenal fatigue trap (and similar) after a while (especially if we train with max effort every time in the gym) and that’s not good.
“What most people don’t realize is that inefficient breathing patterns will inevitably lead to reduced mobility, increased energy expenditure and even slower recovery.” – Joel Jamieson
Diaphragmatic breathing techniques induce relaxation and increase the antioxidant defense status. Scientists noted a decrease in cortisol and an increase in melatonin, which makes sense that it could be smart approach when it comes to recovery.
We know that many people do breathing recovery drills immediately after strength training – which can definitely decrease neural arousal caused by training and speed up recovery as well. But, in my opinion, my logical assumption is that it maybe helps more after endurance training (CNS fatigue). If you don’t have access to anything else, this is the very best choice (or autogenic training) after the game as well.
Dry needling is a relatively new treatment that involves a very thin needle used to stimulate a muscular trigger point. A “twitch” response from the muscle often occurs when a needle is inserted into a trigger point which allows the muscle to relax. Dry needling is used to stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms for tissue repair, reduce muscle tension, decrease pain and improve ranges of motion and function. While not everyone responds the same way to these treatments, they can be incredibly effective when it comes to relieving pain (caused by inflammation or similar…) and speeding up the healing process significantly (which could contribute faster recovery for sure). These situations are not strange when it comes to some athletes post-game. If you have some sort of injury that you want to deal faster, dry needling is certainly an option worth looking into.
Overall, dry needling is widely believed to be beneficial for people who are suffering from a wide variety of conditions and injuries. While not everyone responds the same way to these treatments, they can be effective when it comes to relieving pain and speeding up the healing process. If you have some sort of injury that you want to deal faster, dry needling is certainly an option worth looking into. But, I personally don’t believe that this method can speed up post-game (or hard training) recovery.
Autogenic training, meditation and similar… is a bit older but it seems very effective recovery method (athletes are commonly laying in relaxed position and coach is giving specific instructions: “Your left leg is warm and heavy”… and so forth – finishing with head). Some top coaches say that if we could influence CNS recovery directly, we would get the best out of recovery. That’s exactly what autogenic training does (proper breathing is important here as well). But research show that peripheral fatigue and central fatigue (independent of muscle damage) play only a minor role in reducing strength after a workout, while muscle damage plays a much greater part. I know it’s not a part of this topic but this is very interesting, and could totally change our focus when it comes to recovery – because “strength” is almost everything and it needs to be recovered ASAP (it really makes sense that muscle damage happens after a soccer match as well – not only after strength training and changing exercises… there are a lot of COD/ECC activities in soccer for example). But more research on this topic is definitely needed. Let’s see what Chris Beardsley says about this: “After a strength training workout, we experience a temporary reduction in the ability to produce force. This reduction in force is caused by 3 factors – CNS fatigue, peripheral fatigue (linked to metabolite accumulation), and muscle damage. Only the effects of muscle damage last for more than a few hours post-workout, and is therefore the only factor that contributes to our ability to perform another, similar workout within a few days of the original one. Some lifters find this difficult to believe, because they experience a lack of motivation and readiness to train for several days after a workout, which they attribute to CNS fatigue. However, our personal perceptions of being ready for the next workout are linked to muscle damage (and therefore probably not CNS fatigue).” This statement makes a lot of sense and could change our focus when it comes to recovery after strength training. Of course, this is something that plays a huge role in soccer training (after) as well (talking about very hard trainings and games)… we need to: Recover players’ CNS a bit more because soccer includes endurance and mental exhaustion at least (I include recovering PNS as well), improve circulation to get rid of metabolites (at least, there is more pros), and provide proper food/supplements or something else for muscle damage – as probably the most important part (including sleeping and rehydration of course).
Last but not least, autogenic training is effective as a part of warm up as well (actually the period before warm up starts, but coach gives different instructions now – instructions in order to prepare athletes mentally for the game, an incentive/stimulative suggestions – not to relax them).
Whatever you think about autogenic training, coaches who claim aforementioned statement are not stupid. Somebody would ask: “What if non-endurance sports don’t need too much of CNS recovery?” But what if CNS recovery helps other body systems to recover faster? Hmmm, makes sense to me because the human brain is so mysterious, powerful and unexplored area…
Don’t forget that psychological stress could influence recovery as well. One good meta-analysis showed that the speed of wound healing is slower when individuals are under high levels of psychological stress. This was the case across various different types of wound, with no differences between wound types (Walburn et al, 2009). Since muscle damage is arguably also a type of wound, it is possible that psychological stress reduces the rate of strength recovery by slowing down the speed at which muscle damage repair happens.
Although soccer is a sport of agility and quickness first and foremost, accumulation of those moves requires pretty good specific endurance as well. Much more of CNS fatigue happens with endurance training (or with a load less than 40% of 1RM to failure). It’s happening with heavy lifting as well – but CNS is able to recover very quickly after that (but don’t forget that it depends on intensity and duration as well – Chris also says that greater muscle damage will likely lead/cause to more prolonged CNS fatigue, which will affect training frequency… but this will probably just slightly affect experienced players, plus CNS recovers a bit faster anyway…). Although we can notice pretty high forces during agility moves predominantly, soccer is not a heavy lifting. So, it makes sense that CNS is under fatigue after exhausted game, that’s why autogenic training can be useful in order to recover a bit faster, so we can train hard again earlier.
But let’s see what Christian says about strength-related CNS fatigue: “Not every workout need to (or should) be all-out. Every time you go to your limit (especially with low reps) ona big compound lift the stress on the nervous system is significant. Going heavy, to your limit, on big lifts will cause a HUGE nervous system excitation. When you finish your workout, your nervous system stays excited for a while. How long depends on the content of the workout (how heavy, how intense, the lifts used, volume, emotional arousal, etc.) as well as on your level of the inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitters (Gaba, serotonin). If your nervous system stays amped up for a long time after the workout you drastically increase the risk of either desensitization or dopamine depletion occurring. Those who have the brain chemistry to easily calm their nervous system down after an intense session will be able to lift very heavy daily without any problem. Those who have lower levels of Gaba and/or serotonin will have a harder time calming the brain down, meaning that if they lift heavy/all-out it will take a lot more out of them. When we talk about “burning the CNS” what we really refer to is either dopamine depletion or adrenergic receptor desensitization. Normally with the former you will have the desire to eat “crap/pleasure food” and in the later you will actually have a drop in appetite. Another issue is that when you keep your nervous system “excited”, what we call the “sympathetic system”, your body keeps pumping out cortisol. Of course cortisol can have a negative impact on recovery (by reducing glycogen storage and making it harder to be in a positive nitrogen balance), muscle growth (by increasing muscle breakdown, increasing myostatin levels and decreasing nutrients uptake by the muscles) and, if it is chronic it can make it harder to lose fat (by reducing the conversion of T4 into T3, decreasing metabolic rate). Not everybody can ramp uo to a 1, 2, 3 or 5RM every day… some can’t do it more than once a week. Some shouldn’t do it at all. Strength-skill work (submaximal lifting with a weight that still provides maximum fiber recruitment, like 5 x 3 @ 85%) can be a good approach to keep working on improving strength. Maybe you will only be able to have 1 “max effort’ session a week but 2-3 strength-skill workouts and 1 “minor/bodybuilding” sessions. But that would still provide better long term results than constantly playing with fire when it comes to nervous system readiness.” – Christian Thibaudeau
Last but not least, let’s mention some people who claim that soccer players can be VERY mentally fatigued… Dr. Samuele Marcora has studied the effects of mental fatigue on soccer performance and discovered that mentally tired athletes don’t perform as well. After inducing mental fatigue with a demanding cognitive test, Marcora and his team of researchers found that the mentally fatigued soccer players couldn’t run as far or kick a ball as skillfully as their mentally-fresh counterparts. “Though studies have found that mental fatigue can develop from sleep deprivation, video games, and having to perform an activity deemed unfamiliar or difficult, such as an interview, any sport that is mentally demanding can induce mental fatigue,” Marcora says. Andrea Azzalin, former sports scientist for Premier League club Leicester City and a former student of Marcora, continually monitors the team for signs of mental fatigue after every training session and game. For Azzalin, it comes down to knowing his athletes. “Monitoring how the players feel—their perceived effort—is often enough for me to understand that they are more fatigued than usual,” he says. Leicester City’s sports science staff uses markers of mental fatigue, along with GPS and heart rate information from each player, as tools to detect situations of overload.
“I’d always been told by coaches that when the legs are too tired, the mind will take over,” says Brad Evans, a defender for MLS’ Seattle Sounders of MLS. “But later on I realized that it doesn’t work that way.” Evans, also a veteran of the U.S. men’s National Soccer Team, is well aware of the role of mental fatigue, “Mistakes happen when you are mentally and physically fatigued—like missing a tackle I would usually make.”
Former Seattle Sounders sports science and performance manager David Tenney uses yoga in his attempts to reduce mental fatigue in his players. “I’ve found that the mental aspects of yoga, with its focus on breathing and relaxation, have been helpful in reducing the mental fatigue of practice and competition,” he says.
Traditionally, fatigue in a soccer context has been investigated from a neuromuscular/metabolic perspective (Bangsbo, Iaia, & Krustrup, 2007) with relatively little scientific attention examining the impact of mental fatigue on performance. With the exception of military combat, it has been suggested that team sports such as soccer place more stress on the brain than any other activity (Walsh, 2014). Indeed, soccer players are required to remain vigilant for long periods before and during matches, adhering to tactical strategies, constantly adjusting to changes in the opposition and their team mates. Players are also required to make quick and accurate decisions accounting for these factors, constantly retrieving and processing information in a dynamic environment. In addition, players have to cope with the mental stressors resulting from the expectations of coaches, supporters, sponsors and media. Therefore, it is likely that players experience mental fatigue in their daily environment and this can negatively affect performance.
Until recently, relatively little was known about the effects of mental fatigue on soccer performance. However, recent studies have shown that mental fatigue can affect many aspects of soccer performance, including football-specific running (Smith et al, 2016), technical/skill (Badin et al, 2016) and decision-making (Smith et al, 2016).
Active lymphatic drainage. “This may be the simplest method to speed recovery, but it’s very effective. As you train a muscle group, increased blood flow is siphoned to the area in order to continue to fuel the activity. This increased local blood flow also triggers a certain amount of fluid accumulation locally from the interstitial fluid balance, which is more commonly noticed as the prolonged pump effect of a tough workout. While the lymphatic system is pivotal to human function, too much local lymph can limit the recovery process of local tissues and the system as a whole. Having control over the amount of local lymph is pivotal to expediting recovery. We can do this in a few ways: 1) Raise your arms or legs. First, we can use gravity to our advantage and use a systemic drain by elevating extremities above the level of the heart in order to push lymphatic fluid back into central circulation. On lower-body training days, this may be as simple as lying on your back and elevating your feet and legs (allowing a little knee bend) using a short plyo box. For upper body training, just place the arms overhead in a relaxed position to enhance drainage (do this 5-15 minutes after training). 2) Go for a lazy walk. A second simple mechanism to reduce lymphatic pooling is by using low-level active recovery activities such as walking and biking. The active muscle contractions place pressure on the passive veins and lymphatic vessels to push fluid back into central circulation. Walking slowly for a few minutes is as much as you need. For all you overachievers out there, graded compression bands or garments such as tights and socks can be a great addition to your recovery routine as these garments place pressure on the vasculature system and enhance the active muscle pump above. Your best bet is to use a combination of all of these mechanisms of limiting and reversing lymphatic pooling by using compression garments while utilizing gravity and active recovery.” – John Rusin
Lymphatic systems interact with circulatory system, neural system, and so forth. So, it’s hard to believe that it doesn’t influence the speed of recovery time, it probably does – there is just not enough studies on the topic yet (it’s incredible complex).
Ok, I’ve mentioned a lot of techniques that improve blood flow. Here is what one of the top coaches believes: “I am a big believer in anything that gets the blood moving for recovery. Acupuncture, vibration training, saunas, hot and cold tubs, body building does, low intensity cardio, all cause vassal dilation, move blood around, clean out toxins, have multiple drainages from various organs, etc. This is something that is often undervalued in how we approach training athletes. So the question for me is what low intensity cardio? My feeling is that you want a full body movement, arms and legs moving, with the heart rate in the range of 120 and 130 where it is most efficient.” – Cal Dietz
I didn’t mention software technology for a reason… But, there is one new tool produced by Joel Jamieson. Long story short, I think that Morpheus (the world’s first digital recovery coach) could be an useful device because it shows some very useful/individualized data… Time and new research will show everything…
In general, fatigue monitoring is simply a method of assessing an athlete’s readiness to train or compete. There are several ways to monitor fatigue through different subjective (e.g. questionnaires) or objective (e.g. HRV) measures. Recently, much research has attempted to assess the validity and reliability of many of these measures (e.g. wellness questionnaires). While many practitioners have developed well-rounded fatigue monitoring programmes, there is still a huge demand for more research to verify the best methods for tracking fatigue. Let’s mention some of them (taken from scienceforsport.com):
Wellness questionnaires (subjective tests) are simply a questionnaire given to the athlete for them to rate how they feel. This will often cover a range of topics such as how they slept the previous night, their current stress-level, body soreness, and how tired they feel… The list of questions, and the structure of the questionnaire, is commonly designed by the coach based on what they feel is most important for their athletes. For example, a coach working with university athletes may choose to include questions regarding school workload, as this is known to impose a certain degree of stress and limit physical adaptations. Given their low-cost nature and ability to provide immediate feedback, wellness questionnaires work well as a fatigue monitoring tool, especially with large groups such as in a team sport setting.
The interest in heart rate variability (HRV) appears to be growing year-on-year as a tool for measuring the body’s reaction to training and its associated levels of fatigue. HRV is simply a measure of the differences in time from heart beat to heart beat. As HRV reflects the autonomic nervous system function, and thus stress, it is frequently used in the athletic world to identify periods of optimal training, monitor recovery status, and to flag any potential overtraining. One of the main drawbacks of using HRV is that it is somewhat difficult and time-consuming to measure. HRV requires an athlete to be at complete rest and as relaxed as possible for the most accurate measure. This could be time-consuming, as getting an athlete to relax can potentially take several minutes or more. Other variables, such as body positioning (e.g. sitting vs. standing), or the time of day, can also play a role in the tests accuracy. Due to the high number of variables involved in this measurement, it is suggested that HRV should not be used as a sole measure of fatigue and readiness, but rather in conjunction with other testing protocols.
While historically not the most popular method used, testing hormonal levels in saliva has been shown to provide an accurate measure of fatigue. Testing has shown that levels of hormones such as cortisol and testosterone taken from saliva samples change during and after physical activity, and that an individual’s biochemical response can be determined by looking at these changes. By looking at the testosterone-cortisol ratio in comparison to their baseline scores, the practitioner can determine how an athlete is coping with training or competition, as well as how they are recovering. The advantage of testing markers found in saliva is that they can be very accurate. However, performing these tests requires expensive equipment and resources, therefore limiting their practicality.
Methods of fatigue monitoring that are easy to implement and use on a consistent basis need to be addressed more thoroughly in the coming years. Eventually, the goal should be to have a scientifically proven method, or methods, that every coach with basic tools and knowledge can implement and use successfully.
At the end, keep in mind that all the conclusions aforementioned (the entire article) are just current science/opinions, not the final answers. It’s even a big question if some of those research are valid/reliable… So, we can just believe it or not… let’s keep experimenting (checking in practice, using reliable data, experience…) and concluding by using our common sense.
PS: You can choose and combine whatever you want, it’s up to you. Just keep experimenting, maybe you will notice something scientists weren’t able to… But don’t forget that it can be individual… Anyway, the whole article is nothing but GOOD FOOD FOR THOUGHT!
For the love of movement,