In a previous post about recovery (Recovery Essentials), we spoke about the importance of recovery after competition/training, and the fundamentals of recovery. Recovery is a key component of every athlete’s performance, having the ability to recover effectively after a training session or competition means that they are able to reduce the effects of fatigue and therefore perform better in subsequent training or competition. There are 4 main aims of recovery for an athlete:
- Repair muscle damage (with every bout of physical activity performed by an athlete they create micro-tears within the muscle – the muscle’s then need adequate rest and protein stores to re-synthesise / repair the muscle).
- Reduce muscles soreness (due to the build-up of metabolic waste and the muscle damage created during activity this can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS, this can last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after exercise).
- Clear metabolic waste (during physical activity there is an increase in the production of blood lactate, an excess build-up
of this can result in impaired muscle function) Refuel energy stores (after exercise there is a depletion of fuel stores such asglycogen, fat and protein, it is therefore important that these stores are replenished after exercise).
As spoken about in our previous post the most crucial components to an athlete’s recovery include:
It is important that we target these areas of our recovery first prior to looking for alternate recovery options. It is well known however that there are many alternate recovery options on the market that can be used to potentially further aid the effects of recovery. Throughout this blog post, we will be discussing the use of what we like to call the 1% er’s of recovery, what are they, what effect they have and how you can effectively use them to aid your recovery.
Cold water immersion/Hydrotherapy and hot/cold showers:
Hot and cold-water therapy (otherwise known as contrast water therapy) is a form of recovery many will know about as it is widely used across many sports. The idea behind contrast water therapy is that it creates a ‘muscular pump,’ whereby it causes the blood vessels within the muscles to dilate (vasodilation) when in hot water and then constrict (vasoconstriction) when in cold water (8). Doing this creates a pump-like action within the muscles aiding in pumping the blood back to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated and pumped back around the body (8). The idea is that in doing this you can remove any metabolic waste products from the muscles reducing the effects of DOMS and aiding in a faster recovery. Research has found that simple CWI or CWT can result in improved recovery from high-i
An example protocol for CWT may look like 1 min in cold (15 degrees) and 1 min spent in hot water (38 degrees) repeating this seven times with a short transition between temperatures (8).
Coldwater immersion (CWI) is another method commonly used by athletes for recovery. This method involves the athlete submerging themselves into cold water (15 degrees) for 14 minutes. CWI cause vasoconstriction of the blood vessels, this consequently reduces blood flow to the muscles this reduction in blood flow to the damaged muscles can result in a reduction in inflammation and oedema within the muscles (8). There can also be an analgesic effect caused by CWI whereby there is decreased nerve conduction and excitability, thus reducing communication with the sympathetic nervous system leading to a reduction in perceived pain (8). Overall research has shown that CWI can reduce the effects of DOMS 24, 48 and 96 hours post-exercise (8).
Pneumatic Compression Devices (Normatec):
Pneumatic Compression (PC) devices such as the Normatec Boots have been marketed to aid in removing metabolic waste from the muscles. The theory behind these devices is that through intermittent compression they create or mimic a muscular-venous pump consequently circulating blood from the muscles towards the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated and back to the heart to be pumped back around the body (2). The mechanical ‘squeezing’ of the muscle is thought to push swelling out of the extremity and promote blood flow back to the heart and lungs (2). The actual effectiveness of this device is similar to that of active recovery, it has been found that similar blood lactate removal has been found for athletes after an active recovery versus a 20-minute session using a pneumatic compression device (2). Due to this evidence, it is possible that PC devices could have an effect on reducing DOMS by reducing the level of blood lactate within the muscles. Some research has found that it could result in recovering from DOMS at a more rapid rate, however, this is no significant difference when compared not using a PC device (2).
It has been thought that the use of PC devices could aid in glycogen resynthesis post-exercise. Glucose is the bodies main fuel source for activity and after approximately 90 minutes of continuous exercise, it is said that an individual’s glycogen stores will be depleted, if not replenished during activity. It is therefore important that athletes performing this type of exercise look to replenish their glycogen stores within the first 60 minutes after activity. It is thought that the aid of the PC device creating a muscular pump may lead to a more rapid replenishment of glycogen stores. It has however been found that this is not the case and that the rate of glycogen resynthesis does not change with or without the use of PC devices (2).
Overall, the consensus is that PC devices may provide some reduction in DOMS through the reduction in blood lactate levels aiding a quicker return to homeostasis. It is important to note however that this device will not improve performance.
Massage is a widely used recovery strategy however the effects of it on improved subsequent performance is debated widely in the research. The idea behind massage is that it creates a squeezing like action of the muscles similar to that of PC devices pushing any swelling and metabolic by-products away from the peripheral muscles and back to the heart and lungs allowing for the blood to be re-oxygenated and pumped back around the body (10). In some studies, it has been found that this can have a positive impact on DOMS as well as improved muscle flexibility post-exercise (10). This may provide the athlete with some relief from post-exercise fatigue, however, it’s impact on subsequent performance has not been proven (3).
Flexibility is the range of motion (ROM) of a joint or related series of joints such as the spine (7). There are various types of flexibility that an athlete can use such as flexibility for ROM enhancement whereby the joints are taken through excessive ROM placing muscles and tendons under unaccustomed tensile stress, an example of someone using this type of stretching would include dancers and gymnasts (7). Another form of stretching can be used prior to a session commonly called dynamic stretching where the joint is taken through a ROM in a gentle active manner, this forms part of many athlete’s warm-ups prior to commencing their sport (7). Stretching for recovery however, is used to reduce stiffness and soreness after a training session this is generally performed via static stretching (7).
Stretching can be categorised into several different forms including active or passive, static or dynamic, and acute or chronic. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the use of static stretching for recovery. Static stretching involves taking a joint through its ROM to a point of resistance a holding it there for a given period (7). It has been found that static stretching via pain-free ROM with minimal resistance may reduce post-exercise DOMS and improve post-exercise ROM (7). It, however, has not been found if stretching post-exercise can improve subsequent performance, it may, however, reduce post-exercise fatigue and soreness (7).
Thera-gun is a massage device that looks like a drill. It uses percussive massage therapy to treat muscle soreness post-exercise. Percussion therapy is s form of soft tissue manipulation that is intended to reduce muscle soreness and increase ROM (5). It is said to do this via delivering rapid long vertical strokes to the muscles resulting in a neuromuscular response (5). Through this impact on the neuromuscular system, it is said to have effects on improving ROM after exercise (5). The percussive therapy is believed to improve muscular blood flow resulting in a reduction of DOMS through the aid in the removal of metabolic by-products (5). There is however limited research on this recovery modality making it unclear on the true effects it may have, leading to the presumption that it may have more of a placebo effect. It is clear however that the Thera-gun has limited to no effect on subsequent performance (5).
Foam rollers and massage balls both normal and vibrating:
Now we have all heard of the humble foam roller to use for recovery, well h
A relaxing form of recovery where an individual lies face up in a quiet dark environment, in a tank of Epsom salt and water heated to approx. skin temperature (4). The level of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) within the water is considerably higher than that of the dead sea allowing an athlete to effortlessly float within the tank (4). It is believed that the Epsom salts within the water promote the removal of blood lactate from the muscles having a significant impact on perceived pain post-exercise (4). As with all other recovery modalities mentioned this does not appear to have an impact on athlete subsequent performance not impacting muscle strength, or blood glucose levels, factors important for improved subsequent performance (4).
So, what is to come from all these different recovery modalities?
The key take a ways are:
- The best form of recovery for improved performance comes from sleep, nutrition and hydration.
- These modalities can be used as supplements to the above however they should not be relied upon.
- These recovery modalities may have an impact on muscle blood lactate levels and perceived soreness post fatiguing exercise, however, they won’t have an impact on an individual’s subsequent performance.
- Through the research these recovery strategies have not been found to significantly improve performance…… however, if you find there is a strategy that aids in your recovery, and you find it super beneficial to use, then use it – every little bit helps to make sure you are recovered and ready for the next game/competition.
- Eston, R. & Peters, D. Effects of cold-water immersion on the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of Sports Science. 17: 231-238, 1999.
- Hanson, E. Stetter, K. Li, R. & Thomas, A. An intermittent Pneumatic Compression Device reduces blood lactate concentrations more effectively than passive recovery after Wingate testing. Journal of Athletic Enhancement. 2(3): 20-24, 2013.
- Hemmings, B. Smith, M. Graydon, J. & Dyson, R. Effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and repeated sports performance. Journal of Sports Medicine. 34: 109-115, 2000.
- Morgan, P. Salacinski, A. & Stults-Kolehmainen, M. The acute effects of flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique on recovery from maximal eccentric exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(12): 3467-3474, 2013.
- Pournot, H. Tindel, J. Testa, R. Mathevon, L. & Lapole, T. The acute effect of local vibration as a recovery modality from exercise-induced increased muscle stiffness. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 15: 142-147, 2016.
- Romero-Moraleda, B. Gonzalez-Garcia, J. Cuellar-Rayo. Balsalobre-Fernandez. Munoz-Garcia. & Morencos, E. Effects of vibration and non-vibration foam rolling on recovery after exercise with induced muscle damage. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 18: 172-180, 2019.
- Sands, W. McNeal, J. Murray, S. Ramsey, M. Sato, K. Mizuguchi, S. & Stone, M. Stretching and its effects on recovery: A review. National Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 35(5): 30-36, 2013.
- Vaile, J. Halson, S. Gill, N. & Dawson, B. Effect of hydrotherapy on recovery from fatigue. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 29: 539-544, 2008.
- Winke, M. & Williamson, S. Comparison of pneumatic Compression Device to a compression garment during recovery from DOMS. International Journal of Exercise Science. 11(3): 375-383, 2018.
- Zainuddin, Z. Newton, M. Sacco, P. & Nosaka, K. Effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery of muscle function. Journal of Athletic Training. 40(3): 174-180, 2005.