Recuperation Methods For The Advanced Strength Athlete: Part 2.

Recuperation or recovery can be split in to several sub-categories. Russian sports scientists have long classified recuperation as being either pedagogical, medico-biological, or psychological. Read below for more details.

Part 1 | Part 2


Part 2
Meditation & Progressive Relaxation

Anyone who has trained for a long period of time knows the importance of the mind in the gym, but few trainees spend anything like a comparable amount of time on mental training as physical. This is a huge mistake. Most advanced lifters utilize some kind of mental preparation before they approach the bar, to help them to focus on the task ahead and increase confidence and aggressiveness; but mental training is equally valid for the purposes of recovery from hard training.

To increase recuperative abilities, I recommend meditation without the religious content. It's the use of a mantra or "point of focus" to allow us to shut off our bodies and totally relax, as though asleep. Meditation, along with progressive relaxation, can clear the body of stress and muscular tension, and enhance recovery.

Meditation: Not Just Touchy Feely Nonsense

    Now before anyone thinks I am about to get all touchy feely on them let me make one thing abundantly clear. Mental techniques such a meditation, self-talk and visualization are a part of the training regimes of almost every elite level athlete and probably even yours!

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    How many of you arrive at the gym and turn off the truck keys but don't get out the cab for a few minutes because it is squat day and you need to set your head?

    You're sitting there reminding yourself of why you do this, thinking of the bar, the weight on it, how it will feel to squat it and so forth. Your breathing changes and you get more focused; your crappy day at work becomes irrelevant. Now you're ready.


    Mental Preparation Can Get You Through Those Reps.

    That's informal meditation and visualization and it works to amp you up and create the right mind-set before training. It can also create the right mind-set to grow more tissue, recover faster and lift more weight.

Proper Atmosphere

    Before you meditate, find yourself a quiet, comfortable space with a pleasant atmosphere. Reduce stimulation of the nervous system as much as possible... you must be neither too hot nor too cold, and the air around you should be neither dusty nor stale. Either sit or lie flat on your back on a supportive but comfortable surface. Once you are comfortable you must focus on a simple one or two syllable non-stimulating mantra ("ahhh...ummmm" for example).

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    Your mantra can be anything you choose providing it does not trigger any chain of thought. If your mind does wander from your mantra, gently remind yourself to return your focus to it and let the intruding thoughts pass you by. With all your focus on your mantra, your body will begin to relax. Outside stimulation will be minimal and you will in effect be "switching off" much of your nervous system.

    Continue to focus on the mantra while attempting to progressively slow and deepen your breathing. I find a two-syllable mantra very useful, with one syllable for inhaling, and the second for exhaling.

    If you continue this breathing for 5-20 minutes you will find yourself greatly relaxed and you will feel calm and refreshed when you go back to your daily life. If you are meditating to rid yourself of stress before training, it is worthwhile to slowly readjust your focus to the training session ahead of you.

External Visualization

    Use external visualization to bring your system back up to full alertness. See yourself performing the workout with great success. This is a terrific strategy for getting work, family and outside-the-gym problems out of your mind prior to training and you can use the same strategy to enhance your overall growth.

    Once you are fully relaxed you can begin to use external or internal visualization to focus on your training goals for the week, month, year etc.

    Do You Find That Visualizing Success Helps You Reach Your Goals?
    Yes, If I Believe It, It Will Happen.
    No, Thinking About A Goal Won't Make It Happen.

    For example if you know you will be competing in 16 weeks and have particular targets in mind then turn your focus towards those targets. "See" yourself achieving them in your minds eye.

    Try to bring in as much detail as possible about the competitive environment: what you see, smell, hear etc. Now bring your focus back to the shorter term and focus on what you need to do today, tomorrow, for the next week in order to get to the long term-goal.

    Now get up and do it.

    If you are to train within two hours of your relaxation time, limit your relaxation techniques to the meditation described above. After a workout, or on non-training days, follow the meditation with the progressive relaxation techniques that follow.


Progressive Relaxation

Related to meditation, is progressive relaxation. The basic approach is to tense each muscle separately as hard as possible, then focus on the feeling as you release the tension and relax the muscle. Then tense the same muscle with half as much tension, relax and again focus on the feeling of relaxation as you let the tension go.

Repeat with one quarter of the tension. Finally, perform it with just enough muscular tension to identify it. What you are doing is teaching yourself the skill of identifying muscular tension. Once you have learned to identify tension you can consciously make an effort to relax your musculature throughout the day.

The actual movements are performed lying on a flat surface that fully supports your body. The best way I have found is to lie on a floor with a pillow beneath my knees. This allows me to relax completely and feel well supported by the floor. Allow your feet to splay out sideways slightly and let your arms rest by your sides, slightly bent at the elbows.

Allow gravity to "sink" you in to the floor. This will ensure you are as relaxed as possible before you begin. This is especially easy to do if you have already meditated. Once you are in position you will need to follow the series of instructions below. After a while you will find it easy to remember them all, but at first you may wish to record them to tape for playback or have someone read them aloud to you.

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The first lesson is on the hands and arm, and will take approximately 30 minutes at first. Each subsequent lesson takes a similar length of time, but once you are proficient it is possible to relax the whole body (perform all five lessons) in around 30 minutes. Master the lessons one at a time.

It may take a week or so or so to master a given lesson. For the sake of space I have not repeated the complete instructions for each muscle group/lesson, but each lesson follows the same pattern as the first one. You first tense as hard as you can, then with half tension, then one quarter, then with just enough tension to identify. If there are no instructions about tension after a given movement is described, then that is the pattern you are to follow.

If you are to train within two hours of your relaxation time, limit your relaxation techniques to the meditation described above. After a workout, or on non-training days, follow the meditation with the progressive relaxation techniques that follow.


Lesson 1

    Step 1

    Beginning with the dominant hand, attempt to touch your knuckles to the top of your wrist. Hold for ten seconds, then release the tension. Note where the tension is felt, then repeat.


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    Step 2

    Attempt to touch your fingertips to the underside of your wrist. Hold, note the tension, relax and let go. Repeat this sequence for the non-dominant arm. Repeat for each arm in turn with half tension, quarter tension, then just enough to identify.


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    Step 3

    Flex the dominant side biceps as hard as you can (without bending at the elbow). Hold for ten seconds, relax and let go. Note the tension, then repeat. Repeat with other arm, then for each arm in turn with half tension, quarter tension, then just enough tension to identify.


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    Step 4

    Press both wrists in the floor to tense the triceps. Hold for ten, relax. Repeat with half tension, then quarter, then just enough to identify.


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    Step 5

    Using both arms, tense and tighten all the muscles of the arms and shoulders without moving. Your fists will clench and the arm should be as tight as possible. Hold for a count of ten and then relax as slowly as possible until you are once again free of tension. Repeat with half tension, quarter tension and then just enough to identify.


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    Once you become proficient at these movements you will be able to perform the entire first lesson in 5 or 6 minutes. Only at this point should you begin work on lesson two, but always begin each session with the mastered lesson one.

    Master lesson two, and then move onto number three (but opening with 5 or 6 minutes each for the mastered lessons one and two). Continue in this manner until you can perform all 5 lessons in one session of about 30 minutes. This way, the longest session you will ever have to perform will be around 55 minutes long.


Lesson 2

    Step 1

    Bend toes of right foot towards the shin. Repeat sequence for left foot.


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    Step 2

    Repeat the sequence while pointing the toes forwards, for right toes, then left, then both feet together.


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    Step 3

    Repeat the sequence while holding feet one inch off the floor.


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    Step 4

    Repeat the sequence pressing the feet as hard in to the floor as you can.


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Lesson 3

    Step 1

    Make a tight fist with both hands, hold, relax. Do not repeat sequence of contractions.


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    Step 2 Tense both arms throughout, hold, relax. Do not repeat.


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    Step 3

    Tense both legs and feet, hold, relax. Do not repeat.


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    Step 4

    Pull in abdominals. Repeat contractions as usual... full, half, quarter, etc.


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    Step 5

    Tighten your buttocks.


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    Step 6

    Arch back slowly. Imagine arching the back as high as you can, but do not move. Relax and let go of all tension. Take a deep breath, hold, identify tension and release the air normally. Take a deep breath, hold, identify tension and let breath out in a sharp puff. Continue to breathe normally and relax more as your breathing deepens.


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    If you are to train within two hours of your relaxation time, limit your relaxation techniques to the meditation described above. After a workout, or on non-training days, follow the meditation with the progressive relaxation techniques that follow.


Lesson 4

    Step 1

    Push right shoulder and right side of head in to the floor.


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    Step 2

    Try to bring both shoulders together in front of chest.


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    Step 3

    Shrug both your shoulders up to your ears.


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    Step 4

    Press back of head against mat.


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    Step 5

    Try to put your right ear on your right shoulder. Repeat entire sequence, using left side in place of right where appropriate.


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Lesson 5

    Step 1

    Clench teeth tensing the jaw.


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    Step 2

    Pucker lips as if whistling.


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    Step 3

    Smile exaggeratedly.


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    Step 4

    Push tongue in to front teeth. Pull tongue back towards throat. Let the jaw go slack and breathe deeply.


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Conclusion

That concludes our whistle stop tour of muscle relaxation. What I have provided is little more than an outline, but it's enough for you to try the technique and see how it feels.

I realize that for many of you 45 minutes or so out of a day (once you're proficient at meditation and progressive relaxation, and longer until then) will be a long time, but even performed just once or twice a week, these exercises can make you feel better, recover better, and thus train better.

Part 1 | Part 2