We have all heard the expression "people grow outside the gym not inside." However, what does this really mean, it means that recovery from training is where one achieves all their results. In the last few years post-workout nutrition has gained significant attention because researchers have found the body is most apt to absorb nutrients after one trains. This post-workout meal helps the body in increasing protein synthesis, creating more of an anabolic state, and making the most of the bodies desire to repair itself. Is this all we can do to promote the recovery process and take full advantage of our rest time between training sessions? The simple answer is no, there is so much more we can do to help our recovery which in turn will lead to better gains in training. While examining some of the more popular methods of recovery hopefully many of you will be able to feel better and to train harder.
General Physical Preparation (GPP): This is now becoming a more common training method in programs even though it has been part of periodization models for decades. GPP is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness (Siff, 2000). In general GPP is low intensity training and can be performed in a variety of activities. These activities can fall into the categories of weighted GPP and unweighted GPP. Examples of weighted GPP are wheelbarrow pushes, farmer's walks, sled dragging, and tire flips. Unweighted GPP could involve body calisthenics such as jumping jacks, split shuffles, mountain climbers, burpees, and even jump rope skips. Besides the benefits mentioned earlier, GPP helps improve work capacity and assist in recovery. It is a shame that so many people have very low levels of GPP and could greatly benefit from improving their current levels.
Nutrition: There is some evidence that drinking specific formulations during a workout can enhance the training effect. Nutritional/supplement experts such as Dr. Eric Serrano and Dr. Mauro DiPasquale have found great success in using Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and Glutamine during training. To explain the great benefit of BCAAs I would like to quote Kelly Baggett from her article "BCAA Supplementation for Athletes."
"The BCAA's are special because they aren't significantly broken down in the liver and this results in release of the BCAA's from the liver into circulation. Skeletal muscles, however, are able to break down the BCAA's for energy and will do so during increased energy needs such as starvation, trauma, or exercise. During resting periods when other fuel sources, such as carbohydrates and fats, are available they spare the BCAA's from oxidation, leaving them available for use in protein synthesis which is what you want them to do - serve you by building muscle. The important thing is that although BCAA's account for only about 20% of the total amino acids in a protein meal they account for 50-90% of the total amino acids released into general circulation to be taken up by the muscles. BCAA's are the most abundant amino acids incorporated into muscle protein and make up 1/3 of this muscle. They are also heavily catabolized (broken down and used for energy) during exercise. These 2 reasons plus the fact that the body can't make it's own BCAA's increases the need for BCAA's for athletes."
Glutamine is the other component of this formula. Glutamine is known to have benefits such as sparing lean body mass during stress, improving the immune system, and increasing growth hormone levels. These are great supplements taken separately, but seem to have a synergistic effect when taken together. The problem in the past had to do with the dosage of BCAAs. To get the desired effect you must take a significant dosage of BCAAs. Fortunately, two companies have come out with powders that combine BCAAs and glutamine. I do not receive any money for promoting these products, but being able to pass along information that I have found extremely beneficial is the most help I could provide. ICE by Xtreme Formulations or GlutaCene by PRD are both great tasting and very effective products.
Directly After Training
These are methods we can all employ as soon as training is complete for the day or in between training sessions.
Contrast Showers: Expose all areas of the body that were involved with the day's training session. These showers are done by alternating bursts of hot and cold water. These temperatures are alternated for periods of two minutes and done as hot as tolerable and as cold as tolerable. This can be repeated four to six times. The reasoning behind these showers is the hot periods are for vaso-dilation (increased size of vessels) and cold is for vaso-constriction (decrease in size of vessels). The result is improved circulation in the trained areas.
Ice Massage: This should be done in between exercises or immediately after training. The ice is from a plastic cup of water that was frozen the day before. The ice is rubbed along the muscle belly that has been trained and not along the joints. Performing some movement while gently rubbing the muscles with ice is another way of improving upon this method. The purpose of ice massage is to reduce the tightness in the contracted muscles and to pump free the waste products in the tissues as a result of training.
Deep Tissue Treatments: Active Release Techniques (ART) was one of the methods of soft-tissue treatments to receive a great deal of attention from the public. ART involves the manual removal of muscle adhesions which results in greater range of motion, decrease pain, and even nerve decompression. However, it is important to remember that ART is not the only effective form of soft-tissue treatments. Other methods such as Neuromuscular Therapy, Rolfing, Deep Transverse Friction, and Myofascial Release are just a few of the other effective methods of soft-tissue treatments. Since we all develop muscle adhesions (basically little bundles of tissue that cause a host of problems) from living and especially training, finding a proficient therapist can be of great help for the athlete, bodybuilder, or general fitness enthusiast.
Click here for a good FAQ on ART on a doctor's site.
Stretching: There are numerous forms of stretching. However, for post-workout I recommend static or combination of static and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). Static stretching is useful for not only its benefits of improving range of motion, but is much more relaxing than some of the other forms of stretching. In general stretching can provide the following benefits (Keith, 1977; Weiss, 1976; Holland 1968; de Vries, 1966, 1966):
1. Increase in the range of useful movement
2. Reduction in the incidence of injury
3. Decrease in the severity of injury
4. Delay in the onset of muscular fatigue
5. Prevention and alleviation of muscle soreness after exercise
6. Increase in the level of skill and muscular efficiency
7. Prolongation of sporting life
Taking fifteen minutes either directly after the workout or later in the day can greatly improve all these aspects. It is unfortunate most of us neglect this aspect of our training especially considering the majority of us already know these benefits. However, if I told you, you would grow more and lift more would you stretch? The truth is I wouldn't be lying so start now!
Above are just some of the more common and easy to apply principles of restoration. Other methods include jacuzzis, saunas, vibromassagers, and electronic stimulation. Depending upon their availability these would also be great methods to employ. Be realistic though, if you are not use to incorporating these techniques into your routines begin with just a few and easy to use methods. Treatments such as stretching and utilizing general physical preparation training should always be reasonable and accessible.