Only those athletes who are incredibly resilient or take their recovery seriously will weather the storm and make it through to the end – Kyle Ruth
The below article will hopefully give you some tools that can help you not only survive your training week by week, but rather thrive and grow week by week.
In my journey to become the fittest version of myself, I have and still am searching for new areas to improve on. One thing that struck me was the principle of “recovery”. A term that I think we all know of, but don’t fully understand how to attack and also don’t understand how valuable it is.
In April 2017, I started having some elbow pain, which I unfortunately still suffer from even though I’ve been through almost every treatment possible. The elbow is improving a lot at the moment, through various movement work and specific non-local treatment. The elbow is not important in this article, but having that injury made me explore other areas of my fitness in order to constantly improve as I haven’t been able to do most things with my upper-body over the last year. That is how my interest for nutrition and recovery came into play, and these extremely important elements (which I almost ignored in the past) has allowed me to improve a lot. This article will go in depth with the “recovery” pillar of fitness and health, which is an absolute must to take care of whether your goal is to compete at the CrossFit Games or just to stay fit & healthy.
The athlete/client who gets in the most productive training gets fittest. Reducing recovery time from day to day, event to event will allow you to get more QUALITY training in, which essentially will make you fitter. The ability to recover is what separates the good from best.
Your ability to sustain quality training is the main component in one’s progress and journey towards a healthier life.
I don’t know what the best recipe for optimal recovery is and nobody knows, because it’s all individual and there are so many things that we yet still don’t understand…but I wanted to share with you all of the stuff that I’ve learned and tried throughout the years.
I strongly believe that our ability to recover is the most underrated aspect of training when it comes to high performance in sports.
I’ve tried to outline simple methods and tools you can use to track if you or your client needs more rest and focus on recovery:
- Whoop – Measure recoverability (based on sleep, HRV (see below), Resting HR)
- HRV- time between heartbeats
“Heart rate variability (HRV) is a relatively new method for assessing the effects of stress on your body. It is measured as the time gap between your heart beats that varies as you breathe in and out. Research evidence increasingly links high HRV to good health and a high level of fitness, whilst decreased HRV is linked to stress, fatigue and even burnout.”
- HR monitor – Resting HR (RHR)
If your resting HR is higher than usual when you wake up in the morning, this can be a sign of overtraining or a sign to slow down intensity on the day.
- Feel -Your soreness, irritability, hunger, energy level, mood, sleep quality, motivation, soreness, training quality
Being self-aware about the above “feelings” are essential in order to understand why or why you aren’t doing well. As a fitness professional, I think it’s essential to assess your clients asking these questions regularly. Everyday Kyle Ruth, my personal coach, makes me answer these questions and I have found it to be very effective.
Below I will share the methods that I have tried/tested/used and that I believe have made a difference in my recovery and therefore also performance. I want to give a special thanks to the people in my “team” for keeping me accountable when it comes to my recovery work – Natalie, Kyle, Liam.
- Sleep more than you think you need. I try to get 8+ hours every night, and sometimes even more in the weekends, even if that requires me to go to bed at 9pm. Here is an explanation of what and why you need it:
- Sleep is an active physiological process, one in which your body is busy carrying out vital activities, while you are unconscious. While asleep your body alternates between two forms of sleep: rapid eye movement, or REM, and non-REM sleep. This cycle repeats several times throughout the night. While REM sleep provides the energy to the brain that supports it during waking hours and is necessary for restoring the mind, stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, known as slow-wave or deep sleep, are essential for restoring the body. Even their names, slow-wave versus rapid eye movement, are indicative of their different healing natures.
- As your body enters into the non-REM deep sleep stage, your pituitary gland releases a shot of growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Lack of sleep and changes in sleep quality cause a sharp decline in growth hormone secretion. Growth hormone deficiency is associated with increased obesity, loss of muscle mass and reduced exercise capacity.
- Your muscles require additional sleep and recovery time after illness, injury and surgery. This means if you are rehabbing an injury or are in postoperative physical therapy, you should consider that your body needs an extra amount of sleep to heal. In addition, muscular recovery is required after intense exercise, particularly strength and endurance training, in which the muscles have been torn down to some degree. “
- Professional bodywork in form of physio/massage etc to relieve pain/soreness.
- Self-myofascial release (MFR) post-workout using Lacrosse balls and foam rollers in order to increase blood flow to working tissues, release and help increase range of motion (ROM) in tight areas. I know that there is a lot of debate whether or not foam rolling benefits you, but based on experience, I do find it helpful, regardless if it only helps my recovery 1%. That 1% will make a difference in the bigger picture, which is what I focus on.
- Muscle stimulation: Marcpro, Compex, Powerdot, Normatec. This method has the purpose of creating muscle contractions which automatically creates blood flow to the target area. Overall goal of above is to expel waste products stored after hard training sessions by increasing blood flow to target areas in order to deliver oxygenated blood + nutrients and remove waste products such as CO2, H+ iones, lactate.
- Stretching which is defined as “the application of force to musculotendinous structures in order to achieve a change in their length, usually for the purposes of improving joint range of motion, reducing stiffness or soreness, or preparing for an activity.”
- Cool downs after each session. My coach Kyle Ruth created something called the “Competitors Guide” where he shares some very valuable information on how to perform short-term and long-term recovery protocols. Below I will share his notes on the cool down/short term recovery.
- Light cyclical cool down, such as a 10-30min assault bike spin immediately post work out. You would do this in order to clear waste products such as H+ ions and lactate.
- Restore optimal breathing mechanics through relaxation breathing protocol, where you lay on your back with your feet elevated. Perform big inhales through your nose, followed by a slow and long exhale through your mouth for 5-10 min.
- Rehydrate and refuel carbohydrate stores. This can be done through a meal or something lighter such as a protein shake packed with carbohydrates in order to restore glycogen.
- Relax nervous system to optimize recovery through some light soft tissue massage.
- Nutrition is probably the second most important component of your recovery and the main thing that I touched based on above is to replenish glycogen stores as CrossFit is a glycolytic sport, meaning that most of the energy we use comes from the sugar/glycogen stored in muscle tissue and liver.
I don’t want to go more into depth with the nutrition as this could be an article in itself. I personally have a nutritionist who sorts out all of my nutrition + supplements, and I will share my diet with you guys in my next article.
Other things that I’ve found helpful and that I’ve been recommended to do:
- Epsom salt bath (magnesium sulphate heptahydrate) to relieve muscle soreness and to relax your body.
- Meditation – Recovery is not only physical, but also the physiological side of things.
- Bare foot walk on grass / “Earthing” as it potentially can lower stress, inflammation and pain.
- Sun exposure as the hormone “Serotonin” is released, which boost mood and helps you stay calm and focused
- Water movement session can be helpful due to the hydrostatic pressure of the water and can be beneficial as there is such low impact on your body, while it allows you to to a lot of movements.
Above was a long ramble about how recovery is key to longevity and success in any sport. I still have a lot to learn in regards to the more in depth science behind the above methods, so if you are reading this and you have a good amount of knowledge on one of the many methods, please reach out to me as I would love to learn from you.
For most of us the recovery work is the boring part, that you just need to get over with. My goal with this article was to show different ways to recover, explain the intention behind each of them and also make you realise the benefits of doing it, so that you can be inspired to take more action on the recovery side of the training spectrum.
Learn to love it and you will go far in whatever sport you participate in.
Thanks for reading a long, I hope you enjoyed this article.
By: André Houdet, Performance Coach
- “Chasing excellence” Podcast #29
- “The competitors guide” By Kyle Ruth