Nail the foundations of recovery (like sleep and nutrition) before turning to additional recovery strategies
There’s a place for additional recovery strategies like compression, cold water immersion and soft tissue therapy or massage, but these are not to be used in place of, or at the expense of, the fundamentals.
The power of sleep
Why is sleep so important for recovery? Sleep gives both the body and brain downtime to recover. The recovery period after training, whether physical or cognitive, is important for building adaptation and encouraging improvements in performance. Sleep is one of the main tools you can use to optimise your performance, and the best part is that it’s free!
How much sleep do you need?
Research supports 8 hours as a general recommendation. But it’s important to remember that sleep is genetically influenced and everyone’s sleep needs are different.
You might be someone who has a lower quality sleep and therefore naturally require more sleep to feel rested. Or, you might cope well with less sleep (5 or 6 hours) because you are a deep, high quality sleeper. There’s a trade-off between sleep quality and quantity, so experts advocate an individualised approach to sleep duration (rather than an absolute amount for everyone).
Why tracking sleep can be helpful.
Tracking how many hours of sleep you’re averaging a night, and how you feel during your waking hours, can help you establish your baseline and set up a good sleep routine. Improving your recovery – and, ultimately, your performance.
There’s no need to invest in sleep tracking devices. Simply writing down your sleep and wake times to calculate how many hours you tend to get. And keeping note of how you feel at different times of the day (first thing vs after lunch vs on your commute home, for example) is the most effective way to determine if you’re catching enough Zzzz’s.
In this article by Nike Training, Shona advocates drawing insights from the data and adjusting your bedtime up by 30 minutes a night until you’re no longer tired during the day.
Sleep hygiene and suggestions for setting up a good sleep routine:
Create a bedtime routine
Establish a regular bed time and wake time
Turn off electronic devices
Try reading/meditation to wind down
Shape your environment
Is your bedroom cool, dark and quiet?
Watch your daily caffeine consumption
The odd bad night’s sleep won’t hurt
Try not to stress over one bad night. Research conducted with athletes suggests that you need between 2-5 nights of reduced sleep before you see negative effects on performance.
It’s normal to struggle to fall asleep after late-night exercise
Shona explains how important it is to allow yourself time to relax and wind down before heading to bed (no matter how late you finish), in order to help both the mind and body switch off and relax, and ease into a good night’s sleep.
Recovery strategies which may help after vigorous late-night exercise
Try contrast baths or ice baths to drop the body temperature if it’s still elevated post-match or training session
Get your nutrition right (consider and curb your caffeine intake)
Wear compression to reduce inflammation and soreness
Experiment with things that help may you relax (whether reading, listening to a podcast or breathing exercises), find what works and repeat continually until it triggers a conditioned response – telling your body you are about to sleep
Recovery is a return to homeostasis or balance
What is recovery? Shona describes it as return to homeostasis or balance.
She explains in the podcast how an over focus on training, led to a recognition and realisation that we can’t just train, train, train and that recovery time is vital to muscle repair and adaptation.
Additional recovery strategies (the fancier strategies) are particularly beneficial when it comes to acute recovery i.e. for those exercising/training/competing on consecutive days (whether amateurs or elites), where it’s important and beneficial to speed up the recovery process as much as possible.
Additional recovery strategies proven to help recovery (particularly acute recovery)
Compression: Targets body temperature, increases blood flow. Helps reduce swelling and inflammation, and speed recovery by increasing oxygen delivery to muscles and removal of metabolic waste products.
Cold water immersion: Targets body temperature and also acts on hydrostatic pressure, which can reduce inflammation and soreness.
Soft tissue therapy or massage
Electrical stimulation or brain stimulation
There’s merit in using these recovery strategies for immediate (acute) recovery. Or using them periodically, as part of aperiodised training program, to support long-term performance goals.