- Home Article - Recovery for Athletes – Shona L Halson, PhD
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Head of Discipline, Australian Institute of Sport
Optimal recovery from training and performance may provide numerous benefits during high-level training and competition. Some of the most popular recovery techniques for athletes include: sleep, compression garments, hydrotherapy, active recovery, stretching, massage and nutrition.
Sleep is extremely important for numerous biological functions and sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athlete performance, especially sub-maximal, prolonged exercise. Evidence suggests that athletes may be obtaining less than 8 hours of sleep per night and that increasing sleep (sleep extension) or napping may be useful to increase the total number of hours of sleep and thereby enhance performance.
Many recovery strategies for elite athletes are based on medical equipment or therapies used in patients. Compression clothing is one of these strategies. It has been traditionally used to treat various lymphatic and circulatory conditions. Compression garments are thought to improve venous return through application of graduated compression to the limbs from proximal to distal (Bochmann et al, 2005). The external pressure created may reduce the intramuscular space available for swelling and promote stable alignment of muscle fibres, attenuating the inflammatory response and reducing muscle soreness (Kraemer et al, 2001; Bochmann et al, 2005; Davies et al, 2009).
Recreational runners wearing compression garments have been examined during and after intermittent and continuous running (Ali et al, 2007). The authors found that there was a reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness 24 h after wearing compression during the continuous exercise task (10 km/ 6 m). While not statistically significant, there was a trend for participants in the compression trial to perform the 10 km/ 6 m effort in a faster time than when not wearing the compression garments. Subjects wore commercially available graduated compression stockings, with the compression highest at the ankle (18-22 mmHg) and reducing by 70% to the top of the stocking which ended below the knee. Recently, a reduction in perceptions of muscle soreness after wearing compression garments during sprinting and bounding exercise and for 24 h after exercise (Duffield et al, 2010).
Various forms of water immersion are becoming increasingly popular with elite athletes. While athletes have been using hydrotherapy for a number of years, we are now beginning to see increased research into water immersion, recovery and performance. The most common forms of water immersion are cold water immersion (CWI), hot water immersion (HWI) and contrast water therapy (CWT- where the athlete alternates between hot and cold water immersion).
It is important that athletes experiment with a variety of strategies and approaches to identify the recovery options that work best for each individual. However, it is known that optimal recovery from training and competition may provide numerous benefits for athlete performance.
While there is not a large degree of scientific studies investigating recovery strategies in athletes, from current evidence as well as anecdotal evidence from athletes, it appears that completing appropriate recovery can aid in enhancing performance. At present, the following general recommendations can be made:
Ali, A., M. P. Caine and B. G. Snow (2007). Graduated compression stockings: physiological and perceptual responses during and after exercise. J Sports Sci 25(4): 413-9.
Bochmann, R. P., W. Seibel, E. Haase, V. Hietschold, H. Rodel and A. Deussen (2005). External compression increases forearm perfusion. J Appl Physiol 99(6): 2337-44.
Davies, V., K. G. Thompson and S. M. Cooper (2009). The effects of compression garments on recovery. J Strength Cond Res 23(6): 1786-94.
Duffield, R., J. Cannon and M. King (2010). The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise. J Sci Med Sport 13(1): 136-40.
Kraemer, W. J., J. A. Bush, R. B. Wickham, C. R. Denegar, A. L. Gomez, A. L. Gotshalk, N. D. Duncan, J. S. Volek, R. U. Newton, M. Putukian and W. J. Sebastianelli (2001). Continuous compression as an effective therapeutic intervention in treating eccentric-exercise-induced muscle soreness. J Sport Rehab 10: 11-23.