THE RECOVERY RESOLUTION
I have a very simple sport-related goal this year – recover better.
This is what the boffins at the Australian Institute of Sport like to call a process goal. That is, instead of focusing on an outcome-related goal (e.g. win a championship), you focus on something related to the process that will let you be the best you can be.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RECOVERY
As much as the motivational gym posters and inspirational athlete videos might have you believe, just saying and believing that you can reach your outcome goal is not enough – it’s always about the process. ‘Eyes on the prize’ is one thing, but keeping your hands on the process is what actually gets you to the prize.
Most of last year I was very limited by injuries, particularly tendon tears in both hamstrings that crept up on me in late 2013. I can’t count how many times I was asked what caused the tears. My answer was always the same – a lack of recovery. I was running with athletes I trained, then I would lift heavy for my own training – not a great combo to begin with, but then add age and a lack of recovery, and something’s got to give.
Anyone over the age of 20 who’s trained hard for a sport will know the frustration of injury and chronic soreness. For all the intense training and meticulous programming, it’s always one step forward and two steps back if you keep picking up niggles and injuries.
RECHARGE YOUR BODY
For the athlete who is not a pro or able to train full-time, recovery is usually the first thing that gets compromised. Training time is squeezed into busy schedules and you can take advantage of nutrition services or products to help your diet, but proper recovery procedures become this ephemeral thing that slips away like fairy dust. Yet these recovery procedures are a major factor that separates the pro athlete from the wannabe. Yes, the pro athletes train more. You know why they can train so much? They recover better between training sessions than the average joe. Admittedly, part of this comes from greater conditioning built up over years, but in large part it is also because they have the luxury of time and support staff to work on doing whatever it takes to recharge their body and mind so they can cram in as much quality training as possible.
We tend to get into a habit where we feel that the limited time we can dedicate to our sport has to be spent going hell for leather at our chosen activity, and anything else seems to come at a cost to this training. Yet the hard training becomes fruitless without proper recovery, and it can send us backwards if we push on to injury. The ability to string a good training cycle together without burnout or injury eventually pays off – progress may creep forward inch by inch or you might progress in spits and spurts, but either way, you move forward.
- Recovery starts with quality sleep and plenty of it - it's the human growth hormone you take when you're not "taking" human growth hormone. There are always articles floating around about how much sleep you "need", but there are also lots of studies that show how athletes can increase their performance and recovery simply by sleeping more. It's a simple rule - if you train hard, you need more sleep than someone who doesn't train hard.
- Next is adequate warm-up and cooldown. I've become better at the warm-up, and for me I think this was a major factor to overcoming chronic shoulder soreness, but the warm-down has often been near non-existent. Static stretching, mobility exercises and elongating the spine (e.g. hanging off a bar) will be the order of the day.
- A little yoga will become a daily ritual to stretch muscles and ligaments and release residual tension. I will also reduce built-up muscle stiffness tension by being more conscious of my seated posture as I work and ensuring that I get up out of my chair every hour.
- There will always be food with me at training so if there is any delay that stops me eating within 30 minutes after a session, I have a snack to go. I will also experiment with taking a small amount of protein prior to going to bed (a protein drink or yogurt), because this has been shown to improve recovery by stimulating muscle protein synthesis overnight.
- A running colleague in her 40s swears that last year foam rolling within 12 hours of training halved her DOMS. I'm sold - I'm taking up the habit, along with some massage (usually in the form of my wife walking on my back or hamstrings).
THE RIGHT GEAR
Last but not least, I will always have compression gear to change into straight after training, and when appropriate, I will wear it in warm-up or during events or training.* The great thing about compression is that it’s almost a freebie when it comes to recovery. Sure, there’s a cost to the garments, but otherwise using compression as a form of recovery requires almost no input from me – it’s not something that takes effort from me, it doesn’t burn up any additional time, I don’t have to schedule anyone and I’m not limited to where or when I can put it on. This is one aspect of recovery where I can be on an even footing with the richest pro footballer or tennis player.
This year I plan to complete the Crazy Double again, doing maximum strength events in the first half of the year before doing a trail running ultra marathon later in the year. Recovery will be the key to getting through this madness!
* I wear Elite Compression Shorts or Compression Quad Sleeves in warm-up or during power training for legs, and Compression Arm Sleeves for very heavy bench or push-pressing. I wear Compression Race Socks for long distance running and Compression Calf Guards when running on sand.