Tag Archives: Recovery

Recovery Review: Cryospa!

I recently had the opportunity to have a session in a Cryospa. Cold therapy is nothing new. It is perhaps the most utilized method of recovery in one form or another. Ice baths and ice packs have been used for decades to treat minor and acute injury and help athletes recover from tough sessions. There are now much more advanced forms of cold therapy commercially available. We have many new tools such as cold compression/pump garments and cryospas. The cryospa is very much like an ice bath except it has integrated water jets. This allows for a steady flow of cold water around the body. In the past the water adjacent to the skin would warm up a little with body heat. While a very small factor, this has now been overcome. In addition these jets help add a massage effect into the mix.

First a little theory behind cold therapy. The main mechanism is thought to be vasoconstriction. In reaction to cold stimulus our body constricts blood vessels to reduce blood flow to cold regions of the body. It redirects blood flow through vasodilation back to the core to help maintain core body temperature by reducing the blood’s exposure to cooler temperature. Doing this is thought to help reduce swelling around injuries and also force metabolites in the blood produced from heavy exercise away from the muscle. It is also thought that once the cooled areas begin to warm blood flow is increased as constriction ceases. It is theorized that this returning blood from the body’s core and organs is oxygenated and carries a fresh supply of nutrients to help aid recovery. For this reason cold is often used in conjunction with heat which has the opposite effect of promoting bloodflow.

Cooling the body is thought to help switch the body from sympathetic to parasympathetic. In short it goes from fight mode to rest mode. This should help athletes to relax and sleep after exercise. It will also allow digestion to become more efficient helping refuel the body. This downregulation of the body’s nervous system can be very important in the recovery from exercise as this is when adaptation is most likely to occur.

Ice Baths are one of the most popular forms of recovery.

Ice Baths are one of the most popular forms of recovery.

While there are some solid theories and evidence behind the use of cold therapy there is also some conflicting research. Some argue that cold therapy may interfere with the body’s natural recovery mechanisms. This review will not become a critical analysis but it is important to note there is some valid disagreement in the literature.

In order to get the most out of the session I decided from my own knowledge and opinion that it was muscle soreness I wanted to examine. Soreness from training or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is extremely common in athletes. In the days prior to the session I decided I would try and induce as much DOMS as possible so I could see how the cryopsa helped reverse or reduce it. I did the things I know cause soreness for me and it was not a schedule I would recommend to anyone. It was designed purely to enduce soreness and not for any training benefit. My training looked like the following.

Day 1- Lower body strength training (Focus on Intensity)

            5X5 Heavy deadlift @85%approx with 2-3 minute rest

            3X 15 Split squat supersetted with Walking lunges with 1 minute rest

            3X Rounds of 5 reps Front squat @50%, 10 Jump squats, 15 bodyweight squats with 1min rest

Day 2- Sprint intervals

            10X 20m sprint walk return rest

            5X 200m with two minute rest

Day 3- 60minute TT cycle with hills.

I was sore after day one but day two and three really built upon that initial session. After the cycle on day 3 my legs felt dead and aching. I felt tight and my glutes and quads had definite soreness moving around. Range of motion was also quite poor due to the tightness. On the afternoon of Day 3 I had my session in the spa.

The spa itself can be filled with epsom salts and magnesium which are also thought to help increase rates of recovery. I was given little neoprene booties to keep my toes from going numb. The water temperature was 4°C. Stepping into the spa was pretty unpleasant as expected. I felt winded and wanted out. This died down after a minute. I was submerged up to waist level but it can also be done with only ankle and knee submersion or all the way up to the shoulders. The whole cycle lasted 10minutes with the jets on full blast. The jets definitely made it feel colder than a standard DIY ice bath.

The spa was pretty user friendly despite the initial shock getting in.

The spa was pretty user friendly despite the initial shock getting in.

When I left the spa my legs were cold and a little numb. As the heat came back into them they definitely felt fresher than when I walked in. Over the course of the day as they heated back up I didn’t really notice any major soreness which was different to before I completed the session. It almost felt like the cycle session was removed from my week in terms of it’s after effects. The dull throb and deadness was gone from my legs and I felt a bit freer moving around. I did feel a little stiff still and there was still a bit of soreness but not quite as bad as before. I would love to have done some performance measure but there is plenty of literature out there and I wasn’t looking to do a full experiment. This was to satisfy my own thoughts and curiosity.

Legs were pretty numb leaving the spa but quickly warmed up.

Legs were pretty numb leaving the spa but quickly warmed up.

The bottom line is I have some doubts on cold therapy as with most things. In saying that I genuinely felt the spa session took an edge off my soreness. If I had full access I would definitely utilize it on a regular basis. This is a very subjective opinion but one cannot discredit the mental impact of recovery. If an athlete feels better and fresher regardless of their actual physiological recovery it is a major benefit.

Different things work for different people and there are tools and methods I simply find useless. The Cryospa is not one of those. I highly recommend trying it or something similar. See how you feel and if it works for you. A lot of being an experienced athlete is trial and error and simply learning your body. A certain amount of individual experimentation is necessary to do so.

I would like to thank Bodyright Physiotherapy (http://bodyrightphysio.ie) and Cet Cryospas (http://www.cetcryospas.com) for the opportunity to try something new. I hope some of those who read this may find my experience useful to them and encourage them to experiment with things for themselves.

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Lifestyle for maximum performance.

This article comes by request from some of the athletes we work with. Often athletes are placed under quite stressful environments both physically and emotionally. Training volume, competition stress, exams and possibly work commitments all contribute to general stress levels. In order to get the best performance, an athlete must manage his lifestyle. In many cases stress is unavoidable and taking rest is not always possible. In order to maintain performance an athlete must manage his/her lifestyle in order to stay healthy and keep recovery effective.

Having lived with many athletes in many scenarios there is often a situation where there are multiple competitions in a very short timeframe. Whether it be qualifying heats, a tournament or just a heavy training block, recovery time could be very short. In these situations there are a number of things which must be considered as they can be quite detrimental.

Sleep

Adequate sleep is absolutely essential. There is no exact or perfect amount but we recommend 8-10 hours with 20 min naps during the day where possible. Early in a competition week less sleep may seem to have little negative impact. It will catch up with the athlete though, so discipline is essential to ensure it does not become an issue as days pass.

Nutrition

Nutrition is also essential during competition. Athletes cannot eat for enjoyment, they must eat for function during these periods. Ensure that there is adequate or even a surplus of both protein and carbohydrate. Carbohydrate provides fuel essential to exercise. Protein repairs cells and is essential for recovery. A calorie surplus is normally hard to achieve but it should be the goal during competition. It may also be a good time to include a broad spectrum multivitamin. The immune system is often taxed heavily and while a balanced diet should cover this, it is good to have the added back up. Clean whole foods are best. Keep things simple during this period; often athletes need to rely on restaurants during these periods and must ensure they do not get tempted.

Nutrition is key to having enough energy fortraining camps and competition.

Nutrition is key to having enough energy for training camps and competition.

Hydration is also very important. Even when urine is clear it does not necessarily mean you are hydrated. Investing in hydration tablets is a good way to ensure salts are replaced, ensuring fluids get absorbed as opposed to flushed through. This is particularly important in hot climates.

Alcohol

Even during competition some athletes still want to go out for a drink. Maybe to celebrate a pool stage win or just to relax. Whatever the reason one or two drinks will not have a huge impact. Having more than this however, will have a massive negative impact. Dehydration as well has glycogen replenishment both become an issue. Long nights cut down on sleep and standing all night in clubs or the bar all take a toll.

Activity

Sir Chris Hoy said “Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down”. This is a good way to think. Often athletes spend their rest days on their feet the whole day and it becomes counter productive. Listen to Sir Chris; it worked for him.

Maintenance

Stretching, foam rolling and massage on off days can be quite beneficial. In many cases tension in the muscles is reduced. This can relieve pain and help restore muscle function. It can greatly aid the recovery process.

Relax

When you do get a chance to rest it is important to relax. For some that means staying in front of the TV, for others it’s going sightseeing. Some people need to stay busy to distract themselves and that’s fine. The trick is to avoid overthinking and replacing physical stress with emotional stress.

Some of these seem very obvious but a group of guys on a competitive tour can often lose discipline. Similar to a phone battery when a competition or tour starts the battery is full and there is no concern for energy usage. As the battery gets low there is a mad panic to conserve energy. Inexperienced athletes fail to recognize these issues early enough and they learn the hard way. Sometimes they may also lack the discipline. Often lapses early in the week only take effect later in the week, so going by feel is not a wise approach. By supporting recovery via lifestyle we tend to experience less injury and sickness during a season. Better recovery leads to a healthier body. Chronic stress will eventually take effect. Some more injury prone athletes may need to look towards their lifestyle as a possible contributing factor. The best thing is to form a routine and stick to it regardless of situation. It’s the little slips in discipline that catch athletes out.

Recovery Tools: Active Recovery!

Recovery has become a core factor in every athlete’s training and success. There are many recovery methods which can be employed all targeting different things. Not all methods work well for everyone and people will have their favourite. This is normal as the processes of each method are slightly different. Some things will simply have a better effect on certain individuals than others. One popular and convenient method is active recovery. In terms of effect it appears to be relatively beneficial to everyone.

When we exercise we produce metabolic by-products. These by-products can interfere with muscle contractions and contribute to fatigue. While we exercise we have a system to clear these by-products and consume them. When we stop, the rate of clearance reduces and they can be left to accumulate. Eventually they will be cleared up but at a reduced rate. Some gentle exercise post training can help ensure these metabolites are cleared effectively.

When we do more intense muscle contractions where a lot of force is applied, muscle stiffness can occur. Stiffness is when the fibres fail to fully relax causing a temporary shortening of muscle fibre length. Gentle movement can help break up this tension and reduce stiffness. Active recovery can be quite effective in doing this. The submaximal contractions allow the fibres to relax back to resting tension.

Another mechanism it can influence relates to bloodflow and temperature. In order to repair damaged muscle cells after intense exercise they need a good supply of nutrients. This supply comes from the blood. Increasing bloodflow to tired muscles ensures they get a good supply. In addition increasing local muscle temperature can help the muscle fibres loosen up and restore contractile function. Gentle exercise activates the muscle pump which flushes blood through the muscle as it contracts and relaxes.

These three mechanisms have some quite favorable benefits on getting back to top performance in a short period of time. An important factor and one which many people get wrong is when and how to do active recovery. Active recovery first and foremost should not contribute further to fatigue. Intense exercise is not recovery; it is simply another session. Often people perform hard conditioning instead of resistance training believing it promotes recovery. While some aspects may have a similar effect, the benefits are cancelled out by the increased metabolic and cell stress. A reliable intensity to work at is 50-60% of Heart rate reserve. The session need not be any longer than 30mins to be effective. We recommend low load bearing exercise to reduce any further stress on joints etc. Swimming, crosstrainer and biking are excellent choices.

Deciding when to employ active recovery is also tricky. In most cases we should employ some sort of short active recovery in our warm down procedure. This allows us to clear metabolites immediately after a session as well as stabilizing core temperature in a more gradual manner. Some like to use recovery sessions on their day off. In this case promoting bloodflow and reducing stiffness are the main mechanisms. This scenario is problematic as one must refrain from turning recovery into more conditioning work. While for some, running and rowing may be suitable, many heavier athletes will actually induce more fatigue and joint stress using these exercises. A 5k run is not a recovery session it is aerobic training, while less intense it simply applies a different type of stress.

It is important for athletes to understand the purpose of active recovery and the mechanism by which it works. Just because a session is of lower intensity it does not automatically become recovery work. The sole purpose of active recovery is to promote a restoration to a rested state and therefore maximum performance potential. It has a clear purpose and application. Smart athletes recognize the difference and they reap the rewards of using it effectively.

Alcohol and athletes!

Check out our recent article on how alcohol interacts with our body during training and competition. As featured in BOXROX magazine!

http://www.boxrox.com/alcohol-crossfit-performance/

6 Ways to Remove Metabolites and Recover from a Hard Workout

Article on metabolite clearance post training as featured on BOXROX magazine.

Follow the link to the article

http://www.boxrox.com/6-ways-remove-metabolites-recover-hard-workout/

“4 Steps to Efficient Recovery” as featured on BOXROX magazine!

Practical approach to recovering from training featured in BOXROX magazine. Useful for any athlete!

Follow the link to read the article.

http://www.boxrox.com/recovery-after-crossfit-training/

The critical factor to gaining muscle!

There are thousands of young athletes desperately trying to increase lean muscle mass. There are also an equal amount of training programs, diets and supplements which promise results. With these distractions it can be easy to overlook the basics. In the end the basics are what will get real results.

Most of us are now familiar with the concept of hypertrophy. When we lift a heavy weight, the tension placed on the muscle fiber during a contraction causes microscopic tears. The body reacts to this by repairing these tears and increases the size of the fibers. This adaptation allows us to react to, and survive the stress placed on us. This cycle can be repeated with training, eventually producing noticeably bigger, stronger muscle. As we adapt to a level of training we must progressively increase the level of stress to continue to progress.

The body can only repair itself when at rest. Structural repair will also take a certain amount of time to occur. If we apply further stress too soon after a session we only cause more trauma, not adaptation. When looking to increase muscle mass it is important to be well recovered on a regular basis. If we train too frequently without rest, results will be mediocre. Generally, because we see reasonable progress from training we assume more will be better. There comes a point where we are doing too much and lose sight of the process we are trying to promote.

The fact is that there is only so much the body can cope with. New muscle is created during rest, not during training. If we train too frequently there is no opportunity for the growth to take place. An athlete must be aware of this and schedule rest days as part of a hypertrophy program.

The best approach is to start with a simple hypertrophy focused program and progress things slowly. The trick is to remain patient and stick to a plan. It is very easy to get excited and add extra sessions, thinking it will accelerate progress. Recovery needs to be as much a priority as the training itself. If an athlete neglects recovery and rest they will put themselves at a great disadvantage.

When looking to gain lean tissue an athlete must follow a gradual progressive overload program. They must ensure rest and adequate nutrition. Hypertrophy is a slow process and patience is key. There are no magical programs. A coach must monitor the athlete to ensure that he sticks to the process. Young athletes must be especially careful as their inexperience can create insecurities with the program. In a competitive environment, where team selection may be a factor, athletes must learn to trust the program and commit to it.

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Sleep and Competition

This post comes in response to a question we received from a reader. “Why is getting a good night sleep important before competition?”

Sleep is restorative and not preparatory in terms of physiological function. When we sleep there is a down regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This is our “Fight mode” which reacts to stress and allows us to “Perform”. The opposite is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). This is our “Rest Mode”. It allows the organs to dial back on activity and gives them a chance to recover fully. When in rest mode the immune system is highly active. Time and energy goes into repairing damaged tissues and resupplying fuel stores. If we were constantly in fight mode the body would eventually break down and the safety stops would be activated. Our immune system would also become depressed and we would become more susceptible to infections and illness.

Studies examining the physiological response to impaired or reduced sleep prior to competition have shown no significant negative impact. It does not have a direct impact on physiological capacity or function. However, mental and cognitive function are significantly reduced. This on its own will cause noticeable decrements in performance. In terms of an athletes mood state there will be a drastic decline in motivation depending on the individual. Their ability to push themselves mentally and stay alert will be reduced.It is also important to note that we are discussing lack of sleep rather than a night on the town. The later has many other factors added to the mix which can cause issues.

When an an athlete may be competing or training for multiple consecutive days, sleep plays a restorative role. It becomes a major part of the bodies natural recovery system. Disturbed or impaired sleep my hinder the restorative processes that have been mentioned from taking place. The ability of an athlete to recover is vital in maintaining performance when there are multiple days of activity.

From a practical perspective, an athlete should always try to get adequate sleep. The optimal amount will vary from one individual to another. If an athlete misses sleep before the competition has started they should place their focus on mental preparation and motivation as this will be the site for concern. After the race they should look to get sleep for both mental and physiological benefits. Inadequate sleep will result in poor recovery which will likely result in a drop in performance on consecutive competition days.

Athletes should make note of what is normal for them and what lets them perform at their best. Having a record of sleep is a good tool to allow an athlete identify when there might be an issue. This can be useful in the grand scheme as certain trends in sleep patterns can be identified and managed. Many athletes suffer from sleep disturbances as a result of nutrition, travel, stress and a wide range of factors which can be managed.

In conclusion, a lack of sleep before a big competition is not ideal preparation for an athlete. It is not always avoidable and so it is important for them to understand how it might effect them. It is a factor which should be monitored and managed as part of an athletes routine.

Recovery tools: Compression Garments!

Recovery is one of the most important factors when it comes to human performance. There are many recovery methods available all dealing with certain physiological mechanisms. In this post I will discuss the use of compression garments and how they seek to increase recovery rate.

The use of compression garments has, become quite popular recently and there are several brands providing many different options. The basic theory upon which they work is quite simple. When we contract our muscles, the fibers squeeze against the surrounding blood vessels. When we relax these vessels are released. This natural process can aid circulation as it helps promote blood flow through the vasculature. This is particularly beneficial to the lower limbs, where the blood pumped back towards the heart must compete with gravity. This return flow is known as “venous return”. It takes blood that has been deoxygenated by the muscles back to the lungs for re-oxygenation. It then returns to the heart which pumps it back around to the muscles again.

Compression garments provide external pressure on the limbs, artificially causing a similar compression on the blood vessels. This extra compression helps venous return in the same way contracting muscles do. When we exercise we increase the rate at which the blood becomes deoxygenated and must in return, increase the rate of re-oxygenation. In this case compression garments can potentially be beneficial during exercise by promoting circulation. They have a number of other benefits during exercise but I shall focus on the recovery aspect for now.

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When we are exercising our muscles produce a large amount of metabolites. These metabolites will eventually break down and dissipate with some rest. The issue is that when we stop exercising we generally rest in a fairly stationary position. Sitting stationary these metabolites do not clear as well and can accumulate in the extremities. Having compression garments may provide the improvement to venous return without having to do much physically. This is where compression garments could have their greatest influence on recovery rate as they can work will the athlete rests.

Compression garments can also help prevent and reduce swelling. During intense exercise we can cause damage to cells which leak fluid into the surrounding tissue. This produces swelling. In most cases swelling can be considered part of the healing process. It can also cause a sense of tightness and discomfort. In this case, extra compression may prevent excessive swelling and tightness during competition and training days.

In terms of performance, research on compression garments is still largely inconclusive. There’s a fairly simple reason for mixed results. For garments to work they must provide adequate compression. Owing to the fact that we are all sized a bit differently, generic sizings for garments may not work for everybody. Anecdotal evidence suggests different brands work better for different people based on individual fitting etc. Despite this we recommend their use as its another tool in an athletes arsenal. They can be useful during activity, at rest, and during travel.

Such garments will not turn a weekend warrior into an Olympian overnight. They can however, when used in part of a larger scale strategy, allow an athlete to recover at a slightly faster rate. When dealing with recovery it is important to try be as thorough as possible as it is a factor that is largely controllable.

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Recovery! Part 1

Recovery is a particular interest of mine. It is one of my main research areas. We are currently researching different recovery interventions on isometric strength, fatigue and performance. Over the coming months I will discuss different aspects of recovery and some of the methods that can be used. For this post I’ll discuss the importance of recovery!

When it comes to training human knowledge has covered most training methods that technology and equipment can provide us. How we plan and organise training still has some room for improvement but in general there’s not many new training concepts. Recovery has now become a major area of focus as in comparison, it is still a very new area for research. So why is it important? The simple answer is because it makes a difference. In terms of human physiology our body responds to stress and adapts. These adaptations are what improve or conditioning, strength, speed, power and so on. All training is based on the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theory. A stress is applied impacting homeostasis. The body responds to this and resists the stress. It then forces homeostasis past its starting point as a defence mechanism and a new level is set. It is the recovery stage that actual improvement takes place. If you deny yourself this improvement it will eventually lead to overtraining and burnout and certainly kill performance as homeostasis is depressed.

A professional athlete trains full time. He can train all day long without commitments to work or study etc. Often, newly turned full time athletes take the approach of rapidly increasing training volume. They are so used to struggling to fit in training that when they graduate or move into a professional setting they can easily do more. What they soon realise is they plateau. Without proper coaching they can continue on this path for months and even seasons becoming disheartened by poor performance. What they fail to realise is that recovery is just as important as the training. Being full time is what allows them to dedicate time solely on recovery which befits their training level. In many sports there is a finite amount of time to prepare. Looking at the olympics as our example. An olympic athlete may train 5 days a week for 40 weeks of the year. 5 days per week is all he can cope with. Lets say he employs a recovery strategy that takes him from 5 days to 6 days per week. He has just increased his annual training by 40 days. 40 days is an enormous amount of time in terms of competition preparation. Something that may take 15mins post training has just allowed him to train 40 days more than his fellow competitors. When you rationalise it in this way you can see the difference it can make come competition time.

Athletes make recovery a part of their schedule. Here using commercially available compression technology!

Athletes make recovery a part of their schedule. Here using commercially available compression technology!

A good athlete will be just as concerned with their recovery as with their training. There are many forms of recovery playing on many physiological responses. I will cover these in other posts and discuss some potential methods and how they work.