Training, recovery, and adaption are complex topics. Over a series of articles on this blog I have tried to explain piece by piece the general theory behind why training actually works and how the recovery process occurs.
In two recent articles – you can find them here and here - I covered the basics on how stress affects the body and what it means for adaptation and recovery. In “everyday recovery methods” I covered different ways to speed up recovery that can be used on a daily basis. In this article I’ll cover more specific recovery methods and when to use them during the recovery process.
If you haven’t read the hyperlinked articles above you are likely wasting your time continuing to read.
Since you read the articles I linked to above, you now understand how the body responds over the course of a training block (usually 4-6 weeks). The different recovery methods I cover below changed depending on what stage in the training cycle you are in.
Unless you have extensive experience with HRV specific methods should only be used in conjunction with HRV and only when the everyday strategies have are all being correctly utilized. Like I outlined in this article, HRV is necessary to understand your current autonomic state and to select the appropriate recovery methods.
Use these methods selectively. Why?
The methods listed below create a very specific response by the body that can blunt or speed up the stress response, diminishing the adaptation response. If you are in the middle of a competitive season this may not be a bad thing since your primary goal should be sport and practice performance, not physical improvements. But, if you are in the middle of your off season training program, using these methods can actually decrease the effectiveness of your training program. Also, just like any stimulus, the body will learn to blunt its response with each application within a short enough period of time.
One last thing
Remember, the body’s recovery response is positive (when the correct stress is applied) and is necessary for adaptation. Sometimes you want to accumulate fatigue in order to create a larger adaptation response. If you are in one of these periods it may be smarter to wait to use more advanced recovery methods.
Methods listed by response
Sympathetic Response (increases sympathetic tone)
+ Ice Baths
+ Contrast Showers
+ Intense massage, Rolfing
Parasympathetic Response (increases parasympathetic tone)
+ Hot Water Therapy
+ Relaxing Massage
+ Active Recovery
+ Deep Water Floating
Massage, ART, Accupuncture, and Structural Integration Low intensity massage can create a parasympathetic response.
+ ART is typically only local and typically causes an inflammatory (healing) response that is sympathetic in nature.
+ If the affected area is small enough it won’t create a large enough stimulus to cause a systemic response.
+ Rolfing and structural integration are typically more intense soft tissue methods that create a sympathetic response in the body.
Soft Tissue Work/Massage
Soft tissue work such as foam rolling, massage, A.R.T., structural integration, Rolfing, etc all help facilitate recovery via a variety of pathways. Depending on the intensity of the work and whether or not it is full body and/or focused on a local issue it can create a sympathetic or parasympathetic response. Depending on the state of the client a more intense or relaxing method should be emphasized.
The general concept of contrast showers is that the cold water causes the body to restrict capillaries in the affected area, while the warm water causes the capillaries to dilate. This process of increases blood flow and helps speed recovery. Not only that but they generally help you feel great after a very hard workout.
General guidelines towards contrast showers:
+ Direct cold water (as cold as you can handle) on the muscles you want effected for as long as possible
+ Slowly change water to warm and direct on the same muscles for 2-3 minutes.
+ Repeat 4-6 times
Contrast showers tend to cause a mild decrease in parasympathetic function and should only be used when pushing into overtraining.
Ice baths, or cold therapy, can be very useful in the right situation. Cold therapy helps decrease inflammation but it can also decrease the anabolic hormone response to training. This method should only be used post competition or to help keep a client from going too far into overtraining where the protective response is blunted.
Method: Fill a bathtub with 30-40 pounds of ice and as cold of water as you can get. Try to remain submerged for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
Hot Water Therapy
This method includes hot springs, hot baths, and whirlpools. This method is best when sympathetic activity is high because it helps stimulate mental relaxation and increased blood flow causing an increase parasympathetic activity. Spending at least twenty minutes and up to hours can be beneficial depending on the level of stimulus needed.
The sauna can help stimulate a return to normal autonomic function when HRV is chronically elevated following an intense training block by providing a sympathetic stimulus.
The following method was taken from Joel Jamieson’s HRV Training book:
- Get in the sauna and wait until you start sweating and exit
- Rinse off using lukewarm water for 5-10 seconds. Dry your body and sit for 2-3 minutes
- Get back into the sauna and stay there for 5-10 minutes
- Take another shower, this time in as cold of water as possible for 30 seconds making sure to soak your head for the entire time
- Get out and dry yourself and wrap up your body with the towel. Sit down and wait to stop sweating. Typically 3-10 minutes.
- Get back in the sauna for 10-15 minutes
- Repeat step 5
- Get back in the sauna for 10-15 minutes
- Take a warm shower for 1-2 minutes
- Dry yourself off and relax for 5-10 minutes
Putting it all together
When all variables are taken into consideration training may seem like a complex puzzle, but understanding basics of stress, recovery, and programming takes a lot of the guessing out of why your program is or isn’t working.
If you are still a little confused about what to do, follow the steps below:
1 – Outline a general program design and stick to it
2 – Understand what recovery is
3 – Start using HRV
4 – Implement daily recovery strategies
5 – Use advanced recovery methods when appropriate (this article)