Training Hard vs Training SmartThere are many components to consider when looking to promote proper recovery and restoration from training, be it from sport training or simply the goal of personal fitness. Similar to the considerations made in program design, one must be smart about the tools or tricks they use when it comes to nutrition, rest, and restoration techniques. In my personal experience, the overwhelming majority of individuals who train and compete on a regular basis commonly lack an understanding of recovery methods that are only going to help them optimize their training outcomes. They focus so much attention on their actual training, but fail to bring the same level of focus and attention to detail when it comes to nutrition or even proper sleep habits. When this occurs, training results are typically limited. There becomes a greater resistance to progress, leaving many in this situation feeling frustrated and confused. This is exactly why the understanding of rest and restoration must be passed on to the client or athlete. Yes, there is a difference between rest and restoration.
Basically, rest implies sleep or doing something restful, such as a nap or relaxing while watching the game. However, rest does not guarantee restoration, or the recovery and renewal of the body’s systems (i.e. cardiorespiratory, neuromuscular, endocrine, immune, etc.) from training demands. Not all systems recover in the same time frame and their restoration needs will be dictated by training volume and/or intensity. For the purposes of this article, we are going to discuss the application of recovery and restoration methods as they apply to recovery of the nervous system, specifically the autonomic nervous system.
Keep in mind, it is the current state of the autonomic nervous system that should dictate both training load and restoration methods. Meaning, it should be determined whether an individual is in a state of sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance. The ability to recognize this is crucial in decision making and avoiding inappropriate training loads or restoration methods, as these can push you down the wrong path. Ideally, restoration methods should be as individualized as the training process if your goal is optimal results. But, in general, here are some guidelines that will help you identify where you may fall on the sympathetic-parasympathetic spectrum and how to apply restoration methods to bring you back into an optimal state of recovery.
A) Parasympathetic Dominance (most typically experienced by endurance athletes)
- Signs and Symptoms: chronic tiredness or heavy fatigue, low motivation to train, low resting heart rate, low blood pressure, low libido.
- Active Recovery Training: The goal is to increase blood flow to the peripheral musculature, speeding up processes of aerobic metabolism inherent in recovery. These activities should ideally be of low muscular and metabolic load, such as an easy bike, swim, or circuits of body-weight exercises. Avoid high CNS demands, keeping active recovery sessions within 20-30 minutes.
- Intensive Deep Tissue Massage: Deep tissue massage will up-regulate the sympathetic nervous system through increased proprioceptive input to CNS, which will influence changes in the state of the autonomic nervous system as well as the myofascial system.
- Cold Water Immersion: May reduce perception of fatigue and soreness after training sessions by up regulating the sympathetic nervous system. Repeat 2-5 minutes in cold water for 3-5 rounds.
- Sauna: Increased core temperature results in increased sympathetic response and speed of metabolic processes. It should be noted that the parasympathetic response increases following sauna use. In general, when looking at recommendations for the use of the sauna to promote recovery, the sauna should be between 180-200 degrees for an optimal response. There are a number of various sauna protocols to aid in recovery. In general, repeat 2-4 rounds of 5-10 minutes in the sauna, followed by a cool shower rinse.
- Signs and Symptoms: elevated resting heart rate, elevated blood pressure, poor sleep, mood changes such as being more irritable, suppressed appetite, restlessness, poor or declining performance, low libido.
- Active Recovery Training: Yes, this has similar application and can be used in either parasympathetic or sympathetic dominance. Follow the guidelines as previously mentioned.
- Relaxation-based Massage: Soft, gentle touch can generate a powerful parasympathetic response. Massage with the targeted goal of promoting relaxation will down-regulated the sympathetic nervous system. Again, this is achieved through proprioceptive input to CNS.
- Hot Tub: Hot water immersion promotes relaxation and increased parasympathetic response. Greatest benefit is achieved when water temperature is around 102 for 10-20 minutes.
- Deep Water Floating and/or Swimming: Not as commonly known or utilized as other restoration methods, this method is exactly what it sounds like, floating in deep water. Deep Water Floating’s benefits come from the proprioceptive changes due to the body being unloaded from gravity. A common recommendation is to alternate between 5-10 minutes of swimming and 5-10 minutes of floating while using a floatation device to ensure complete relaxation.
This is by no means a comprehensive discussion on recovery and restoration methods. Other methods such as naps, meditation, relaxation techniques, EMS (electro-muscular stimulation), and reduction of training volume and/or intensity can be implemented with great success as well. Remember to be strategic in the selection of your recovery methods, keeping in mind how they impact the various systems of the body. These techniques will not overcome poor training, nutritional, and sleep habits. They are intended to be an adjunct to already properly structured training and rest schedule, allowing you to optimize your readiness to train and compete.
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