The landscape in the world of sports performance and fitness is changing. With the injury and burnout rates across an alarmingly wide spectrum of populations on the rise, we are battling to keep our society healthy, functioning and progressing towards achieving longevity in their physical practices of choice and beyond.
But why NOW are we struggling more than ever to achieve results and consistency? While this is a multi-faceted problem the grander scope of normalized human function is pointing straight at the huge pink elephant in our industry… RECOVERY, or a lack there of.
As the old training adage states there is truly no overtraining, just under recovering. Multi-faceted problems take a multi-disciplinary approache in order to once again create positive changes in our industry, society, physical culture and beyond.
And that’s exactly why we’ve brought together 12 of the world’s top experts in the fields of athletic performance, sports science, physical therapy, and strength and conditioning and asked them all the burning question…
“What has proven to be the most effective recovery tool/method/modality/training you’ve ever used?”
Here are the 12 most effective battle tested recovery strategies from an eclectic group of experts from all walks of fitness, performance and academics. If you use these methods together in synergy, you’ll not only be able to help optimize your own recovery, but build a skill set to further help your clients, athletes and patients. Enjoy.
#12 Parasympathetic Breathing
by Ingrid Marcum, CSCS – Fitness and Sports Performance Coach & Movement Specialist
Incorporating parasympathetic breathing between training sessions can greatly enhance your recovery. It teaches your body to relax, which also improves sleep and amplifies the benefits of other recovery tools – especially massage, self-tissue work and mobility.
Key Coaching Cues for Parasympathetic Breathing:
1. Complete relaxation. Get comfortable and let go of ALL tension.
Align ribcage and pelvis. Find relaxed alignment!
Deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths. Inhale, first directing the pressure downward – filling your sides and lower back, not just the belly – then continue to fill the lungs. Make the exhale longer than the inhale. You can also hold your breath briefly between the inhale and exhale, but don’t place any tension in your body while holding your breath. Start with whatever deep and slow is for you, and over time work toward increasing the length of your breath.
Manage your stress response. It doesn’t help to try taking a breath that is a specific length if it stresses your body out to do so. Your breaths should get deeper, longer and more relaxed with each breath and with each session.
Spend 3-5 minutes on focused parasympathetic breathing. This can be longer or shorter, but at the minimum, take 3-5 breaths.
By Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D. – Strength Coach and Performance Specialist
The most effective recovery technique I’ve ever used is eccentric isometrics. Although the scientific rationale for this is quite complex here’s a brief explanation.
One’s ability to recover both from intense training as well as prior injuries is often largely dependent on their form, technique, body mechanics, and movement efficiency. Furthermore, the single most effective strategy one can implement to improve recovery is to learn to move correctly. Eccentric isometrics, provide the very training tool to accomplish this as the eccentric-accentuated protocol enhances proprioceptive feedback and kinesthetic awareness thereby allowing the lifter to fine-tune their body mechanics. In essence it teaches individuals how to master their movement which literally transforms performance and recovery capabilities.
When I first began implementing eccentric isometrics into my athletes’ routines there was an obvious increase in recovery ability. In fact I noticed individuals who could previously only train each muscle group once every 4-7 days, gradually became capable of training at much greater frequency. Now most of my athletes and clients train full body 3-6x per week. In addition, they perform no additional soft tissue work, stretching, or corrective exercise modalities.
Stay tuned for my large book on eccentric isometrics coming out soon.
By Tony Gentilcore, CSCS – Owner of CORE, Boston, MA.
Sometimes I’ll write the most baller program ever created, Pulitzer Prize worthy, and be excited for my client to show up any given day to attack it with reckless abandon.
Thing is, life can often get in the way: family, work, insomnia, explosive diarrhea… all can derail one’s training mojo and ability to get after it in the weight room.
If a client/athlete walks into the gym and they’re just not feeling it that day and working up to a heavy triple on squats isn’t in the cards I’ll write up a Bloop, Bloop, Bloop Workout instead.
You know that sound Little Mario makes when he turns into BIG Mario in the video game Super Mario Brothers? That’s a Bloop, Bloop, Bloop Workout. It’s meant to energize, refresh or revitalize someone; to elicit a training effect, albeit while also promote recovery.
It’s nothing more than setting up a circuit of 6-10 “easy” exercises or drills that focus on mobility and activation. A sample may look something like this:
I am going to take a bit of an unconventional and proactive approach here. When many people think of recovery, they think purely in terms of “reactive” rolling, stretching, mobility work, walking or other forms of “recovery” cardio, ice baths, massage, chiro, cupping, etc. The list is endless.
What if I told you that in a lot of cases, if you devoted more time towards improving your strength and stability, and your ability to perform the basic movement patterns, your need to spend so much effort on recovery would likely be much less. In a lot of cases, when certain regions of the body are weak and unstable, different muscles will tighten up to provide the body with the stability it is lacking.
This is one reason why despite the fact that many people devote countless time, energy, and even money towards recovery, they always feel tight and uncomfortable. The lumbo-pelvic region is one part of the body where many people are prone to weakness and instability. Here is an awesome exercise that addresses anterior core and glute strength, and lumbo-pelvic stability.
To be clear, I am not speaking in black and white terms. While this applies to a lot of individuals, it does not apply to everybody. Recovery is important, but some people take it to an extreme, and like everything, optimal recovery strategies will depend on the individual.
By Joel Sanders – Lead Performance Specialist – EXOS
This is a fancy phrase for “sit in some cold water!” Nothing refreshes your body and reduces inflammation like true, bone chilling water.
How to do it:
After an intense workout, immerse your torso and lower body in cold water [ideally below 60 degrees Fahrenheit/15 degrees Celsius] for 10 minutes straight. Get out and take a hot shower for 3-5 minutes [just long enough to knock some of the numbness off BUT not long enough to completely warm your legs up]
Do you need a fancy cold pool at a state of the art facility?
Of course not. Cold water is cold water. Try an outdoor pool in the winter, pour ice into your bathtub at home, or jump into the Pacific ocean.
*Pro Tip: Many of my athletes whine about their toes hurting. Solution: Wear THESE toe cap warmers.
By Charles Staley – Fitness Coach, Author, Presenter
This ins’t a modality, per se, but I cannot adequately stress how important it is that your LIFE isn’t making huge demands on your recovery capacity. When your finances, personal relationships, and lifestyle habits are a mess, even the most perfect training and nutritional strategies are doomed from the start.
It’s worthwhile to do an occasional “stress audit” of your current circumstances – identify those things that you’re losing sleep over, or causing you to miss workouts, and start working on solutions.
Maybe you can find ways to minimize your expenses to create some financial breathing room. Or, maybe it’s time to have that talk with your sister that you’ve gotta have but are procrastinating about. Or, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your weekend party habits.
Whatever it is that’s causing your stress, get that shit fixed. Because until you do, your training won’t produce the results that it otherwise could.
By Christina Prevett MScPT, CSCS, PhD (c) – Master’s Athlete Specialist
As a registered physiotherapist and someone that works a lot with an older clientele, sleep quality tends to degrade. Change in hormone profiles (eg menopause) means a lot of my clients are up multiple times in the night and don’t wake up feeling rested.
When dealing with injuries, trying to improve sleep hygiene can give my clients’ bodies better opportunities to rest and recover. Even an extra hour can make a huge difference!
By Dr. Mike T Nelson – Metabolic and Exercise Specialist
My top recovery tip is almost too simple so don’t be fool as it is powerful. It is to do an AM fasted walk. I warned you that it was simple. Why bother? A few reasons:
Simple – Get up, go outside and walk. It does not get more simple Ok, if you live in the frozen tundra of Minnesota like I do, you may need a few clothes for fear of losing important appendages
Teach your body to use fat as a fuel – Since you are ideally fasted, insulin is lower which pushes your body to use more fat. Plus this is low intensity and fat is the preferred fuel then. If a walk turns into high intensity you need to drop the 100 lb backpack or you need to see your cardiologist
Better Energy and Sleep – Light exposure to the back of the eye help keep you more awake during the day and sleepier at night via a better circadian rhythm.
Eye Movements – The muscles around your eyes can get “stuck short” just like your hip flexors from having your glute max glued to your chair all day. When you walk outside not only do your eyes have to change to accommodate looking farther away than a screen, they also move around more. Have you ever looked up from a screen to something outside the window or across the room and it took a couple seconds for the image to become clear? If so, your eye muscle need much more movement as that is not normal.
Blood Flow – Blood flow helps recovery especially for tissues that tend to not get much to start like soft tissue. While you don’t need to wash out “lactic acid” (that is a myth), every client that I’ve had just walk more has felt much better. Test out getting only 5,000 more steps outside on an off day vs becoming one with your couch cushion watching Netflix and thank me later.
By Chris Cooper CPT, LMT – Strength Coach & Manual Therapist
Recovery from intense training is more than just taking the day off. In fact, that could be more detrimental to your progress than anything. The best methods encourage blood flow, stress reduction, muscular regeneration and mobility.
One particular method I happen to be in favor of involves low intensity movements like crawls, animal flow, loaded carries, and segmental rolling. These particular methods focus on keeping stress on the body low, shifting our nervous system from a sympathetic (fight of flight) state to a more parasympathetic (rest & recover) state, while encouraging movement and mobility.
The vital part to using these exercises for recovery lies in keeping the heart rate, intensity, and stress levels low. That way we get some activity for our body, without overly taxing it.
by Lindsay Bloom, BS, FMS-1 – Owner of John Rusin Fitness Systems, LLC
Traveling with Dr. John and Coach Christian Thibaudeau over the last year managing their world tour seminar series events, you learn a thing or two training under heavy fatigue and stress. Though Christian has been talking about neural charge training for a decade now, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to start incorporating it into programming more regularly – and that was out of absolute necessity!
Neural charge training is all about sub-maximal loads being moved explosively while focusing in on concentric portions of the lift only. Using dynamic efforts without an eccentric component to a movement reduces mechanical fatigue on the body while “recharging” the central nervous system’s batteries from a neurotransmitter perspective.
You’ll notice this featured video was taken at a big box commercial gym, again while we were traveling. This setup incorporates a joint friendly position with the bar raised up off of the floor to minimize the unwanted shear forces at the lower spine. But the best feature is the double mini bands that are placed around the feet that allow maximal explosion and bar acceleration through a more complete range of motion against accommodating resistance. Finally, using a deadlift variation from the bottom up, the eccentric portion is minimized.
Coupled with our phasic recovery system (again something Dr. John teaches in the coursework) starting a recovery day with neural charge training will not only help you recover faster, but spike performance quickly in real time that day. Try it out.
By Lee Boyce – Strength Coach and Internationally Published Author
I like to keep things simple with basic mobility drills that have been tried, tested and true to help unlock gummy joints. The beauty about being a lifter who’s been doing this for a while is the fact that I’ve kept aware of my body and what makes it feel better during and after a session, and what makes it feel worse.
Many ‘scientifically backed’ methods out there sound great in theory, but they won’t be the answer to everyone’s problems. Where self care is concerned, I have found it’s worth gold to acknowledge the simplest advice possible: If it makes YOU feel better, then use it. Period. If static stretching before every exercise gives you the best workouts of your life, why would you stop doing it? If starting things off with cardio instead of finishing things off with cardio makes you feel and look amazing, who’s anyone to say you’re doing the wrong thing for you ?
This is an unregulated industry based on inference, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. As far as my recovery protocol goes, I put together a little mobility package I like to use, involving a foam roller, a dowel, some heel lifts, and plain old bodyweight. My goals are to open up my load bearing joints like the hips and shoulders, and improve my thoracic capability. It runs 8 minutes or so in this video. Check it out.
by Dr. John Rusin – Sports Performance Coach & Injury Prevention Specialist
Optimizing your training is all about monitoring your loads and recovering between sessions. But most lifters only focus on the training, forgetting about the all-important process of recovery in order to actually regenerate from the stress of the workout itself.
So how do we recover faster to train harder and more frequently? Sure, nutrition, hydration, and stress all play a role, but what about the time it takes us to shift from a sympathetic based CNS response in training to a parasympathetic based response that allows the recovery process to start doing its work?
That intermediary period between your last set and the time where your CNS comes down off the sympathetic bender it’s been on in the gym needs to be minimized. One of the most effective methods to do that is by using recovery breathing as the last “exercise” of the day before you leave the gym.
How To Do It
Recovery breathing is about the position and setup. The passive positioning of the arms and legs help with centralized drainage of lymphatic fluid. The spine remains in a relatively neutral position to reduce the threat-response to the body. You basically get your body as comfortable as possible for the goal of reversing the CNS response from training.
Try to find a quiet area of the gym away from music or noise.
Lay on your back with your head resting on the ground.
Elevate your legs to above heart level with knees slightly bent.
Elevate your arms overhead.
Close your eyes and relax the body.
From this position, you should be able to relax every single muscle in your body to allow a fully passive response to take place. From here, focus on only one single movement: your breathe. Stay here for 5-10 minutes and walk out recharged.