Written by Dr. Reena Tenorio
The term “overtraining” is constantly tossed around in the world of sports, performance, and training. I truly believe that an athlete has the potential to overexert their body, and on a regular basis this can lead to injury, decreases in performance and reaching plateaus in training. With the proper methods and amounts of recovery, the idea of “overtraining” is garbage. I do believe that “rest days,” whether active or not, are important for any athlete, but there are ways to maintain your body to allow for training at high capacities.
Recovery can be broken down into several components, each of equal importance. I will briefly discuss several of these important keys to proper recovery.
Important Components of Recovery
- Warm-up and Cool-down
Sleep is one of the most overlooked components of athletic performance by most athletes. Restricting sleep can impair cognitive function (accuracy, decision making and focus), mood, appetite and metabolism. In addition to allowing the body to produce fuel for the next day’s training, quality sleep is also important for muscle repair and release and/or inhibition of stress hormones.
Good sleep hygiene is important to maximize the quality of your sleep.
- Shut off the television and electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime, allowing your body to power down. The lights emitted by our fancy gadgets can also be negative towards sleep.
- Create a sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Eventually, your body will not have to rely on an alarm.
- Ensure a comfortable and dark sleep environment. Blackout curtains are ideal.
- Avoid caffeine ~4 hours prior to bedtime. Avoid eating right before bed.
- Invest in a good mattress. Ideally, you will be spending 8+ hours on it, so it better be damn comfortable.
This is a topic that is requires a whole article to itself, and I am not going to go into details with it at this time.
My advice: eat real food and hydrate.
Get your mind right. I recently read the book Mind Gym: An Athletes Guide to Inner Excellence. If you haven’t already, read it! The author explains how the mind can positively and negatively affect athletic performance. He shares techniques to help improve your mind game for optimal performance and training. Again, this is not my area of “expertise,” but this book is a good starting point for any athlete.
Warm-up and Cool-down
Prepare your body appropriately for each training session. A mindful warm-up can translate to more efficient, powerful and successful training sessions. Each sport and activity will have a different or appropriate warm-up. Break down specific movements into component parts; allow the body to feel the movement and drill for muscle memory.
Cooling down after a workout is equally important as the warm-up. Whether a light 5 minutes on a rower or airdyne or just a walk, allow the blood to continue to flow as the heart rate slowly decreases back to baseline. Stretch out, foam roll and hydrate. This can help decrease soreness in days following.
Prehab… what the hell? No, I do not think this is a real word, but one I have heard in the past and used pretty regularly. ‘Prehab’ is what I consider rehabilitation, therapy or work done PRIOR to injury. Far too often, we as athletes, ignore aches and pains during training and competition, rather than dealing with the issue at hand and avoiding further injury.
Once again, this is a topic that cannot be covered in one fell swoop and may require a series of articles. Thanks to the ‘Interwebs,’ YouTube, and tons of other social media outlets, so many great (and horrible) ideas are at your fingertips. I am not going to pick out which are good and which are bad, but for now I intend on giving you the basics. Although I consider warm-up and cool-down separate to “Prehab,” you can use it as either/or/both.
- Foam Roller:
Can be used to roll, smash, squish or squeeze just about any muscle on the body. For a true newbie to mobility, it may be a tool to start with, but to make real changes in the tissues, I feel this is not the best way to get it done.
- Self-Massage: I often suggest using a foam roller on the larger muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves) as a self-massage. It’s pretty self-explanatory: position your body perpendicular to the roller and roll up and down on whatever area you want to massage.
- Thoracic mobility: With the roller perpendicular to the body and placed at the mid back, extend or arch back over the roller keeping your hips pinned to the floor. The hands can be used to support the neck or held across the chest. Hold for 3 seconds, scoot the butt down, allowing the roller to move up higher on the back and repeat. Inch your way up the back until the roller reaches the top of the shoulder blade. This move can help improve the extension needed for overhead squats, snatches, jerks and overall posture, as well as open up a tight chest.
- Avoid rolling over bony parts and across joints. It’s going to hurt and you can irritate tissues that lie over the bony areas.
- Lacrosse Ball:
Although this method can be uncomfortable and intense, using a lacrosse ball to improve tissue and range of motion is a simple and cost-effective option and it also allows you to choose your level of intensity.
- Pick an area to work, place the ball in the meaty area of the muscle and lie down on it. You can also position the ball between your body and a wall. For arms, it works best to hold it down with the other hand.
There a few different ways a lacrosse ball can be used:
- Passive Relax: Lie on the ball and allow your body to slowly relax, letting your body sink over the ball. Breathe into the area, hold for 30-60 seconds, move the ball and repeat.
- Example: Quads: Place the lacrosse ball between the floor and the quad, lie down flat on the ball, relax into the ball. Add pressure as needed (a plate, kettlebell, or a wicked cool friend).
- Oscillation: Lie on the ball in whatever area you’d like to work, find a spot that feels tight or slightly tender, and oscillate over the area, moving up and down, side-to-side or in circles. Again, pick amount of pressure you can handle. As it becomes easier, add more pressure.
- Example: Forearm: Sitting with the elbow bent and back of the forearm resting on your leg, pin the ball between your opposite hand and the area you want to work, add pressure and slowly oscillate the ball over the area. Spend 30-60 seconds in each area before moving onto the next.
- “Tack and Floss”: Choose an area of tightness that needs to be addressed, place the ball between the body and a wall, floor or hard surface to pin it in place, then take the limb through as much range of motion in every direction.
- Example: Hamstrings: Sitting on a chair or bench, place the lacrosse ball anywhere between the leg and the seat surface. Starting only with the weight of the leg on the ball, bend and straighten the leg. You can add more pressure by crossing the other leg over the top or using your hands to push down into the ball. Hold the end positions for 2 seconds. Inch the ball around and repeat.
- Double Whammy: Tape two lacrosse balls together; simple. Place the two lacrosse balls along the spine (the space between the two balls is where the bony part of your spine will lie) and pin against the wall or while lying on the floor. Cross your arms across your chest to pull the shoulder blades out of the way and to tighten the muscles of the back. Start by passively relaxing over the balls. When you are able to tolerate this, you can arch up and back over the balls as described with the foam roller. This will be more focal and therefore more intense.
Key points for tissue work:
- Choose only 3 things per day to work on
- 3 minutes minimum for each
- Minimum of 15 minutes a day
- Find what works for YOU. Explore your bodies!
- Avoid sitting in one position for too long; move around slowly, oscillate in the positions or areas that you feel need work (feel tight, lack motion, unequal to other side).
Other Recovery Ideas
Aside from self-mobility work with these tools, I also like ice. (Yes, I am very well aware of the debates that have been brought to light on the topic) Nonetheless, I have seen good results from icing and its benefits. If you don’t have a pack to toss on a painful area, ice cups work great.
- Fill a paper/Styrofoam cup with water and pop it in the freezer. Peel off the top portion of the cup to expose the ice, use the remaining part of the cup as a handle. Massage over the painful or affected area for 10 minutes. Be sure to keep the cup moving, or you can potentially burn your skin. The first few minutes will feel nasty, but you will slowly numb, don’t freak out.
Lastly, find a healthcare provider to help with the things you cannot take care of on your own. A physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist who work with athletes, can treat your injuries and give tune-ups will also be an important part of recovery.
Reena Tenorio, is a weightlifter/CrossFit athlete based in Orange County, CA. Reena competed at the 2013 American Open in weightlifting, the 2012 and 2013 CrossFit Southeast Regionals (team) and is a licensed in Physical Therapy. Reena’s diverse athletic history and background in physical therapy gives her a unique perspective when examining training.