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Active Recovery Modalities

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This week we will finish the topic of recovery by looking at active recovery modalities, nutrition, and some recovery methods that claim to work but may not actually do what they claim.

If passive recovery methods are those you can apply with little to no effort, active recovery methods are those that require you actually to do something. Since you have to exert energy to perform these methods, they are less potent by their very nature. Active recovery is essentially modifying your training throughout the weeks, months, and years to periodically alleviate fatigue and allow for continual long-term progress without having to stop training! When appropriately planned training can actually enhance recovery! There is a critical point between overload training and complete rest.

At some points, light exercise can be more effective than complete rest at reducing fatigue. These light workouts are also beneficial as they allow for the continued improvement of training related skills. You will get a chance to practice the technique of skills without taxing the system. These active recovery methods include deloading, volume manipulations, active rest, and recovery workouts. We will look at these in order of power as we have previous methods. Keep in mind to still take at least one day of planned rest as that is a passive recovery method that is the base of the pyramid. A deload from heavy training should be taken once every three to six weeks.

A dealod is a period of training with purposefully reduced training volume that typically lasts one week. When planning a deload, it is important to plan the deload after a deliberately hard block of training. A deload works by alleviating fatigue by reducing volume. Since volume is the primary driver of fatigue, the weights can be kept relatively high during a deload week. When dropping the volume, you want to drop down to the minimal amount you can do while still maintaining your current level of fitness. You want to be careful not to drop the volume so low that your fitness declines. When performed correctly, a deload week can enhance blood flow to the muscles in need of recovery, improve nutrient uptake and waste product removal, and will provide just enough stimulus to help trigger anabolic effects. So how do I successfully plan a deload?

The key to a deload is a reduction in volume. You should spend less total time training, perform fewer reps and sets, and travel less distance during your deload week. There should be a 40-60% reduction in volume. You can keep the intensity of your workouts relatively high. A 10-15% drop in intensity is usually sufficient. When planning your training over the long-term, it is essential to take recovery into consideration. A properly periodized program will take recovery into account and manipulate the training volume throughout the months and years to ensure proper recovery and continual long-term progress. If we expect to make progress, we can’t train at the same volume and intensity all the time.

There are times in training to go slow, times to go fast, and a lot of time spent somewhere in between. Strategically manipulating our training loads throughout the year can help us maximize productive training and minimize our chances of injury and overtraining. When planning out your training try to avoid training the same fitness characteristic for more than 12 weeks. After a super high volume block, a deload may not be enough to decrease fatigue and performing a lower volume strength block can allow for reduced fatigue as well as increase the sensitivity of some of the body’s regulators of anabolism! Proper volume manipulations are also crucial in preventing or addressing burnout, a lack of motivation or desire to train.

When planning a program, there is always a balance to strike between generating and then managing fatigue. About once a year it is beneficial to take a 2-4 week period of active rest. This is a time of unstructured training and diet the only constraints is you must have enough general physical activity and eat well enough to maintain body composition and avoid a significant drop in fitness. This is a time to take a break from heavy lifting and fill your free time with other physical activities. Active rest should be saved for times when stress levels are at their highest such as during a traumatic life event, after a competition, a crazy time at work, or after a sizeable fat loss phase.

Active rest works by reducing physical stressors through decreasing training volume and psychological stressors. Training can be monotonous and downright hard at times, active rest will give you a mental break and allow you to come back to training refreshed, refocused, and recharged! When planning out your week of training you cannot come into the gym and run yourself into the ground every single time, but complete rest can leave you feeling sluggish when you come in for your next training session. Recovery workouts are a great way to stay fresh and continue to work on training related skills while not hindering recovery.

We already discussed the need to take 1-2 complete days of rest when we covered passive recover modalities. However, the remaining 5-6 days should consist of training of some sorts. The amount of hard training days versus recovery days depends on many variables including where you are in your training cycle, your training tolerance, your training age, and your goals. Recovery workouts are a training session in which specific activities are trained at deliberately reduced volumes. These training sessions should consist of the same training activities that are being performed in the current training phase, simply at a reduced total volume. There should be about a 50% drop in total volume and anywhere from 0-15% drop in intensity. The key is the drop in volume, the reduction in intensity may not be necessary depending on where you are at in training. This will allow you to continue to practice the skills you are working on and stay feeling fresh.

Recovery workouts also have the added benefit of enhancing blood flow to the muscles in need of recovery, improving nutrient uptake and waste product removal, and providing just enough stimulus to help trigger anabolic effects. Recovery workouts work much like deloads, but on a smaller scale. Nutrition The next component of recovery is nutrition. We won’t go into crazy detail here as next week we will have a whole piece on how nutrition is affecting your progress. When it comes to recovery calories are the most critical factor. The processes that recover your body from hard training are powered by the energy provided by the calories you consume. It is important to eat enough calories to meet your recovery demands. Regarding recovery the more you can eat the better you will recover.

Unfortunately, eating everything in sight is not exactly conducive to your health and fitness goals. This must be taken into consideration when designing your training program. If you are losing weight and in a calories deficit you must take into account that your recovery will not be as good. If you are in a particularly hard training block, it might be best to eat a little more to help with recovery. When it comes to recovery, other nutritional factors impact fails in comparison to total calories.

The next important factor seems to be your macronutrient breakdown. This is the ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fats consumed and dictates what building blocks are available and at what rate they can be digested and used to repair your tissues and facilitate recovery. As far as macronutrients fo carbs have the most significant effect on recovery. After hard training muscle glycogen stores are depleted and have to “recover” their used up carb stores from dietary carb intake. After that optimal protein intake is indispensable for optimal recovery, especially in the long-term. Sufficient protein intakes supply the building blocks that replace worn out/damaged structures. Try to get 0.75-1g of protein per pound of body weight per day. Fats are the least determinative of recovery ability. Without fats altogether, critical body functions will be impaired, but fats don’t support recovery in any serious or direct way. Just make sure you hit a fat minimum ~0.3g of fat per pound of body weight per day. After macros, you can look at timing, food composition, hydration, and supplementation.

Carbohydrate timing can be critical if you have an exceptionally long training session or you have multiple training sessions in a day. If you are training over an hour, carbohydrate intake during training can be helpful. It can also be beneficial to consume most of your carbs after exercise as your muscles are more receptive to glucose uptake. Protein should regularly be consumed for best results. High-quality protein sources like animal protein or processed plant protein, unprocessed veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats should account for the core 75%+ of the calories, and you should drink enough to stay hydrated. Hydration is critical for health, and even survival and an adequate level of hydration should always be maintained.

When looking at supplements, it is very tempting to seek an easy pill or powder to aid with something so important as recovery. Some supplements can help recovery, but their effects are always disproportionately small compared with those that make up the base layers of our primary recovery pyramid. Remember supplements are the tip of nutrition pyramid which is at the top of the primary recovery pyramid which means that supplements have a minimal effect on recovery. Here are a few supplements that may have some benefit, but for individuals involved in sport or training more recreationally, the impact of recovery supplements will, in most cases, go unnoticed. Some therapeutic and supplemental recovery strategies are worth mentioning.

Social support and compassionate touch can have a significant indirect impact on recovery. These two things are crucial in maintaining a positive mental state and allowing your body to relax. There also seems to be a benefit to having compassionate touch with someone you trust and care about. This can be as simple as a hug or a massage. Cold, heat, contrast showers, and compression all seem to have a slight impact on recovery, but all of these methods also impair your adaptation. The ways each of these modalities work through seem to blunt the adaptation processes so they should be avoided except in times that displaying your fitness is more important than forcing adaptation such as during a sporting season or right before a competition. There is an overwhelming number of fads and misinformation surrounding recovery so when you see a product claiming to help recovery look for peer-reviewed literature confirming its efficacy. The hundreds of “recovery products” that have been thoroughly debunked that we will not even discuss here.

Some therapies have not yet been studied enough to draw conclusions about their usefulness. When confronted with a product that claims to help recovery ask yourself, does this method just work through a passive recovery modality? Often times activities associated with recovery benefit recovery because they force you to relax.

Activities such as lying in a sensory deprivation tank, getting a massage, stretching, yoga, and performing specific breathing techniques do not affect recovery outside the fact they force you to relax for an extended period of time. There are a lot of activities that people regularly perform that they feel help recovery, but when you look at the research, there seems to be little to no merit. When looking at a lot of these methods, it is essential to understand the difference between perceived fatigue and performance fatigue. Perceived fatigue is how we feel, and performance fatigue is our body’s ability to perform. I am sure everyone has had a day they get to the gym, and everything feels like crap, but then you warm-up and end up hitting a PR, or vice-versa you come to the gym feeling great only to have a horrible training session. This is because of a difference in your perceived fatigue and your performance fatigue. Many of these methods may help your perceived fatigue, but when looking at the research, they have no effect on your performance fatigue.

Since the perception of recovery is not accompanied by actual recovery, athletes come under the incorrect assumption that they are ready to overload again which can lead to miss management of fatigue. Therefore these methods should be largely avoided: Foam rolling NSAIDs using NSAIDs can inhibit adaptation.

Sustained heat exposure requires high energy expenditure and can actually hinder recovery Amino Acid Supplements. If adequate protein is consumed amino acid supplements seem to have no additional benefit Cupping Acupuncture and Dry Needling Recovery Drinks The following techniques seem to only work through relaxation. These techniques can often be replaced with activities that you actually enjoy or quality time with your family, loved ones, pets, and/or bed. If any of these activities bring you great joy as well as having the added benefit of being relaxing have at it.

Anything that helps with relaxation is a powerful recovery modality

  • Yoga
  • Breathing Techniques
  • Sensory Deprivation
  • Swimming/Pool Training
  • Stretching
  • Massage

Extremely hard massage can often inflict structural damage to the muscle and skin and be quite painful during and after the session Massage should NOT hurt Massage should NOT leave bruises Painful massage actually adds trauma and fatigue rather than taking it away. When getting a massage are they breaking up scar tissue and adhesions? No. Are you directly affecting performance fatigue? No, but you are forced to turn off your phone close your eyes and relax for an hour while someone you have created a therapeutic alliance with gives you compassionate touch and remember relaxation is one of the most powerful recovery modalities available!

We have now gone over everything that could possibly affect your recovery. We started by looking at why recovery is so important then last week we looked at the most powerful recovery strategies, passive recovery modalities and this week we finished up by looking at active recovery, nutrition, therapeutic and supplemental strategies, as well as recovery methods that don’t work. Now you have all the tools to recovery optimally to allow for sufficient training to continue for the longest time possible which will ensure continual progress will be made!

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