You cannot pour from an empty cup.” Although the adage is often used in reference to mental health, it’s just as fitting to use it in reference to physical recovery.
From an athlete perspective, recovery work is the secret ingredient to successful training. The thing that separates good athletes from great athletes. Those that commit to improving their body’s ability to be ready for the next training session are the ones that are injured less, can play longer with less fatigue and can spend more time developing their skills.
There are several factors that have a dramatic effect on recovery from training sessions and strength/conditioning: sleep/rest, nutrition, and manual treatments. These are factors that give the body a chance to use all the internal mechanisms and pathways it has to prepare for the next training session(s).
Sleep is a vital component of health that is often undervalued, especially among the teen and young adult population. Sleep allows the body to enter repair pathways that are unavailable during waking hours. Sleep is also the time we solidify new movement patterns. Regular lack of sleep can lead to cognitive deficits and being under prepared to take on the demands of training sessions. For athletes this could look like slower decision making on the field/court or less coordination in movements that you’ve drilled over and over again.
Research suggests that teens and young adults need a minimum of eight hours sleep per night and there is emerging evidence that athletes need closer to nine. The list below describes some easy changes to improve sleep quality:
Nutrition is the literal fuel that the body runs on. Adequate and quality nutrition choices give your body the building blocks to keep your tissues running optimally. A sport or performance dietitian/nutritionist is a great member of an athletes team. The basics of fueling can be broken down as follows:
Manual treatment encompasses all the external things athletes and members of their rehab team can do to the body to jumpstart the recovery process from the skin’s surface. These are the things athletes should do on a regular basis to help keep soreness, tightness and injury at bay.
Before practice: I recommend 5-8 minutes of steady state movement to get the heart rate up and tissues moving. It could look like jump rope, jogging, burpees, jumping jacks, etc. Then you can move into the dyamic warm up for the hips/shoulders. Then once you’re warm you can hit any stretches if needed and then stretching at the end as the heart rate is coming down from practice.
After Practice: Daily use of a foam roller, lacrosse ball, massage gun or self massage to give a bit of compression to tissues most used in that day’s training session or tissues that feel sore. Compression then decompression of tissues can act as a pump to improve blood flow to the area, but to also flush out the metabolites from muscle contraction that can contribute to soreness.
I rarely recommend ice, even with an injury, unless there is a lot of swelling. There is quite a bit of evidence in the last couple years that suggests ice isn’t all that helpful for minor inflammation and can actually slow down healing/recovery when there isn’t an injury. Think about it this way: the body temperature is 98 degrees for a reason, and cooling tissues is only going to slow down the rate at which blood exchange can happen and all the metabolites produced by the muscle contractions can be flushed from the system. Instead of ice, a TENS unit or even needling with a TENS unit might be a better option to allow muscle flushing while allowing the joint to rest.
In-between Practice: For athletes that see a physical therapist to aide in recovery, the treatment looks like weekly to monthly sessions that may include dry needling to facilitate muscle repair, cupping to improve gliding of the fascial tissue layer between skin and muscle, joint mobilization and manipulation to keep joints healthy and moving well, or corrective exercise to improve body mechanics to help prevent injury.
All of the actionable items talked about are all ways an athlete can add value to their regular training. Although in total there are a lot of items above, changing one or two at a time and building on those changes can lead to better and better performance on and off the field. Use these to help fill your “Athletes Cup” and keep yourself on the field or the court and keep overall health and wellness in check!
By: Dr. Chelsea Lineberger, Physical Therapist,
The Lab Performance Therapy