The Recovery Cycle: Master the Invisible Side of Training
There are two common problems when it comes to recovery and regeneration in training. The first is that it’s often overlooked in the overall training process, and the second is that the majority will try the sexy quick fixes over thinking about the long-term training picture. It would appear we’ve learnt very little since Mel Siff’s Supertraining hit the bookshelves thirty years ago and definitively addressed the recovery process.
Restoration is an integral part of overall training and practice...it must be applied with the short-term and long-term goals constantly in mind. - Mel Siff.1
Why do I think we continue to overlook recovery and make such a mess of what is one of the simplest training principles? Ignorance. Ignorance is why there are so many gym goers, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes are burying themselves on a daily basis in the gym and not simply reaping the performance benefits they are chasing. They are ignorant of the invisible side of training: the adaptations that take place the other 23 hours of the day they are not in the gym. You can't take a good selfie of yourself sleeping or walking the dog, so no one appears to be doing it.
If you really want to get #Gainz from your programme, you need to forget about all the fancy stuff that's in the media. It’s time to look at the fundamentals of recovery and regeneration that are based on scientific principles.
The Recovery Cycle
In the early 2000s, images of athletes like Paula Radcliffe in ice baths were everywhere, and anecdotal reports of sports teams using complicated heart and brain pattern technology and cryotherapy chambers emerged daily. Recovery and regeneration was catapulted into the forefront of coaches' and athletes' minds. But with the initial wave of interest came a huge amount of confusion. In 2005, I sat down with a colleague at the English Institute of Sport and attempted to create a simple, logical framework for the application of recovery and regeneration strategies. The Recovery Pyramid was our answer to what had become the wild west of training.
The Recovery Cycle is the first level of recovery strategies from that pyramid.
These three elements should be nailed before exploring the multifactorial nature of fatigue. (Graphic: Nick Grantham)
1. Body Management with Passive and Active Rest: Make sure you’re implementing both passive and active rest into your training programme. Forms of passive rest include reading, listening to music, and watching a film. Active rest includes walking, cross training, and flexibility training and is also beneficial to overall recovery. Massage has many physiological and psychological benefits, and a proper post training cooldown incorporating flexibility and mobility is a great way to recover physically and mentally from training and competition.
2. Refuel and Rehydrate with Decent Nutrition: Nutrition is one of the cornerstones of a comprehensive recovery strategy and can be strategically used to optimise training and performance. A solid approach to refueling and rehydrating will have a positive impact on your response to exercise in terms of hormone control and muscle function.
Stop worrying about pre, during, and post workout nutrition. Get the basics right first: eat regularly, go easy on sugars and processed food, incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water.
3. Sleep: Sleep is a basic requirement for human health. Studies have shown that as little as 30-36 hours of sleep deprivation can result in a loss of performance2 - and those hours don’t all have to occur at the same time. Hours of lost sleep can gather over a period of time and negatively impact training performance.
Sleep is one of the most important forms of rest by providing time for the body to adapt to the physical and mental demands of training, and simply increasing your total hours of sleep each night can positively affect your performance.3
Forget Trends and Focus On The Basics
All the nonsense around recovery needs to stop. We need something simple. We need the Recovery Cycle. In more recent months I’ve seen a second coming of overcomplicated recovery strategies, thanks to the success of a team in the English Premier League called Leicester City. Numerous column inches have been given over to the secrets of their success, and every recovery intervention from cryotherapy to beetroot juice has been touted as Leicester's secret weapon. Now every man and his dog wants to drink purple shakes whilst being slowly frozen.
No. It's time to get back to basics. Recovery and regeneration are the key components of an integrated performance conditioning programme, but we need to focus on fundamentals and not the latest trend. I'll leave you with a simple insight from Professor Damien Hughes to consider in your own training.
“Formula 1, the fastest sport on earth, is won by those who learn how to take pit stops most effectively. The same principles apply to humans.”4
Teaser photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Appreciate the straight shooting? Discover more recovery real talk:
2. Cook, C. J., Kilduff, L. P., & Cook, M. R. “Recovering effectively in high-performance sports,” in High-Performance training for sports, ed. David Joyce & Daniel Lewindon, (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2014) 319-330.