Methods of recovery

HARARE - As a strength and conditioning coach, I personally operate and encourage others to operate by these three rules:1. Do no harm (create a safe environment for the athlete)

2. Apply appropriate levels of progression and regression (allows for a step by step process)

3. Enhance performance (this is the end goal)

None of these can be achieved unless there is a well thought out plan that has the buy in of the athlete and the guidance of the coach.

One of the many challenges a strength and conditioning coach will face at some point in the programme or in an athlete's career is that of overtraining. Symptoms of overtraining can include a number of the following examples in varying degrees; fatigue, loss of enthusiasm, insomnia, irritability, increased injury rate, loss of appetite, poor focus and of course a drop off in performance. A key strategy to counter overtraining is simply to ensure an effective recovery system is implemented and adhered to by the athlete. I have a strict policy on recovery and the philosophy behind it is that recovery is quite simply "Preparation for the next session". As long as the athlete both understands and implements it then their ability to perform efficiently and achieve targets within the following session is enhanced and the plan simply moves forward, forward to achieve enhanced performance.

A simple understanding of the science behind recovery is important for all coaches and athletes as it highlights an athlete's adaptation to repeated training stimulus. Any form of training performed at the required intensity will apply stress to the athlete (Physically, Physiologically and Psychologically), and as such cause breakdowns. These are normal and expected. The objective at this breakdown stage is to implement effective recovery strategies that allow for supercompensation and as such an improved response to training stimulus, which quite simply means enhanced performance as this cycle repeats itself.

Sadly the opposite can occur as well. Once the athlete has experienced the applied stress and this results in the breakdown, the aim is obviously to recover. However, should only partial recovery take place before the next training stimulus is applied to the athlete then they never fully recover. This cycle will repeat itself and you will find you begin to work with an underperforming athlete.

Recovery is predominantly undertaken at the completion of the training period and is often neglected in it's entirety once the athlete leaves the training environment. This period between sessions is vital to ensure the appropriate methods of recovery are implemented to further ensure the athlete achieves the desired performance state at the start of the next session. Recovery's sole objective is to return the body and mind to a state of optimal functioning with as little internal and external stresses as possible. The focus is on Physiological Recovery, Physical Recovery and Psychological Recovery. All three components are key to achieving the desired state of functioning for the athlete.

Effective strategies for recovery can be divided into Short, Medium and Long Term periods. This progressive approach to recovery will assist (not guarantee) the athlete in recovering as well as possible.

Short Term (immediately after training sessions, matches or events) recovery strategies include:

1. A combination of both Active and Static recovery

2. Mobility about a joint

3. Hydration

4. Reflection

Medium Term (within 2-4 hours after the training session, match or event) recovery strategies include:

1. Nutrition

2. Hydration

3. Alternate Heating and Cooling

4. Cold water submersion (ice baths)

5. Myofascial release

6. Compression garments

7. Reflection

Long Term (within 48 hours after the training session, match or event) recovery strategies include:

1. Nutrition

2. Hydration

3. Mobility

4. Massage

5. Physiotherapy and Medical (if neeed)

6. Review and Action Plan

7. Sleep

As you can see there is a massive emphasis on recovery strategies and should these be consistently neglected then don't expect to work with an athlete that can perform optimally or let alone have access to working with an athlete that is not injured or not highly susceptible to injury.

*Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Grant Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach. Twitter: @InnovateHPC, website: www.innovate.co.zw.

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