Recovery is an important part of physical preparation in professional sport. In rugby, where the effects of a game have been likened to multiple car crashes it is clearly a necessity to implement various recovery protocols to allow sufficient recovery from games and training to allow players to make performance gains. The initial priorities when ensuring full recovery are: Hydration, nutrition, supplementation and sleep. Assuming they are taken care of, there are certain recovery modalities that can be used to assist in the recovery process.

Ice Baths

Ice baths and contrast bathing are an excellent way to reduce inflammation and remove waste products from tired muscles. Contrast bathing or showers are said to shuttle away waste products and deliver vital nutrients for recovery via the constriction and dilation of blood vessels from cold and hot immersion respectively. A good protocol to use is 2 minutes of hot followed by 1 minute of cold then rotate for 3-5 times. Players tend to feel great following this protocol and Charlie Francis, the late sprint coach claimed it had rejuvenating effects on the central nervous system.

Contrast bathing, however, is not a suitable treatment for players who have knocks and/or bruising. A simple ice bath immersion would be recommended in this case, for anywhere from 3-10 minutes being recommended in the literature. There is no best protocol but one rule to stick to is the bigger you are and the higher your body-fat percentage the longer you should spend in the ice to allow deep muscle cooling. Another tip is to keep moving slightly to prevent creating a warmed layer of water close to the skin and prevent the cooling benefits.

Massage

The relaxation benefits alone make massage a great technique in the recovery arsenal. But massage also helps to reduce inflammation, improve muscle tone and remove waste products. A good massage practitioner can remove knots and help make you aware of any lingering tightness in muscles that you should be aware of, a huge bonus that can help keep you injury free in the long run.

Active Recovery

Active recovery aids recovery by keeping the heart rate up and keeping muscles moving to remove waste products and deliver nutrients to the muscles themselves. Good rules to follow are to keep the activity low intensity. You should be able to maintain a conversation easily and if you have access to a heart rate monitor your heart rate should be between 110-130 beats per minute. Any activity is recommended but some favourites are cycling, swimming and various bodyweight and stretching exercises. Swimming is especially good as the hydrostatic pressure on the body has an almost massaging effect and the swimming motion is good at enhancing range of motion at the shoulder joint. Active recovery shouldn’t be over thought though, a relaxing dog walk is as good a recovery as some people need.

Stretching

Stretching often gets a bad reputation as some studies have shown that it can decrease performance. The fact is if someone has a tight muscle they need to stretch it or eventually it will catch up with them. Performing static stretching as part of a cool down or recovery protocol will increase your range of motion and if performed correctly will help relax the nervous system. For best results stretch for at least 20-30 seconds and only stretch in a position of mild discomfort. Common tight areas are the calves, hip flexors, groin, glutes and chest.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling in a way is “the poor man’s massage”! It can help remove trigger points and restore muscle tone and range of motion. It isn’t complicated but can be painful for the uninitiated. To use the Foam Roller you roll on top of a roller and roll along the muscle belly back and forth until you find a tender area and then concentrate on that area until it loosens. Common tender areas are the calves, quads, IT band, glutes and upper back.

Epsom Salt Baths

Epsom salt baths offer two main benefits, relaxation and magnesium. You absorb the magnesium through your skin and it has various benefits including involvement in muscle function and improving sleep. Many strength coaches attest to the efficacy of Epsom salt baths and more and more athletes are beginning to use them. You can find Epsom salts quite easily on the internet and it’s simple to set up. Run a warm bath and pour in about 400g of Epsom salts (always use the recommended dose on the pack) and then relax in the bath for 20 minutes.

In Conclusion

As you can see there are various techniques to help recovery from intense training, I recommend giving them a go and finding what works best for you, the more you tailor the recovery processes to you, the better the results will be.

Written by Jamie Bain – Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach for Gloucester Rugby

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