|Most of you are somewhat familiar with recovery methods of professional or full time athletes. Massage therapists. Cold plunges. Well outfitted training rooms. Nutritionists and supplement regimens designed specifically for the individual athlete. In short, unlimited time and money to do everything possible to recover faster, train more, and make faster progress.
But you, you're working 40 hours a week and overtime when you can get it. Money is short cause the oldest needs braces and the youngest still needs new diapers ever time your turn around. The wife wants a bigger house, but you really NEED that new truck. Whether you want to add 10kg to your clean and jerk, or push your arms from 16 to 17 inches, you need to keep it down and dirty, with minimum investment of time and money.
While you are not going to be able to equal the effectiveness of the recovery techniques of the best athletes in the world, you can often come surprisingly close for very little money, and a modest time investment.
The cheapest and easiest investment in your recovery is simply sleep. Sure, I know, boring, right? Well, not so boring when you consider that the professional athlete can take advantage of everything at his or her disposal, and if the party lasts till 3 or 4am every night, and they are getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep, and you do nothing but get adequate (8 hours or more) sleep, you are probably better off than they are. I have heard every excuse in the book, but, in 9 out of 10 cases, all that is really needed to get adequate sleep is to shut the TV off and go to bed a little earlier.
Poor diet contributes to fatigue in most athletes. Next to sleep, fixing your diet is the quickest (and possibly best) way to aid in recovery. General nutrition for the blue collar athlete should revolve around nutrient rich foods. Beef, fish, eggs, nuts, milk, vegetables, and fruits, especially berries. I have always felt that most meals should mainly feature a protein source (beef, eggs, etc) and vegetables, and carbs should be added to gain weight or taken away to lose weight. I guarantee you, you will not recover as well on a bowl of cocoa puffs in the morning as you will on scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, or spinach mixed in, ham, and an orange or apple or some berries. Frozen pizza won't get you as far as a good cut of beef or salmon and asparagus… and no, that DOESN'T take that long to cook! Center your meals around a variety of quality protein sources and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Carbs are not the enemy, but they are not as nutrient dense and as I said earlier, the amount you eat should be added to if you want to gain weight, and subtracted from if you want to lose weight.
Consuming nutrients directly before and after your workout, in most cases a combination of protein and carbs, can greatly aid in maximizing the benefits of the training performed and also speed up the recovery process for the next session. Dehydration can be detrimental to performance and recovery post-training. Drinking adequate fluids before and during training can ensure that recovery following training is optimal.
An adequate pre-workout meal will result in less muscle damage and will ultimately lead to greater recovery. Simple foods, with only 1-2 ingredients, tend to work best and are easy to digest. Eggs and oatmeal, a meat and cheese sandwich, even steak and potato are solid choices. For those of us who prefer not train on a full stomach, try drinking a protein and carbohydrate shake or 2 glasses of milk to get the same benefit.
Post-workout nutrition is the mythical holy grail of recovery with everyone searching for the best product or optimal combination. Taking in a combination of protein and carbs, sooner rather than later, will restore carbohydrate stores of the muscle and increase protein synthesis (muscle building). Most recommendations include a ratio of 2-3x the amount of carbohydrate to protein; 100-150 grams of carbs and 50 grams protein. Any type of post-workout shake is a good option, but again whole foods can also do the trick; this is also a great time to take in foods higher in sugar (fruit, white breads). Many of the same options pre-workout also apply here but also, milk and a bagel, eggs and fruit, chocolate milk, etc.
Hydrotherapy is very easily accessible even for those of you who don't have a hot tub or a pool. Hopefully you have a shower. If not, you have more problems than recovery. Contrast showers are one of the best examples of hydrotherapy out there, and its accessible to just about everyone. In general, 30 seconds of cold water alternated with 1 to 2 minutes of hot water, continued for 10-15 minutes works well. Start with hot and end with cold, try switching up the amount of time you use for each cycle so the body does not adapt, and for best use the coldest and hottest water you can stand.
Another example of hydrotherapy is the good old Epsom salt bath. It's the type of thing your mom and grandmother might have used, and in my opinion this says a lot, I tend to trust stuff that's been around forever more than the latest fad. Usually there is at least some reason it's managed to stick around. In this instance it has recently been found that the magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin and raises blood levels of magnesium significantly if you do it 2 to 3 times per week. This helps with relaxation, and, there is little more important in recovery than sleep and relaxation. Put about 1lb of salts in the average bath.
An example of a blue collar cold plunge that I have used myself is 16lbs of ice dumped in the bathtub and then filling the tub partway with cold water, and getting in for 15-20 minutes. This costs a few dollars for the ice, but it can be valuable say, once a week after your hardest leg workout.
Ice is your friend. Any sore joint should be iced after training. Ice packs are cheap and usually a one time investment. Another inexpensive version of cryotherapy is to get some paper or Styrofoam cups, fill them with water and freeze… then, when you want to use them, peel a half inch or inch of the top of the cup… use the bottom of the cup to hold on to it and massage what hurts with the ice, or have a workout partner help with hard to reach areas.
Most of us can't afford professional massages on a regular basis. I know I cant, and I FOR SURE couldn't have when I was spending more time training and less time working than I am now, lol. But you can self massage your legs, and many other bodyparts, and most "significant others" can be persuaded to give a short back massage here and there. Massage feels good and may help alleviate muscle soreness by increasing muscle blood flow. Foam rollers are not expensive, and can be a great accompaniment to massage. Work with a foam roller in a specific area may help breakdown soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue and make the muscle more pliable.
Getting in a sauna once a week isn't impossible for most people. I recommend doing it after your workout on a day where the next day is a rest day, and doing 2 to 3 15 minute sessions in the sauna, separated by 5 to 10 minutes out. When my guys do this on Saturday after the Saturday workout, they ALWAYS feel better on Monday… Sunday is our rest day.
A newer technique that has shown some added benefit is the use of compression garments following training. While it is an added expense, they can be used for months/years on end with no need for replacement. Compression garments, think tights for the upper and lower body, aid in reducing swelling of the muscle post-training and allow muscle recovery to occur at a fast rate than without garments. The garment should be tight, as to apply compression, but not so tight that it restricts blood flow to the area.
Most of these recovery techniques will offer some small immediate benefit to your training. However, for best results, they should treated like training itself, in that prolonged consistent use overtime will go a long way to allow for harder training and faster recovery. Experiment with different combinations as time allows and find a system that works for you.
So there you have it. Not much new or revolutionary, but, I would be willing to bet that not many of you are really taking advantage of all the methods at your disposal. Get enough sleep. Eat a good, nutrient rich diet, especially before and after your workout. Take advantage of your shower and your bathtub for contrast showers, homemade "cold plunges" and an Epsom salt bath here and there. Use ice to ice or massage anything that is particularly sore. Use the massage techniques that are at your disposal, there should be several of them, and, if you can, look into some compression garments.
Do these things and forego the parties and late nights, and you can probably put yourself AHEAD of most of the pro's when it comes to recovery.
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