Earlier this week I spoke with graduate and undergraduate students pursuing a sports medicine/athletic training degree from the University o f Alabama. Of all the schools in the country, I thought it was quite ironic that I had a connection with their college town (Tuscaloosa was the sight of the 2008 Olympic Trials and upcoming US Nationals in September). I spoke with an athletic trainer who works with athletes at the Olympic Training Center on a daily basis. I was there to give an athlete’s perspective. The topic: recovery….if there is one thing I have learned the over the past six years being an elite athlete; it is the importance of listening to your body and techniques to properly recover.
I have heard the saying, “It’s not how hard you train, it’s how hard you recover.” The past several years I have realized how true this saying is to reach your top potential and to try and avoid injuries. Of course pushing our bodies to the limits on a weekly basis, injuries due occur throughout an athlete’s career. However, with proper recovery techniques, these injuries can be greatly decreased.
Thinking back to my college days and running at the NCAA level, I realize now how poorly I was at recovering. I did not have much knowledge on nutrition, proper sleep, and stretching techniques…just to name a few aspects. In fact, recovery based training is scientifically proven that it really works, where as ten years ago this type of training was not too well known.
The training center in Colorado Springs has an entire building devoted specifically to recovery techniques. Three years ago, this center opened to all resident athletes and available for athletes to use as much or as little as they choose. Athletes are allotted 90 minutes of massage per week. In addition, the center is equipped with a dry and wet sauna, cold bath, hot tub and a yoga or stretching room. Recently, Norma-Tec pants have been added for athletes to use post workout or between workouts. These pants help flush out waste from the legs, similar to a massage. With nutrition being a fundamental key to recovery, the center is stocked with bars, fruit, and plenty of fluids. If an athlete chooses to take advantage of all the recovery tools, this can definitely give he/she the extra edge needed to perform at their best.
Just as training can be individually based, I feel recovery works the same way. A certain recovery technique that works best for athlete A, may not work best for athlete B. Find what works best for you! Some of the key recovery techniques that I use and pay attention to: 1) nutrition/hydration: making sure you are fueled properly pre/during/post workout. Fueling within 30 minutes with after finishing a quality session is key for the muscles to recover. 2) sleep/rest: The best way for the body to recover is quality sleep. Sleep is one of the best ways for me to listen to my body and know that I am properly recovering. If I begin to have consecutive poor nights of sleep, this alerts me I may be “overtraining”. 3) massage: This is a great way to flush the legs after travel or tough training. I feel massage is a great way to prevent injury as well 4) ice bath : After a high intensity bike or run session, ice baths are a great way to help flush out the legs and get them ready for another challenging session the next day 5) strength training/stretching –I spend time daily working on my flexibility and strength training all the “little” muscles to help prevent injury and improve my performance in addition to strengthening the large muscle groups 6) compression tights—I find these are great for travel or after a key workout…they keep the blood flowing in the legs to speed up recovery. If for some reason I can’t prop my legs up after a tough workout and going to be on my feet; the compression socks are a must.
Good luck with your race season and don’t forget to recover!