With the Olympics currently in full swing, I’m sure many of you are enjoying all the top class sport showing on our televisions. Olympic athletes compete at the highest levels for consecutive days – sometimes even twice in the same day. How quickly and how well they RECOVER is vital for their optimal performance and could be the difference between going for Olympic gold and going home early.
The main aim of a post-game/event program is to enhance recovery, to maximize performance and minimize potential for injury at the next event. Recovery programmes have the following objectives:
- Restoration of function
- Neuromuscular recovery
- Tissue repair
- Resolution of muscle soreness
- Psychological recovery
A number of recovery methods are used by sportsmen and woman. Though there’s limited research in to the efficacy of most of them, let’s look at a few of the most popular techniques used:
Warm-down (active recovery)
Most athletes perform a warm-down of between 5 and 15 minutes after intense exercise followed by stretching of the muscles used in their specific sport. The warm down is also generally specific to the nature of their particular sport.
Cold Water Immersion (CWI)
As the name suggests, players immerse themselves in ice baths ranging from 5-15°C for up to 5 minutes at a time. This has a cooling effect on the body tissues. CWI is associated with a peripheral vasoconstrictive response, reduced perfusion, and a decrease in oedema (which all help control the inflammatory response). However sportsmen with a history of cardiac problems such as arrhythmias should avoid CWI as it results in “cold shock” with associated increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory minute volume, and metabolism, thus placing extra stress on the cardiac system.
Intense training causes prolonged elevation of muscle tone in both resting and contracted states. This increased tone or “muscle tightness” limits the extensibility and shock absorbency of soft tissue and thus predisposes the tissue to strain. Active trigger points that result from heavy training may reduce muscle strength. All these problems can impair training and competition and can progress to injury if they are not resolved. Soft tissue therapy is thought to work by reducing excessive post-exercise muscle tone, increasing muscle range of motion, increasing the circulation and nutrition to damaged tissue, and deactivating symptomatic trigger points. It also helps to identify any soft tissue abnormalities, which if untreated could progress to injury.
Nutrition aids in the recovery from intense exercise by replenishing glycogen stores and providing necessary protein and water. Repetitive bouts of activity can cause profound glycogen depletion and substantial breakdown of muscle proteins which could lead to impaired sporting performance. Athletes are encouraged to consume a carbohydrate rich snack/meal that provides 1-1.2g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight as well as 10-20g of high-quality protein within the first hour post exercise, as this is when rates of glycogen synthesis are greatest. Glycogen is the major energy source for muscular activity in the body. Large amounts of fluid may be lost during exertion, especially with increased intensity and in hot conditions. Rehydration is vitally important to replace the lost fluid as well as electrolytes (especially sodium) lost through sweat.
This recovery method involves running in the deep end of a swimming pool using a buoyancy vest. It is a form of cross-training that reduces the impact put on your joints and thus reduces overuse injuries.
Lower limb tights and below-knee socks are advised for athletes soon after finishing their event. Athletes should leave them on for the next 24 hours. This aids in recovery from post-event muscle soreness.
Lifestyle factors such as adequate rest and sleep as well as the psychology of the athlete have also shown to influence recovery times.
As you can see what the athlete does off the track/field might be as important as what they do on it and coaches should be encouraged to incorporate recovery time into athletes’ schedules.
BY: Andrew Savvides
General Health/Fitness, Lower Limb injuries, Upper Limb injuries