Recovery Essentials for Sports Performance
In this article, we reach out to the Head Physiotherapist & Director of Roar Physiotherapy Jack Connelly to talk about recovery essentials and sports performance for combat athletes and the role this plays in performance and injury dynamics.
Recovery is often the most over-looked or misunderstood component of sports performance. As Physiotherapists, we see this daily in our clinic with clients complaining of pain and injury, seemingly without a clear reason why. Once we dive deeper into their history, we find some basic ‘rules’ of training and recovery often have been unknowingly broken.
Combat-sports have unique demands and consequences due to the high level of physical contact. This means some injuries can’t be controlled or prevented, such as haematomas, fractures or traumatic joint injuries. The aspect, however, that we can control is the maximisation of recovery and therefore the reduction of “overuse injuries” (currently known as training load error related injuries). Here, we will outline a few professional tips and considerations to ensure you’re getting the absolute most out of your training, while simultaneously minimising pain and injury!
Training Load and Management
Undoubtably, the key to optimal sports performance is finding the balance between training (which results in stress) and recovery (which absolves this stress). This is known as training-stress balance. When training and recovery are balanced, we feel strong, fit and healthy. When they are imbalanced this potentially leads to fatigue, pain or tissue injury and deconditioning. If we can find equilibrium, we can negate the effects of fatigue and recover optimally. This is training hard AND smart and is the best way to minimise preventable pain and injury.
Sometimes finding this balance can be difficult and may take some trial and error. The key to managing training loads is to build gradually and listen to your body. A very generic rule that is often touted, is no greater than 10% increase per week (session intensity/volume/duration/frequency). This is by no means perfect, as this would not be enough of an increase for someone doing nothing and would be far too much for someone already over-training, but it can be a useful ballpark figure to trial initially.
Training load errors can occur when athletes have a reduction and then a subsequent spike in their training (ie. Returning after a holiday break). This is also true during periods of inconsistency as the body struggles to regulate training load and recovery.
All in all, remember that preventable training injuries occur from too much too soon, after too little too long!
Peace & Love
In combat sports, it is probably not a matter of if we will get injured, but rather when. When we do sustain an injury there are some basic principles to follow. Just remember; PEACE & LOVE. This replaces the previous RICE/R.
Protection – Avoid activities and movements that increase pain during the first few days after injury
Elevation – Elevate the injured limb higher than the heart, as often as possible, to ease excessive swelling
Avoid Anti-Inflammatories – Avoid taking Anti-Inflammatory medications (Nurofen/Voltaren etc.) and icing initially, as they can reduce tissue healing
Compression – Use an elastic bandage or taping to reduce swelling
Education – Avoid unnecessary passive treatments and medical investigations and let nature play its role. Your body knows best!
Load – Let pain guide your gradual return to normal activities. Your body will tell you when it’s safe to increase load
Optimism – Condition your brain for optimal recovery by being confident and positive
Vascularisation – Choose pain-free cardiovascular activities to increase blood flow to repairing tissues
Exercise – Restore mobility, strength and proprioception by adopting an active approach to recovery
Sleep is a vital part of your day where neurological function and soft tissue structures, such as muscle; tendon and bone, can adapt from training. Sufficient sleep is essential for cognitive function, motor learning, and memory consolidation – all important factors in sports performance.
In the same way, a lack of sleep can have substantial negative impacts, such as;
- Higher incidences of injury in teenage athletes
- Reduced immune system function due to disrupted circadian rhythm
- Impaired exercise performance capacity (especially aerobic)
- Higher incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, anxiety, depression and poor levels of concentration
As a simple rule, aim for 7-9 hours per night (more if you’re in your teens). If you struggle with sleep try the following;
- Create a schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to establish a sleep routine that your body can predict
- Limit the use of electronic devices shortly before bedtime, as these can suppress the secretion of the well-known sleep promoting hormone melatonin
- Increase protein intake before bed which can improve soft tissue restoration and thus recovery
- Exercise regularly, as this has consistently shown to help both sleep patterns and pain
- Take care of your emotional/mental health and learn individual strategies to cope with emotional stress. Anxiety, depression or stress can increase the likelihood of having difficulty sleeping.
Not only does nutrition fuel our performance in the first place, but it literally rebuilds our body at the micro level and is essential in recovering optimally from training bouts. Having a reasonable balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein & fats) in our diet is an excellent place to start when considering optimising nutrition for recovery. These proportions will be slightly different for each person, depending on training goals, but all are essential to maintain health and recovery.
Protein is of particular importance for muscle building and research would suggest aiming for a protein intake of 1.5-2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, in combination with strength/resistance training.
Recovery Tools and Practices
The aforementioned principles of recovery are largely universal and will apply very uniformly across most people. The final point is more individual and relates to adjuncts that can help to amplify recovery through relaxation and/or pain-relief. Each person is likely to have different preference for adjuncts and may even benefit from a variety or combination of them.
Some examples of recovery practices & products include;
- Foam Rolling or Trigger Point Therapy
- Vibration Therapy
- Stretching & Mobilisation
To learn more about these products, head over to the products page at Victory Recovery Systems
Recovery can often be over-complicated but by following the key points above you’ll give your body the best chance of optimal performance!