What is your most limiting factor when it comes to achieving your training goals?
The average person would likely answer getting to the gym multiple times a week or not giving in to their late night ice cream addiction.
As lifters, we are not average people, and to say we have “average” goals would be an understatement.
For most serious strength athletes, training is the most rewarding part of the day and fueling up to achieve and sustain optimal energy and endurance has become second nature.
But as you progress in your training career, there is an obvious need for training more, training harder, and pushing yourself to the brink of your physical limitations.
Intelligent training schemes and complete nutritional plans will only get you so far until you plateau. Sure, the foundations are a requisite to taking any goal down, but what happens once those foundations are mastered?
When you think you’ve exhausted all your options, think again. Expediting recovery by tapping into mechanical and neuromuscular regeneration with these simple and effective techniques will have you battling back soreness and fatigue at record rates. And did I mention that they are some of the most unassuming methods you’ve never thought of?
Sometimes simple solutions are just what you need to keep the gains coming. Here are three methods you can start using today to spark recovery and start hitting the gym more often with more intensity. Are you ready?
Simply put, the use of compression is one of the most modest of recovery methods that athletes have utilized for hundreds of years. But given we are living in a new day and age, there have been some great advancements when it comes to the use of compression. Compression can be implemented before, during, and after training to limit training fatigue while also enhancing recovery between training bouts.
Over the last decade, the use of pre-training compressive therapy has made its way into the fitness and sports performance industries. My preferred method of self-compression therapy is the use of “Voo-Doo Bands”. These bands have been made popular by physical therapist Kelly Starrett.
Related: Train Hard, Recover Harder - Optimizing Carb Intake for Performance
These rubber bands can be easily applied to the extremities to place compression on specific areas of emphasis (such as injuries or chronically tight areas) while flossing the soft tissues localized under the band in and out to mobilize the area. When combined with active movements, this method can be great to “warm up” areas globally that are usually in need of attention for lifters, such as the knees and elbows.
After a minute or two of active movement under the compression band, the band is taken off and the blood flow is driven quickly into the area that was occluded, again making it a rich environment to prep soft tissues for training.
During training, one of the best passive ways to get more out of your body, specifically your legs, is by wearing graded compression garments such as leggings or socks. These garments are “graded” in a way that aids in the lymphatic drainage of local swelling throughout the legs.
Simply put, these garments help to place pressure over the veins and muscles in order to pump the unwanted fluid buildup back into central circulation. It can also be advantageous to keep these garments on a few hours post training as well.
LOW INTENSITY ACTIVE RECOVERY
I’ve been quoted in saying that there’s no such thing as an “off” day for serious athletes. And you know what? I stand by my words. If your goal is to train harder, fight through more brutal intensity, and keep your body composition moving in the right direction, there’s always something you can do even when your body isn’t quite ready to move big weights.
The use of active recovery sounds as uneventful as it actually is. However, my athletes have tremendous amounts of success implementing recovery sessions centered around low intensity steady state cardiovascular activities. The results speak for themselves and it becomes a staple of their week.
Related: 4 Post-Workout Nutrition Myths (That Are Actually Relevant)
My go to low intensity active recovery method is walking. Yes, I said walking. Walking directly after a brutal training session not only allows the central nervous system to come back down to baseline levels, but also mechanically starts to tap into something called the “active muscle pump”. This aids in lymphatic drainage of fluids from the extremities into central circulation. Sounds familiar, right?
Walking is not only easy on the joints, but also provides just enough muscular contractions from the lower body, upper body and core to place pressure through musculature the drives blood flow and fluids back up towards the heart. Being up on two feet and ambulating as the heart rate is also increased, making it a more efficient process, also enhances this recovery mechanism.
On hard training days in the gym, programming in a recovery walk at least four hours after the end of the training session provides a huge boost in recovery. These walks are designed to spark recovery, not fatigue your musculature or central nervous system so a leisurely pace is perfect.
Start with 15-20 minutes and build up your total walking time to a duration that you can sustain without adding to your fatigue.
On days where you do not have a scheduled workout, you can program a longer duration walk or other form of cardio just as long as it does not fatigue you down from a mechanical or neurological perspective. Anywhere between 45-90 minutes is great not only for recovery, but general cardiovascular health.
Related: Warming Up For Dummies - A Lifter’s Guide to Injury Prevention
This longer duration walk when added with the next recovery method will be the perfect combo.
SOFT TISSUE MOBILIZATION
By now you will start to see a trend in these recovery methods. Yes, they are absolutely tapping into neurological recovery mechanisms, but they also incorporate mechanical recovery as well.
Unless you are a pure power athlete that depends on high levels of central nervous system recruitment, or are an endurance athlete who mechanically beats their body to pieces, you’ll also have success using a combination of these types of recovery.
The final recovery method to have you hitting the switch on the recovery process post training is the use of soft tissue mobilization techniques. My two go-to modalities here are self-myofascial release techniques such as foam rolling drills combined with active static and oscillatory stretching.
Again, we are targeting specific tissues that were just trained in order to get the most out of these 5-7 minutes directly after a workout. Working on big prime movers muscles like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, pecs, and lats are really advantageous as they have a greater muscular density and surface area to tap into.
Concentrating on coursing the chosen tissue first with the foam roller fully, then moving directly into joint friendly stretching is the perfect combo to decrease neurological tone of the tissues that have been jacked up during the training bout. This will also, again, aid in lymphatic drainage.
If you plan on scheduling a recovery walk later in the day after training, using the foam rolling and stretching combo before, after or preferably both around that walk will create the ultimate recuperative environment for your body.