Post exercise recovery is extremely important, whether you are an elite athlete, social team sports player or a regular gym goer. It “is a vital component of the overall exercise training paradigm, and paramount for high-level performance and continued improvement”1. As disappointing as this may be to hear, the best approach after exercise isn’t necessarily having a “drink”. However, there are many methods that can be used to improve recovery, this article will talk about some of the strategies that an individual may use to recover post exercise. There are many physiological factors related to training intensity. These include “muscle damage, hyperthermia, dehydration and glycogen depletion. Insufficient/untimely restoration of these physiological alterations might result in sub-optimal performance during subsequent training sessions”3 Insufficient recovery results in performance detriments such as:2
  • ;Temporary reduction in muscular forces;
  • Decreased sense of joint position;
  • Decreased physical performance;
  • And/or increased injury risk.
The main determinants of the effectiveness of recovery strategies include:
  1. Decrease Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS);
  2. Perceived fatigue;
  3. Increase repeatable high-level performance i.e. Strength/ fitness tests.
This article with cover the following methods of recovery including massage, compression, stretching and water therapies. Focusing on what the research says and how you can implement the strategies. A second article to follow with include, active recovery, nutrition, sleep, periodization of training/loads/ game management, and psychological factors. Massage I’m sure everyone has experienced a massage at some point in their life. Massage is used across the board in sport, believed to help with recovery and maintaining high performance. There is research out there that has found massage is beneficial for helping relieve DOMS2, 5. The why and how is still slightly debated, however the beliefs as to why on a physiological level are centered around increasing blood flow to the muscles. By massaging an area, it increases skin and muscle temperature, blood and lymphatic flow. An added side affect of this is that there is muscle tension and stiffness relief, decreased soreness, and increased joint range.4, 5 Whether massage has a direct link with improving recovery rates can be questioned, but there are many other benefits that come with massage. There are associated benefits for injury prevention and management4. Specifically, releasing muscle tension and stiffness and increasing joint range. This in turn helps maintain correct movement patterns, allowing higher potential for consistent results. From personal experience in both receiving and performing massages, there is great benefit for anyone to include massage in their recovery strategies. I have treated high level international athletes who feel the benefit following massage, with decreased DOMS and increased range of motion allowing consistent peak performance. I have also seen benefits massaging the “weekend warrior” who just loves exercising. All clientele find it beneficial and see result within 24hrs if not instantly. Compression The use of compression garments has become increasingly popular. Many people use compression during sporting events, however there is evidence that suggests using compression garments after exercise also has a positive affect on DOMS2. The increased compression improves venous return to the limbs or affected body parts4. Furthermore it decreases the intramuscular space which will in turn limit the available space for swelling and limiting the inflammatory response post exercise. This can help muscle soreness and has the added benefit of promoting regular alignment of the affected muscle fibres4. Compression is one of the key strategies when you are injured. Everyone has heard or RICE = rest, ice, COMPRESSION, elevation. As exercise causes damage to muscles, granted on a much smaller scale, it makes sense that using compression garments would be beneficial post exercise. Stretching Stretching has been a staple in most recovery sessions for a long time. However most of the research says that stretching post exercises shows no positive effect on DOMS and perceived fatigue1, 3, 4. At the very least the research is showing that there are many other methods/ strategies that can be used for recovery that have better outcomes on DOMS and perceived fatigue etc. This is not saying stretching is not important. Stretching can have some very important uses and benefits. This depends on how it is used throughout periodized training programs. Stretching can help improve resting muscle length, which in turn may help with painful joints, injury prevention, and maintaining muscle movement (pain free or correct technique). Stretching is virtually cost free and very easy to perform at home. Stretching is all about the application and WHY you are using it. By William Holland – Exercise Physiologist and Massage Therapist References
  1. DALLECK, LANCE C., The Science of Post-Exercise Recovery., American Council of Exercise.
  2. Dupuy, Olivier., Douzi, Wafa., Theurot, Dimitri,. Bosquet, Laurent., Dugué, Benoit., An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Front. Physiol., 26 April 2018, Volume 9, Article 403
  3. Ihsan M, Watson G, Abbiss CR., What are the Physiological Mechanisms for Post-Exercise Cold Water Immersion in the Recovery from Prolonged Endurance and Intermittent Exercise?, Sports Med. 2016 Aug;46(8):1095-109.
  4. Halson, Shona L., RECOVERY TECHNIQUES FOR ATHLETES., Sports Science Exchange (2013) Vol. 26, No. 120, 1-6
  5. Jianmin Guo., Linjin Li., Yuxiang Gong., Rong Zhu., Jiake Xu., Jun Zou., Xi Chen., Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis., Front. Physiol, 27 September 2017

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