Periodize… the recovery?

Ask a runner to introduce you to the basics of his/her progress, and he will first describe the arrangement of his workouts, his implications for effort, etc. Now ask a coach the same question, and observe the differential response based on… hindsight. And so the evocation of recovery! While reflections on the dynamics of progress are generally focused on the notion of load, what about the optimization of recovery tools? Overview.

 

In training as elsewhere, the dose-response principle applies to compensate (or even overcompensate) for exercise-induced fatigue. Thus a marathon will be evacuated more slowly than a 10km; and this 10km with more difficulty than a 20km bike – despite similar durations. Questions of musculoarticular trauma caused by contact on the ground… Despite this obvious observation, there is nevertheless a lack of consensus on the optimisation of the means to be used following a given effort. Why?

The problem of trauma mentioned above provides a first indication for reflection. Because organizing his recovery means first of all interpreting the constraints of HIS effort. For example, it will be in the athlete’s interest to rearrange his program after the 10km by favouring swimming sessions… But the question of training level also counts since, for the same duration of the event, the confirmed athlete will recover faster than the beginner. Thus, the former will be able to opt for short-term recovery strategies (hydration, nutrition) while the latter will certainly have to engage in a longer-term process (balneotherapy, napping).

A second reason for the lack of consensus relates to individual responses; these particularities require that the interest of a method be put into perspective in relation to the athlete’s life context/intrinsic specificity. Indeed, while you may like the thermal/relaxing effects of massage, how will your partner, less comfortable in this type of situation, respond to it? How will you react once immersed in a cryotherapy chamber, to the machinery of electro-stimulation or when napping is necessary? In fact, will you always respond in the same way or will you show some habituation?

In this context, a study recently demonstrated the placebo effect of cold water immersion sessions following very intense intermittent effort. Indeed, as attested by the performance indices, the subjects showed no difference in recovery after 15 minutes of exposure to a cold bath (10°C) or after a temperate bath (34°C) announced as being as effective as the cold bath. These two methods, however, produced better results than the controlled situation (also 34°C). On this basis, it seems that recovering first of all corresponds to appropriating the mode used: discovering, believing, experimenting, personalizing, readjusting, etc.

 

In spite of this heterogeneity of responses, a consistency of opinion is established on the goals to aim for after exercise: recovery must enable the system to regenerate notably by restoring energy and water reserves, repairing the traumas induced by exercise and evacuating nervous fatigue linked to exercise.

For this reason, there is not lack of techniques, from specific nutritional intakes to cooling strategies and the problems of stretching or compression stockings. Although there are also many debates, none of them call into question the importance of 3 pillars of recovery: sleep, hydration and nutrition. Here then are some basics to experiment and personalize:

  • Distribute hydration within 2 hours post-exercise in order to drink 150% of the volume of water lost, estimated by [(pre-exercise weighing – post-exercise weighing) + ingested volume during exercise]. Alternate water and exercise drink in order to promote the absorption of water by the body and thus limit urinary losses (especially if the effort takes place in the evening to avoid waking up at night). Indeed, exercise drinks can allow a better assimilation of water by the body of 10% compared to a normal drink.
  • Insist on restocking of carbohydrates (dry fruit, cereals) as well as on the rapid intake of a protein drink (about 20g during or immediately after exercise) if the session lasted >1h and if the next meal is not imminent. Do not hesitate to diversify food resources to encourage consumption. Milk is therefore optimal (hydration and protein) with cereals (carbohydrates).
  • Limit important and repeated sources of activation (managing a schedule, an unusual task, etc.) if the training session was hard and the next break is delayed. In fact, the levels of professional, emotional and physical fatigue… add up, then limiting your productivity and your recovery.
  • Schedule a 20-30 minute nap after lunch. If you don’t benefit from the “profound sleep” phase (muscle, immunity, cognitive.. regeneration), you will at least get back full of dynamism. Moreover, think that the stimulating effects of coffee (if they apply to you!) are effective only after a good half hour and are therefore not inconsistent with a nap.
  • Potentiate your recovery by combining the modalities protein drink / nap / light electromyostimulation, or cool clothing on the chest / leg massage / hydration. This will speed up your return to the state of homeostasis. If you don’t combine them, you can try to arrange them wisely (e. g., first cool the body before you hydrate to maximize rehydration). Many modalities are neglected by estimates of lack of time or organization (feeding, hydration, pause time, etc.) while they are just essential. It’s not for nothing that more and more companies are offering post-lunch nap times… Why not you?

As you will have understood, recovery is not only physiological and must be personalised. In this perspective, testing, sorting, individualizing, combining, and even believing in new ways of recovery is certainly an attitude propitious to performance. Like the issues of training or pacing, the ideal recovery is likely to reside in the modulation of strategies to maximize its effects.

 

RECOVER…FOREVER?

As surprising as it may seem, maximizing the effects of a recovery strategy can sometimes involve “non-recovery” (the absence of post-exercise strategies). Curious, isn’t it? In fact, the reason for such a phenomenon is rooted in the body’s ability to adapt to the elements and thus develop specific adjustments. Thus, since recovery strategies allow for a rapid and significant reduction in the stressful effects of physical exercise, less adaptations of the body will be made as a result of training (muscular hypertrophy, development of specific enzymes, sweating mechanisms, sensation of comfort, etc.). In short, using a recovery modality is to some extent an additional help for the body to regain its stability.

 

WHICH CONSEQUENCES FOR TRAINING?

The scheduling of sessions is often based on comparable weeks in volume and variable in intensity for reasons of scheduling. The goal is to obtain a peak shape at a precise time of the season. In this regard, the idea of potentiating the effects of recovery may involve strategic management of training stress during the overload period, seeking to maximize this stress during AND after intense sessions. How? By minimizing recovery strategies in order to teach the body to develop adaptive responses on its own. This can happen by the absence of carbohydrate intakes following a long run, of protein intakes after a resistance training session, of water after a heat-acclimation session, of nap between 2 difficult training sessions…

Conversely, during the pre-competitive tapering period, the stakes will be reversed. The aim will be to provide the body with all the aids that will enable it to recover a basal state – or even better – in order to raise its performance potential. The combinations of recovery modalities take all their place here: your body has not been accustomed to receiving these aids during the training period, so it will gladly take on the contributions you will provide (by assimilating them more efficiently).

 

In short, heavy vs. low training phases therefore do not refer respectively to Load vs. Recovery. They also refer to a periodization of recovery. Recovering is also planning. And since the modalities are plural, the list remains more personal, so… to your pens.