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Recovery Strategies

Recovery and regeneration strategies have become a hot topic in the fitness world as of late, but there’s a lot more misinformation than anything else. In this week’s episode of 8WeeksOut U, I’ll share with you the details of why, when and how to use different recovery strategies to get the best results.

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What are Recovery & Regeneration Strategies?

Generally speaking, the idea behind using different methods of recovery and regeneration is to “speed up” the process of recovery between training sessions and/or competitions.

Everything from EMS, to cyrotherapy, to soft tissue work and light workouts have become relatively commonplace in the training programs of many different athletes.

The real question, however, is whether or not such strategies are necessary, or even a good idea?

…And if they are useful, which methods should be used and how often should they be used?

When NOT to Use Recovery Methods…

The first thing to understand is that different methods of recovery and regeneration should absolutely NOT be used all the time.

The goal of training is to stimulate adaptation and in many ways, trying to minimize the after affects of training as much as possible can often lead to dimished results.

The trace effects of training are important for maximizing the body’s adaptive drive towards supercompensation.

In other words, don’t overuse recovery and regeneration methods if the goal is to get the best results from your training.

The Right Time to Speed up the Process

The most appropriate times to use different recovery and regeneration techniques are either A) when autonomic balance needs to be restored and B) when maximum performance needs to be achieved on a specific date, i.e. because of a competition.

This means you should really only use such methods to prevent going too far into an overreaching state and to peak for a competition, especially during a brutal competitive season with weekly, or even more frequent, competitions.

In such cases, it’s important to use different methods to help the body return to a state where it’s physically ready to perform at the highest levels.

Individualizing Recovery Methods

Aside from making sure you choose the right time to use recovery and regeneration methods, the next most important factor is to make sure to select the right recovery method for the job.

When the body is in a chronically sympathetic state, you need to choose methods that stimulate parasympathetic function and reduce sympathetic drive.

Such methods will help restore autonomic balance and prevent the cascade of negative effects that accompany prolongued exposure to stress hormones.

Using HRV is the real key to being able to individualize which recovery methods should be used. This is hugely important because using the wrong method can actually make things worse and slow down the process rather than speed it up.

Much more information about how to use heart rate variability can be found in the Ultimate Guide to HRV training that comes with the BioForce HRV system.

Read the transcript of this video

Today we are going to be talking about recovery strategies and this is a topic that has gotten a lot of attention in recent months and years but it is a topic that, I think, that is also very misunderstood. Today we are going to talk about how to use recovery strategies appropriately and how we individualize that process.

The first thing to talk about is why we use recovery strategies. The answer is probably not what most people expect. The answer is that we do not use recovery strategies as much as possible to speed up recovery. We use recovery strategies to prevent over training and that's it.

A lot of people have been under the assumption that you want to use recovery strategies to speed up the recovery process as fast as possible so that you train more or do whatever. The reality is a lot of those recovery processes and a lot of the effects of training are part of the training process. They are part of the adapter processes.

If we use too many recovery strategies or we use them too frequently or too often, not only do they start to lose their effect but the body actually will respond to training less and you'll get less of an improvement.

For example, there was a study where they used a lot of Vitamin C with endurance athletes which is a powerful antioxidant and they found that they actually reduced the effectiveness of the workout in improving their aerobic fitness.

Why is this the case? Simply because the reduction of free radicals in oxidation that occurs with endurance training is part of what signals the body to improve. It's part of why the body responds and gets better. When they minimized that from happening they decreased the effectiveness of the training program.

For us, that means we don't use these recovery strategies at will or as much as we can because we can actually reduce the effectiveness of the training program and get worse results.

We only want to use recovery strategies to prevent over training or throughout the course of a season to make sure we're ready to perform on game day. While resting, while recovering for that. Those are really the two scenarios that we use these recovery strategies.

We don't just use them everyday. We don't use them as much as possible. We also don't just use whatever method we feel like. We want to base our recovery strategy on how our body is actually adapting.

If you have BioForce HRV or you use some other HRV method you are going to understand the importance of looking at the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems when it comes to recovery. If you don't let's talk about those.

We realize that the body goes through two different stages of adaptation as you train. First, we have the stress, which is the sympathetic response, and that is where all the stress hormones are produced and that's where the body is shift into more of a sympathetic state. This is a much more short term reaction.

As we continue training we continue to accumulate fatigue and we train over time and have more stress on our body, the body will generally shift into a more parasympathetic state. The interesting thing is the better shape you're in, the higher your HRV score in BioForce, the more parasympathetically fit you are, the more you're going to shift into this other section, the other side of the equation faster. This parasympathetically dominant state.

These are really two different strategies the body uses to cope with stress and adapt to it. This is the short term, acute stage. This is more of a long term, chronic stage. Depending on which phase you're in you want to use a different recovery strategy to restore that balance so that we don't progress into an over training stage.

Again, that's really the focus. You want to make sure that you're using the right group of strategies. The right recovery method based on where you're at.

If you're using the BioForce HRV system and we see that your HRV score is down below your baseline, we see that you're an amber or a red and it's down below your baseline it means you're in a sympathetic state.

You want to use parasympathetically stimulating recovery strategies to restore that balance. If you're too sympathetic you want to use methods that are going to restore that balance by increasing the parasympathetic function.

What are those strategies? First we can use relaxation techniques whether it is meditating, whether it's soft tissue therapy that is meant to be relaxing, whether it's stuff like sitting in a hot tub, some hot water relaxation stuff, we want to reduce the sympathetic tone. We want to use relaxation techniques.

We don't want to use stuff that's going to do the opposite. We really want to try and relax ourselves. We also want to eliminate stimulants. We want to make sure we get enough sleep.

We want to reduce the intensity of the training because that is the primary sympathetic driver. We can use stuff like deep water float which helps the lymphatic system and helps relax as well.

Then we can use some active recovery strategies provided that the intensity is pretty low. All of these strategies are designed to reduce the sympathetic tone and increase the parasympathetic one so that the body is brought back to a balance.

Say that we were already sympathetically dominant and we use more sympathetically minded strategies we're going to push our bodies worse. Rather than recovery we're going to actually slow that process down and we're going to make things worse. We have to make sure we're using stuff to bring that sympathetic tone down.

Again, the way you're going to see that is looking at your HRV score compared to your normal, average number. If it is below your average number this would be more of the menu of strategies you're going to want to use.

Now, on the opposite side of the equation, we have the parasympathetic strategies. We're going to use these when you see that your HRV score is much above your average.

Let's say your average HRV score in BioForce is 80. You wake up for a few days and you're seeing your numbers in the 90's and you're seeing the amber and red indication that tell you your body is shifting into more of a parasympathetic state. You're starting to accumulate stress.

The first thing you want to do is reduce the volume of the intensity of your program. That's been the primary driving of the stress in general so by reducing the overall volume and intensity you're going to help your body get back to a more recovered state and prevent it from getting worse.

We can also use some more intensive deep tissue therapy there which would be considered more of a sympathetic stimulus so it would help restore that balance. We can use cryotherapy, cold plunges and that sort of thing.

We can you contrast therapy which is the hot/cold, or the contrast therapy of the sauna routine. You can find the article on 8weeksout.com about how I use the sauna routine.

The overall all message is we want to use more things to bring down that parasympathetic tone by stimulating the sympathetic side. These are really the best kind of simple strategies to do that.

The take home message is that you want to make sure that you're using the right either sympathetic or parasympathetic recovery strategies to restore balance. Again, of you're already parasympathetic and use you methods to increase parasympathetic now we've pushing our body in the opposite direction.

Further than we want it to go. We want to restore that balance between these two systems because as we over train we're going to see these out of balance. Autonomic function is going to reflect that accumulation of fatigue and we're not going to be recovered. We not going to perform.

We want to make sure we always choose the right recovery strategy or method and the simplest way to that is using HRV because it shows us where the balance between those two systems are.

For more videos like this make sure and visit our YouTube channels. Subscribe. That's youtube.com/8WOTV. Of course you can find us on Facebook, facebook.com/JoelJamison or /8weeksout. You can follow me on twitter, just twitter.com/JoelJamison. Of course, visit us at 8weeksout.com where you can find more videos, articles, and our discussion forum and we'll see you again next time.

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10 Responses to Recovery Strategies

  1. SamD says:

    Joel,

    I’ve read the transcript, and I’m a little confused. In a parasympathetic state, one should reduce BOTH overall volume and overall intensity of the day? Or overall volume of the day only?

    Thanks.

    • Joel Jamieson says:

      One should reduce the overall load to allow for recovery, which typically means a greatly reduced volume with some low amount of higher intensity being ok. A little bit of intensity can stimulate sympathetic function, but too much volume of this will only increase fatigue so it’s a slippery slope and it’s better to error on theside of caution

  2. SamD says:

    Nevermind. I could see the video now.

  3. sjyoung says:

    I am a little confused. It makes sense to me that if your sympathetic nervous system is too active you would use strategies to increase the parasympathetic input and balance the two systems. However, I am confused in the other case where your parasympathetic system is too active. Do you want to increase the sympathetic input? Does an increase in parasympathetic activity mean that you are “too rested?” If so, why would you decrease volume and intensity? I guess one side makes sense to me and the other doesn’t. Thanks.

    • Joel Jamieson says:

      too much parasympathetic activity doesn’t mean you are “too well rested” it means you have accumulated too much fatigue. You want small amount of sympathetic input to restore autonomic balance and prevent receptor downregulation. In general, you want a good autonomic balance with things slightly shifted towards the parasympathetic side. When you get too far either direction, you want to take the appropriate means to restore the balance

      • sjyoung says:

        Awesome, thanks Joel. I think I am beginning to understand but how does an accumulation of fatigue result in too much parasympathetic activity? Is it a protective mechanism by the body to balance out the sympathetic input from training?

        P.S. Thanks for your help, I have learned a lot from this 4 week conditioning program and am implementing a lot of its principles with my athletes (I am a collegiate strength and conditioning coach). This information has been invaluable.

        Stewart

        • Joel Jamieson says:

          In simplest terms, parasympathetic is anabolic and a state of rest, repair and recovery. When the body accumulates fatigue, it decreases the sympathetic response and turns up parasympathetic function to try to get everything back to normal and reduce any further impact of more stress. It’s a natural reaction by the body on many levels, but sometimes it can be a bit too far shifted into a parasympathetic state and in such cases a low volume of sympathetic activation can shift things a bit back towards more balanced function

  4. [...] attention with his HRV system which monitors training stress. Here’s a great post by Joel on recovery and maintaining balance between the sympathetic and para sympathetic nervous [...]

  5. BSMPG 2013 says:

    [...] cost of performance. And from Joel’s I walked away with a greater understanding of specific recovery strategies as they apply to specific athlete presentations such as sympathetic and parasympathetic [...]

  6. […] As I mentioned above, if every interaction we have with, and every intervention we give to, the athlete is considered a stressor that results in adaptation – positive or negative – then we need to “pick our battles” and intervene where we think is necessary rather than all the time. Manual therapy, in particular, can be a negative input on speed/power days or prior to competition if performed either too aggressively or in too high of a quantity. Additionally, we must time our recovery interventions as Joel Jamieson explains in this video. […]

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