Can you really afford not to spend time or money on recovery?

October 24, 2015 0 Comments

Recover like you mean it Part 1

Over the course of an entire year, the average American spends about $660 on a gym membership. There are 311,591,917 people in America, with 15% holding memberships that means that the nation spends around $2.6 BILLION!  Additionally, the US spends somewhere in the realm of $25-30 BILLION on sports apparel and footwear.   With all that training and money spent on training apparel, how much of that time and money is spent on recovery?

A few things must first be considered.  First; what does recovery really mean?  Second, what method(s) is best for me? Third, (in my opinion the most important) why do I want to spend my time on recovery?  The point of all of this that if we really want to optimize our training, the easiest and safest way to do so is invest in holistic, consistent, predictable healing practices. 

The first question posed is a bit of a loaded question.  Its like trying to define what fitness is.  It seems to be a very general statement, however a deep dive into these ideas lends me to believe that the answer lies in how honest we are about the idea, and for many how badly we need recovery.  Our population of regular fitness enthusiasts, endurance athletes, powerlifters, crossfitters, and even business executives are under stress beyond their capability to positively adapt with predictable consistent longevity.  Simply put, our drive to work as hard as possible all the time leaves us over trained, under nourished, and in sleep debt.  So, to answer the question of “What does recovery mean?”...It means; am I as serious about making my sleeping habits, my eating habits, and social habits an equal priority to my training habits? 

Recovery means to heal not only the body, but the brain as well.  Easier said then done you may think, and that is where so many of us have been wrong, which leads us to the second question regarding methods.  The most effective methods of recovery take up much less time and physical exertion in comparison to our physical training.  

The methods are fairly straightforward and simpler to understand then we are led to believe.  Priority number one is sleep.  We have heard it all before.  Get at least eight hours of sleep a night, go to bed and get up the same time each day, don’t drink caffeine after 3pm, etc.  Typically, when this sort of advice is given as well as the “why its given”, the answer usually resembles an answer like; “because it’s what you need to not be tired”.  These sort of generic answers lead us to believe no one has the answer, so why bother exploring the real answers to why we need to sleep, and how much.   The answers are really quite simple.  The answers lie in the brain.  If we hope to affect the body’s recovery me must first take care of our most important organ; our brain.  We must down regulate our brain and nervous system.  In simpler terms, we must allow for time away from distraction and stimulus of the nervous system before bed. And in my experience the simplest and most effective way to do this is to create a bed time routine.  To spell it out very concisely let me share with you my bedtime routine. 

I finish all my work or social media updating on all my electronics.

Mix up my night time protein drink.

Turn of all the lights in my house except the nightlight I have in the hallways of my upstairs and downstairs.

I take a shower in a very low lit bathroom.  My hot shower is always accompanied by eucalyptus extract.  The eucalyptus stands as a very important part of my relaxation and bedtime routine.  The reason is that I have conditioned myself.  Just like a person who reads before they go to bed…when that person goes to read any other time, they tend to get sleepy.  The reading has conditioned them to get tired because of the neurological connection between reading and bedtime.  This idea is spelled out perfectly by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and his profound work on “classic conditioning.”  Instead of reading I have chosen to use a very pleasant scent to condition my sleep response. Any scent can work, its just that eucalyptus reminds me of my son as a baby wearing Vick’s vapor rub…i.e. a very pleasant memory.  I have further tied a conditioned response to a pleasant memory, win win; which brings me to my next point.

I check on my son asleep in bed and further reinforce that feeling of comfort and peace of mind. 

I drink my protein

I floss my teeth and use mouthwash

I then brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush.  This is another device that I consciously use as a social conditioning modality.  Just like a coach uses exercises to train for a positive adaptation in performance, I am training my brain to accept the worlds most powerful performance enhancing drug…SLEEP.  The toothbrush is a tool that not only cleans my teeth, but gives me physical feedback and stimulus that tells my brain to begin accepting sleep for the evening. 

By the time all this has transpired at least 30 minutes has passed and I have become very drowsy and am ready for bed.  Minutes later I am fast asleep in my bed.  

To be very clear, sleep was never easy for me.  I was a chronic insomniac for the better part of eight solid years.  I was a chronic consumer of over the counter and prescription sleep aids while averaging a total of only seven hours of sleep over the course of seven days. Not seven hours a night, but seven hours for the whole week. Needless to say, I now value my sleep and treat it according to its power to heal.  There is nothing more powerful then restful natural sleep.

There are other forms of recovery.  Instead of beginning to try and list all the possible forms of recovery that work only for a few I will choose one that works for the vast majority, compression garments.

Compression garments have been around for about fifty years for people with deep vein thrombosis and varicose veins.  Essentially both medical conditions speak to a lack of proper circulation to the extremities.  It wasn’t long until sports scientist began to understand the benefit of athletes using compression garments after bouts of intense training and competition.  The beautiful thing about a true compression garment is that they are non evasive, inexpensive, and they work.  The two conditions of them “working” depends on if the garments provide an optimal level of compression and that the garments are graduated.  There are many manufacturers that claim they make compression garments, but only a few make a garment that is providing the value of compression (near 25mmhg) that is needed to improve circulation and muscle containment benefits.  Moreover, the garments must be tighter the further away from the heart...i.e. graduated.  As far as brands are concerned, the one that meets and even exceeds the necessary criteria to provide such a benefit is the brand 2XU.   These garments first attracted me during my frequent long bouts of air travel all over the world.  I was experiencing large amounts of swelling and stiffness in my feet and legs that was prohibiting me from performing at a level that was needed in my job.  At times I had to be ready to run, hike and even skydive immediately upon arriving at my destination.  As long as I was staying properly hydrated on these long flights, the compression garments were keeping almost all of my lower limb swelling at an acceptable level.  The garments were equally useful in my time after all of my many very long and grueling hikes in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush Mountains. Not only were these hikes long, but many were in excess of 12,000ft above sea level, while carrying varying loads up to 50lbs.  I needed a non evasive way to assist my circulation in my legs, as well as help offset the low pressure at altitude, where swelling can be dangerous if not managed. The benefit of having a light weight garment that I could simply put on to give me such a measurable obvious benefit was priceless.  Even now, when I am no longer living the life at altitude on a mountain half way around the world.  I rely on their benefits every single day when I am coaching my athletes and training myself.   There is really no other garment that delivers such a powerful benefit in such a compact, simple, inexpensive manner. 

Now we have reached the why portion of this call to action. Why do we need to focus on recovery?  Admittedly the training and competing side of athletics is what holds most of our attention, and that is the answer.  If we really want to train and/or continue to compete at a high level, we need to take advantage of the things that are the easiest to implement.  We could go on this exhaustive journey of supplements, sleep aps, and sleeping devices. But at the end you will find that unless things are easy to plug into our already busy lives and all these “sure things” people are always trying to sell us, we just end up discovering that those “sure things” are just not sustainable, nor do they work.  We want to train hard as frequent as possible, and we want that training to be rewarding and effective.  Those sort of aspirations are not too much to ask for, but we need to do a better job of understanding that if we want to train our hardest all the time without working hard on our recovery, there is a price to pay.  That price is often injury, added stress beyond what our body can adapt to, and sub par results in comparison to the work that’s put in.  We have to understand there is a cause and effect in everything that we do.  We can no longer wonder why we have injuries we can’t seem to shake, problems with digesting food or types of food, and why we are having trouble sleeping.  The answer is stress to the nervous system, and that we are not taking the necessary and often simple steps to manage and regulate that stress. 

Now you know why the answer “because its what’s best for you” just isn’t going to work as a sufficient explanation anymore.  We are beautifully made, but even the human body has limitations.  So take simple, non evasive, sustainable steps to not just recover, but allow you to train harder, longer, heavier, and smarter.

Jeff Nichols CSCS

Exercise Physiologist

Former Navy SEAL

Virginia High Performance LLC

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