Extending our playing days, stretching for new goals, or taking on weekend warrior ambitions requires focusing greater attention on your recovery. Whether you are observing Tom Brady late in his career or, read here on STACK, how Brian Kula trains All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, the "more is better" philosophy is fleeing fields as better developmental research becomes accessible.
Increasingly, developing and maintaining your recovery practices will get you closer to the fountain of youth than more reps. This shift is seen across shopping centers everywhere, now packed with Cryogenic centers, massage chains, and I recently got invited to check out a new Stretch Zone Center.
While all of these are great items off of the recovery menu, they can be a bit pricey or often unavailable to some. We're going to focus on a few accessible a la carte items that we can all give greater attention to. The things you do away from training are what will have an enormous impact on your training.
Essential to recovery and being our best is adequate sleep. While we sleep, we allow our brain to rest; we disconnect from sensation and perception. Sleep is essential for brain and muscle recovery. You are utilizing new devices like Whoop and others if you're able to are great feedback tools for your sleep. When in doubt, the old adage of eight hours is a reasonable baseline. Following extensive workouts or competition, you may want to allow your body a bit more the following day(s). A simple journal or sleep log will help you see your patterns. Sleep is a low hanging fruit. Make sure you're getting what you need.
While eating habits should align with your athletic goals and nutritional needs, when it comes to longevity, the fuel you put in your body is a dominant and pervasive factor. Creating a nutritional plan that fits your expenditures is key. This will depend on your sports, caloric usage, and goals. Consulting a professional in this area is advised. Another researched key when it comes to daily recovery is what you put in your body immediately after working out. Consistent research shows that consuming 20-40 grams of protein shortly after working out can enhance recovery, decrease muscle protein breakdown, increase muscle protein synthesis, and restore glycogen stores. That's all science talk for: it helps you repair and build muscle faster. Within your plan, work on what you can eat following training or practice to maximize your results.
As an athlete, you want range, and range of motion comes from flexibility and mobility work. Yoga is a great way to better understand how your breath is connected to your muscles, as well as a low impact way to increase strength and balance. Historically yoga is one of the oldest forms of exercise we know; it's been time tested. You can find tons of great yoga routines on YouTube for free, some fairly sport-specific as well.
If time is limited or you want to create a daily regime of increasing your mobility, David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard affiliated Massachusetts General, says to focus on the critical areas of mobility; calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors. Next, most critical, our shoulders, neck & back. If you're looking for help from technology, there are many apps you can find for increasing mobility. Working to elongate our muscles elongates our playing days.
You see this trend all over Instagram. My wife even showed me Lady Gaga, in an ice bath recently. Many, myself included, find this the most reinvigorating from the recovery menu. While Cryo centers can be costly, ice can come relatively cheap. If you've got a training room to utilize, use it. If you're on the road, find the hotel ice machine.
You've seen this method on the rise, not only because celebrities are doing it, but because they feel the benefits. While I believe in also using ice to train our minds for discomfort and breathwork, you can begin by simply taking care of your body. Optimally, if you have a warm tub or sauna to contrast with, you might experience better results than just the cold, but short on time, I jump in the cold. Immersing in cold water reduces blood flow to help counteract inflammation and sore muscles. Lowering the temperature of your broken down muscles helps constrict your blood vessels. This manipulating of the circulatory system is a great benefit. Other research has demonstrated cold immersion to positively impact our immune, lymphatic, and digestive systems.
Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford University and his Huberman Lab shared on the Joe Rogan podcast that the old adage is true neurologically - just get in the cold all at once. It is easier that way. You'll be that much closer to feeling the benefits. Recover well!