Qualitative Recovery Modalities
There are countless gadgets, therapies, and practices that claim to promote recovery. I like to think of these techniques and tools as the supporting cast for global recovery and sport-specific recovery. The right modality, used in the right way, can facilitate recovery, particularly from acute sessions. However, your time and attention should be first spent on outlining an effective training plan, getting consistent rest and sleep, and implementing proper nutrition and fueling around your training.
Although recovery modalities may be of lesser importance, it’s worthwhile to consider including some of them as components of your recovery program. Should you find something that works, don’t lose focus. In other words, daily habits are superior to all of the recovery tools that cost money! I think that is a good thing.
Many athletes consider compression clothing to have a positive influence on recovery. For triathlon, this primarily means tights and calf-guards. I would certainly recommend the use of such items during air travel and following tough workouts. The next level of compression gear includes special equipment designed to create controlled compression, such as the NormaTec system and RecoveryPump. While all of these items are potentially helpful and can be added to your arsenal of recovery weapons, they pale in importance when compared with sleep, proper nutrition and hydration, and an effective training plan.
For most situations, I prefer heat (sauna and steam) to ice for recovery. The literature on using ice for recovery is inconclusive, and I am not a fan of the tightness that occurs because of it. Although ice is an excellent treatment for acute injury, I do not recommend it as an aid for recovery. If you can’t do without your ice bath, don’t go too cold-50 to 55 degrees works just fine!
Specific tools and interventions that focus on fascia and muscular release are a welcome addition to your training habits, but it is critically important to follow proper protocol. When you regularly have soreness, tightness, or the onset of an injury, you should see a qualified physical therapist. Self-help tools such as Trigger Point balls and rollers or foam rollers should not be viewed as methods for treating injury. Instead, I prefer athletes to follow a 7-to 15-minute routine that focuses on the whole body (see “Self-Massage Protocol for Recovery” at the end of the chapter). When athletes focus only on tight or “hot” spots, such treatments can aggravate the site of soreness, and the origin of the problem tends to remain unclear. The goal of implementing regular minisessions is to prevent injury and soreness. Regardless of where the tender spots are, you always go through the total-body routine without lingering too long on any one spot.
Graston Technique or Active Release Techniques (ART) are similar to massage, but they can be very effective as injury prevention. These therapies are more related to injury prevention than to recovery, although the return to full mobility and normal musculoskeletal status is certainly a form of enhanced recovery.
If you love this post, there’s more where that came from! Check out The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential Into Performance by the head coach and founder of Purplepatch Fitness, Matt Dixon. Matt is also coach to professional triathlete and Habit Project founder Sarah Piampiano.