by Devan McConnell
Recovery and regeneration are hot topics in the field of Sports Performance. In my experience, much of the information about regeneration is anecdotal, and that which is not is often highly debated. At Stanford, I try to implement a multitude of different recovery strategies. Some may work better than others, and I am always learning and honing my protocols, however in my mind it’s better to be doing something directed at recovery and regeneration than doing nothing at all. Here are a few of the tools and protocols I will use with my athletes throughout the year.
1. Hydrotherapy- This can take several different forms, and as I said before, much of the research and recommendations on hydrotherapy is conflicting, but what seems to be constant is that some sort of hydrotherapy is beneficial, and the faster you get your athletes in the water, the greater the benefit. We will implement cold tub baths, hot tubs, contrast baths, contrast showers, and hydro-massage, where we can use pressurized water within a tub to apply direct massage. From time to time we will also perform pool workouts. It is important to note if the athlete is finished training or competing for the day, as this will influence which protocol we will use, and whether we finish hot or cold.
2. Stretching- Maybe one of the simplest and most often used protocol is just good old-fashioned post practice/workout static stretching. Not only can we restore some length to overworked tissues, but we can also trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to begin bringing down heightened physiological markers and start relaxation. We will also employ other stretching techniques, such as Active Isolated Stretching, Partner Stretches, Fascial Meridian Stretches, etc.
3. Self Myofascial Release- This would consist of the use of foam rollers, massage sticks, various balls of different size and density, as well as other soft tissue tools. The purpose post exercise is to decrease the tone of soft tissue, release trigger points, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and begin the process of returning the body back to baseline.
4. Lower Body Elevation and Breath Work- These are two very simple ways to begin the recovery process, which we will usually pair together. We simply have the athletes lay out on the turf along with their feet elevated up against a wall. At the same time, they are instructed to put one hand on their stomach, and the other on their chest. For about 5 minutes we will just focus on deep belly breathing, attempting not to let the chest rise and fall with each breath. This diaphragmatic breathing pattern facilitates relaxation, quickly brings heart rates down, and helps with venous return.
5. Cobblestone Mat Walks- We set up several cobblestone mats and the players walk back and forth barefoot for a few minutes. Eastern Medicine has long preached about the benefits of cobblestone walking, as the bottom of the feet are said to have a sort of “road map” to the rest of the body, where specific acupressure points can influence heart rate, blood pressure, relaxation, etc. Even if you do not believe this, after a tough training session, practice or game, it just feels good on the feet. Happy feet make a happy player!
6. Post Workout Nutrition- Nothing fancy here, just a carb/protein drink immediately post exercise to facilitate recovery via muscle protein synthesis, glycogen repletion, and hydration.
7. Yoga- We have a yoga instructor on staff that we can set up sessions with. From time to time we will utilize yoga for its relaxation and regenerative properties.
8. Flush Rides- Flush rides on the bikes post game can help bring down heart rates and work out some of the “tightness” the players often report feeling. 10-15 minutes of low level riding also allows players to “debrief” and relax with each other.
9. Mobility/Dynamic Cooldown- Mobility of the ankle, hip, and thoracic spine is always important, and by having a brief mobility circuit set up where the players perform one or two drills for each area serves the double purpose of adding in mobility work and slowly bringing athletes back down from a heightened sensory level after a strenuous session or game. Similar to the secondary effect of flush rides, the psychological benefit of “debriefing” together post game is an added bonus.
All in all, we have many tools available to help aid in recovery and regeneration of our student athletes. Some are well documented, while others are a bit outside the box. I believe what is most important when it comes to recovery practices are to make sure you are always doing something. Consistency in my mind is perhaps the biggest factor of whether or not a benefit will be seen in performance from utilizing recovery methods. Another important factor is to not get stuck using just 1 or 2 modalities. Like the exercises we prescribe, the body will adapt to recovery methods used over and over, eventually decreasing the effectiveness. Therefore, it is important to use a multitude of different tools in order to continue to see a positive response.
Recovery and Regeneration are a hot topic in Sports Performance these days for a reason. With so much on our athletes plate every day, and the level of competition so close, the ability to recover faster than your opponent could be the difference between winning and losing. If you aren’t spending a few minutes addressing this crucial part of the training and adaptation process, you might not be getting all you could be from your athletes.