Lessons in recovery

The East Coast Gold weightlifting camp is a study in how smart an athlete you are. I'm a six-workout-a-week kinda guy, which is more than most, and this was more than twice that. My hands, my forearms, my shoulders, my neck, my back, my abs, my legs, and my calves are all getting beat on. How could someone handle this much work when the body can normally only handle half that?

The answer is recovery. People talk about steroids as being magical muscle enhancers, but really they're only recovery agents that allow you to do more workouts over the same time period. If you train more you can get better, but only if you're adequately recovered. There are so many things that we can do to speed up this process that we normally neglect.

Kittens are good at sleeping,
why aren't you??
A vital component to recovery and performance, we tend to de-prioritize sleep. Uninterrupted, comfortable, full-night sleep is a valuable tool to increase our ability to train and function. Even eight hours may not be enough when training at our highest loads - some of the best athletes have been shown to get that much and take naps during the day.

You don't have to be able to do this,
but wouldn't it be cool if you could??
The only recovery tool that I personally have always done well, this one is often highly ignored by many. How many times have you or your teammate finished a workout and gone home without doing even a minimum of stretching? Not only does stretching increase your flexibility, for which virtually everybody needs work, it also helps your muscles stay loose and relaxed during periods of high-intensity training. If you don't stretch between workouts you can easily tighten up causing pain and putting you at risk for injury. Take time to stretch. After every workout. Period.

Just looking at it gives me the shivers.
We think of ice as a way of treating injuries, but it can do so much more for us. Ice down the hardest-trained areas of the body after each workout to reduce the inflammation caused by the training and trauma to the area and also to improve the body's recovery response. I admit that I don't know the mechanics behind this and that the most technical I can get about it is that icing causes vasoconstriction and temporarily confuses nervous signals to the area. But in the course of normal training the positive effects are undeniable: that I started plunging my arms up to the elbows in ice baths after each workout is the only reason I made it through camp this year. Before that my hands were balls of fire and my wrists/forearms felt like they were ready to quit. Olympic athletes will immerse themselves in tubs of swirling water at 53° F, and while many of us don't have that luxury we still have options available to us. If you can't get ice immediately after, you can still do it later in the day (or the next day). You can take cold showers or sometimes hot-cold contrasting showers. This year I learned to embrace the ice, and I started swapping hot-cold for just cold showers. And this year, for the first time, I made it throughout the week without any real nagging pains.

No excuses, just drink it!
Drink it and stay hydrated. You won't know you need it until it's already too late. Drink more than you think you need. If it's hot or you're sweating more than usual, consider some electrolyte replacement as well. Gatorade, however tasty, is not particularly effective; consider Pedialyte, Endurolytes, pickle juice, or do what I do and make your own mixture (Lite Salt and calcium pills like Tums cover three of the four major negative electrolytes). It's not just about preventing heat stroke - any dehydration will make it harder to train.

The best part of recovery time!
We all know you need to eat to recover. I'm including this more for completeness, because people already know how valuable this is, they just tend to forget a few things. First, eat something right after your workout, preferably in the first twenty minutes. You don't even have to wait to finish; eat some berries, a banana, or an apple before you stretch. Get some protein, like yogurt, to go with your fruit. Go eat a more substantial meal within an hour. More importantly, load up on vegetables, beans, and whole, healthy foods, and stay away from junk and the dessert cart. Your body performs the most efficiently on the purest fuel.

This year I spent so much time working on these recovery aspects I actually didn't even have enough time to do them all. I literally finished each workout, ate/drank something, stretched, iced, ate/drank at the dining hall, took a cold or hot/cold shower, and it was already time for the next workout or bed. Only on the days we had just two workouts did I have time to sit and relax at all.

As a result I felt pretty good even by the end of camp. I think this is a valuable lesson I can take home, and surely I can fill a trash can with ice water if it will help me fit in a few more exercises a week.

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