In order to progress as quickly as possible you must pay maximal attention to ensuring that you
fully recover between training sessions. If you do not, your progress will be slowed if not
nullified. What follows is an outline of methods you can utilise to enhance your recovery.
After exercise, your body is depleted of nutrients and the most important thing you can do
to improve recovery is to replace lost nutrients as soon as possible. This means getting a
balanced intake of carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolytes within half an hour of
completing training. This is the so-called "window of opportunity" for carb
replenishment, and to ignore it is to severely compromise your recovery ability. Basically
your body will convert carbohydrates in to glycogen stores around 6 times faster
following intense exercise than at other times. This dictates that immediately following
exercise you should attempt to provide your body with as much glycogen as possible by
dramatically increasing your carbohydrate intake for two or three hours. Try to consume
mainly sources of complex carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes, whole meal bread,
bagels, cereals etc along with a little simple sugar such as table sugar or jam. During the
remainder of the day you should be getting carbs at regular intervals (every 3 hours or so)
throughout the day to keep your stores topped up.
Carbohydrates (22 - 24 grams each).
4 oz potatoes, boiled. 1 large banana
4 oz yams, baked 3/4 cup rice, cooked.
1 oz pasta (dry weight) 8 oz orange juice
1 slice wholegrain bread 1 small bagel
1 1/2 oz oatmeal (dry weight) 3 rice cakes
1 cup pineapple (no juice) 1 large apple
1 cup blueberries 2 Fig Newton cookies
Next up on the bill are fluids. The easiest way to judge fluid replacement needs is to
weigh yourself before and after your workout. You will probably lose between 1 and 3
pounds of weight in a typical session with the weights. This equates to approximately 1 to
3 pints of fluid that need to be replaced to return your body to its pre-exercise levels of
hydration. To avoid dehydration, I recommend you consume fluids as your workout
progresses, with water and diluted fruit juices being the best choices. I avoid commercial
carbohydrate drinks as they are typically too concentrated and serve to slow the
absorption of fluid. If you choose to drink a commercial carb drink during your workouts,
dilute it to a solution of about 5% carbs, for improved absorption. Post exercise, your
fluid intake can be as high as you want it to be, with the minimum requirement being that
you regain all lost weight, without delay.
With regard to general good nutrition I think we all know what to do by now. Eat good
clean food several times a day, supplement it with skim milk if you tolerate it well, drink
enough liquid to pass 5 clear urinations a day, and take a multivitamin/mineral tablet as a
framework for your supplementation program. That is the most basic of frameworks but it
continues to provide results today as it always has. Supplements worthy of consideration
for increasing recovery from exercise include creatine monohydrate, L-glutamine, anti-
oxidants, branched chain amino acids (BCAA), adaptogens such as Mumie and Siberian
Ginseng, white willow bark, glucosamines, insulin potentiators and other herbal formulas.
My own post workout recovery shake includes creatine, L-glutamine, ProPower Recovery
Nutreint caps, a scoop of Whey and 10 grams BCAA mixed in one serving of Power
Anyone who has trained for a long period of time knows the importance of the mind in the
gym, but few trainees spend anything like a comparable amount of time on mental training
as physical. This is a huge mistake. Most advanced lifters utilize some kind of mental
preparation before they approach the bar, to help them to focus on the task ahead and
increase confidence and aggressiveness; but mental training is equally valid for the
purposes of recovery from hard training.
To increase recuperative abilities, I recommend meditation without the religious content.
It's the use of a mantra or "point of focus" to allow us to shut off our bodies and totally
relax, as though asleep. Meditation, along with progressive relaxation, can clear the body
of stress and muscular tension, and enhance recovery.
Before you meditate, find yourself a quiet, comfortable space with a pleasant atmosphere.
Reduce stimulation of the nervous system as much as possible—you must be neither too
hot nor too cold, and the air around you should be neither dusty nor stale. Either sit or lie
flat on your back on a supportive but comfortable surface. Once you are comfortable you
must focus on a simple one or two syllable non-stimulating mantra. Your mantra can be
anything you choose providing it does not trigger any chain of thought. If your mind does
wander from your mantra, gently remind yourself to return your focus to it and let the
intruding thoughts pass you by. With all your focus on your mantra, your body will begin
to relax. Outside stimulation will be minimal and you will in effect be "switching off"
much of your nervous system. Continue to focus on the mantra while attempting to
progressively slow and deepen your breathing.
I find it a two-syllable mantra very useful, with one syllable for inhaling, and the second
for exhaling. If you continue this breathing for 15-20 minutes you will find yourself greatly
relaxed and you will feel calm and refreshed when you go back to your daily life. If you
are meditating to rid yourself of stress before training, it is worthwhile to slowly readjust
your focus to the training session ahead of you. Use external visualization to bring your
system back up to full alertness. See yourself performing the workout with great success. This is a terrific strategy for getting work, family and outside-the-gym problems out of
your mind prior to training.
If you are to train within two hours of your relaxation time, limit your relaxation
techniques to the meditation described above. After a workout, or on non-training days,
follow the meditation with the progressive relaxation techniques that follow. For example,
meditate for ten minutes or so, perform the progressive relaxation work, and then meditate
again for a further ten minutes. This will probably take a total of 45-60 minutes (once you'
re proficient), but it is time well spent.
Related to meditation, is progressive relaxation. What follows is based loosely on a
system of muscle relaxation invented by Dr. Edmund Jacobsen. The basic approach is to
tense each muscle separately as hard as possible, then focus on the feeling as you release
the tension and relax the muscle. Then tense the same muscle with half as much tension,
relax and again focus on the feeling of relaxation as you let the tension go. Repeat with
one quarter of the tension. Finally, perform it with just enough muscular tension to identify
it. What you are doing is teaching yourself the skill of identifying muscular tension. Once
you have learned to identify tension you can consciously make an effort to relax your
musculature throughout the day. In this way I cured myself of terrible recurring headaches
that were a product of my teeth clenching habit. It has been a boon to me, give it a try!
The actual movements are performed lying on a flat surface that fully supports your body.
The best way I have found is to lie on a floor with a pillow beneath my knees. This allows
me to relax completely and feel well supported by the floor. Allow your feet to splay out
sideways slightly and let your arms rest by your sides, slightly bent at the elbows. Allow
gravity to “sink” you in to the floor. This will ensure you are as relaxed as possible
before you begin. This is especially easy to do if you have already meditated. Once you
are in position you will need to follow the series of instructions below. After a while you
will find it easy to remember them all, but at first you may wish to record them to tape for
playback or have someone read them aloud to you.
The first lesson is on the hands and arm, and will take approximately 30 minutes at first.
Each subsequent lesson takes a similar length of time, but once you are proficient it is
possible to relax the whole body (perform all five lessons) in around 30 minutes. Master
the lessons one at a time. It may take a week or so or so to master a given lesson.
For the sake of space I have not repeated the complete instructions for each muscle
group/lesson, but each lesson follows the same pattern as first one. You first tense as hard
as you can, then with half tension, then one quarter, then with just enough tension to
identify. If there are no instructions about tension after a given movement is described,
then that is the pattern you are to follow.
Beginning with the dominant hand, attempt to touch your knuckles to the top of your wrist.
Hold for ten seconds, then release the tension. Note where the tension is felt, then repeat.
Attempt to touch your fingertips to the underside of your wrist. Hold, note the tension,
relax and let go. Repeat this sequence for the non-dominant arm. Repeat for each arm in
turn with half tension, quarter tension, then just enough to identify.
Flex the dominant side biceps as hard as you can (without bending at the elbow). Hold for
ten seconds, relax and let go. Note the tension, then repeat. Repeat with other arm, then
for each arm in turn with half tension, quarter tension, then just enough tension to identify.
Press both wrists in the floor to tense the triceps. Hold for ten, relax. Repeat with half
tension, then quarter, then just enough to identify.
Using both arms, tense and tighten all the muscles of the arms and shoulders without
moving. Your fists will clench and the arm should be as tight as possible. Hold for a count
of ten and then relax as slowly as possible until you are once again free of tension. Repeat
with half tension, quarter tension and then just enough to identify.
Once you become proficient at these movements you will be able to perform the entire
first lesson in 5 or 6 minutes. Only at this point should you begin work on lesson two, but
always begin each session with the mastered lesson one. Master lesson two, and then
move onto number three (but opening with 5 or 6 minutes each for the mastered lessons
one and two). Continue in this manner until you can perform all 5 lessons in one session of
about 30 minutes. This way, the longest session you will ever have to perform will be
around 55 minutes long. I realise this is a big investment of time but at the end of the day
you either want to be the best you can or you don't. Sacrifices of time are part and parcel
of what makes a great athlete.
Bend toes of right foot towards the shin.
Repeat sequence for left foot.
Repeat the sequence while pointing the toes forwards, for right toes, then left, then both
Repeat the sequence while holding feet one inch off the floor.
Repeat the sequence pressing the feet as hard in to the floor as you can.
Make a tight fist with both hands, hold, relax. Do not repeat sequence of contractions.
Tense both arms throughout, hold, relax. Do not repeat.
Tense both legs and feet, hold, relax. Do not repeat.
Pull in abdominals. Repeat contractions as usual—full, half, quarter, etc.
Tighten your buttocks.
Arch back slowly.
Imagine arching the back as high as you can, but do not move.
Relax and let go of all tension.
Take a deep breath, hold, identify tension and release the air normally.
Take a deep breath, hold, identify tension and let breath out in a sharp puff.
Continue to breathe normally and relax more as your breathing deepens.
Push right shoulder and right side of head in to the floor.
Try to bring both shoulders together in front of chest.
Shrug both your shoulders up to your ears.
Press back of head against mat.
Try to put your right ear on your right shoulder.
Repeat entire sequence, using left side in place of right where appropriate.
Clench teeth tensing the jaw.
Pucker lips as if whistling.
Push tongue in to front teeth.
Pull tongue back towards throat.
Let the jaw go slack and breathe deeply.
That concludes our whistle stop tour of muscle relaxation. What I have provided is little
more than an outline, but it's enough for you to try the technique and see how it feels. I
realize that for many of you 45 minutes or so out of a day (once you're proficient at
meditation and progressive relaxation, and longer until then) will be a long time, but even
performed just once or twice a week, these exercises can make you feel better, recover
better, and thus train better.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water of differing temperatures and pressures to reduce
inflammation, soreness and recovery time between training sessions, allowing you to train
again sooner and with more vigour. Consistent stretching is also helpful in this respect.
Perhaps the most basic use of hydrotherapy is to minimize inflammation in muscle tissue
via the application of cold water. Post training you should have a cold shower rather than
a warm one. Take a few moments in tepid water to clean yourself as normal, then change
to using the coldest water you can endure. Taking actual showers produces a more
systemic and general effect on the body than would ice-pack application to a specific
bodypart. You may still, however, direct the water preferentially at the specific bodyparts
you have just worked, but overall the effect of the shower will still be more of a general
than local one. For local application, you'd need to use ice.
The effects of cold therapy are reducing swelling, slowing local metabolism and therefore
inflammation, slowing down the conduction rate of nerves that register discomfort or pain,
and increasing overall metabolism and heart rate. Heat, by the way, has almost reversed
effects—the heart rate, however, raises also with heat. There is some variation among
coaches in the specific application of cold and heat. Physiotherapy texts may recommend
a heat-cold-heat sequence, and some coaches recommend the very cold shower for a few
minutes followed by a brief hot shower as a “reward” for enduring the cold. But the cold
part is a pivotal part of all of these variations of hydrotherapy, and needs to be the
majority portion of the shower time, for maximum effect.
It's important to realize that “cold” must mean exactly that—very cold. Consider that ice
is used in the case of treating injured tissue. While the shower can't be that cold, it should
be somewhere relatively close. If you live in a warm climate, what you consider “cold”
may in fact be relatively warm for someone living in a cold climate (and not cold enough
to do the job). So progressively work to increase your tolerance of genuine cold water, if
you're to benefit from this hydrotherapy.
In between training sessions you can use hydrotherapy to take further action to reduce
stiffness, and encourage healing and recovery. When you take your daily shower, alternate
the water temperature between the coldest and hottest you can stand, starting and finishing
with cold water. Each application should last for around 30 seconds, with the total time
taken being 10-20 minutes. This process serves to increase localized blood flow, just as a
light workout would, but without the risk of overtraining from further exercise. The
increase in blood flow is caused by the alternating opening and closing of surface and
deep blood vessels as the body strives to maintain a constant temperature in the area.
Hydrotherapy essentially allows you to “train” for recovery every day (but without
actually exercising every day), without doing any further damage to your muscle cells (as
actual extra workouts would). You should feel free to use hydrotherapy in this manner as
often as you wish, or as often as time allows. Personally I have a cold shower after all
training sessions, and once or twice a day I use alternating hot and cold water; but if you
have the time to do so more often, do it.
In conclusion, all these techniques are for one purpose—to help you to perform at a higher
level at your next training session. There are many knock-on effects from being more
relaxed in your day-to-day life, but if you try to view your relaxation work as training, it
will be more effective. Just as you would not excuse yourself from training, you should
not excuse yourself from working on your body in other ways. Additional assistance for
recovery comes from trigger point therapy and stretching. Experiment with different
combinations of hydrotherapy, meditation, progressive relaxation, stretching, massage and
trigger point therapy until you find what works best for you in reducing soreness,
hastening recovery, and enabling you to train at your best. Then go and do just that. As
always, if you have any questions or comments just Email me
Thanks to S. McRobert for Editing previous drafts of this article.