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Sports Restoration Tips

Q: Can you suggest ways to recover effectively after tough lifting workouts, climbs, long runs or competitions?

A: Certainly. It might be helpful to start by listing some general indicators of overtraining. These reactions are your body's way of making further increases in stress volume nearly impossible. Such behavioral indicators include apathy, lethargy, loss of ability to concentrate, changes in sleep patterns, irritability, decreased libido, increased thirst, sugar cravings beyond the norm (women, don't confuse this with PMS!) and sluggishness. Some physical indicators include reduced performance (slowed times, weaker on climbs or lifts), change in weight beyond the normal 2-3 pound fluctuation during the course of a week; change in resting heart rate, muscle soreness beyond DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that you may typically experience when you change your routine or push a little harder than usual); swollen lymph glands, diarrhea, injury, infection, amenorrhea, decreased exercise heart rate, or slow-healing cuts. None of these is a "sure" indicator; you are simply looking for clues that might cue you in to whether or not you are getting enough rest.

(list provided on p. 157 from Joe Friel's Triathlete's Training Bible, VeloPress, 1998.)


If your program is designed correctly, you'll have time already included for active rest and recovery. If you are lifting 4 days a week, and you have 2 days of light lifting and 2 days of heavy lifting, for example, you'll want to make sure that you have at least a complete day of rest after the heavy lifting sessions. After completing a marathon, by all means, take a minimum of 2-3 days off from running to let the body recover, and then cut way back on cumulative weekly mileage for several weeks. A light yoga or stretching session, hot tub soak, or massage might also be in the restorative equation. After a tough season of crew sprints, you may want to let the body rest from rowing for an entire 1-2 weeks, introducing other "active rest" activities that use completely different muscles. Make sure rest is programmed into your seasonal schedule, or you run the risk of burnout, overuse, and injury.

Sports Massage

Recovery after tough workouts can take many forms. One very common sports restoration method is massage, although there are almost as many different forms of massage as there are sports. After an endurance run or race such as the Portland or Seattle marathon, you may find that getting one of the professional sports massages offered at the finish line will help with complete muscle recovery in just a few short days following the event. Such massages should focus on long, flushing strokes to help speed the removal of lactic acid and other built up waste products that accumulate during exercise. Anything deeper can actually cause muscle damage. In between tough workouts, if you feel muscle stiffness or soreness, you might opt for an occasional massage, but be aware that just like any other restoration technique or training method, continuing to use one method exclusively may result in your body adapting to it, and the particular technique may become less useful. You might get better results by cycling through the methods you use.

(see Siff, MC & Yessis M, Sports Restoration and Massage, 1992 for more details).

Sports Nutrition

Immediately following any demanding strength workout (especially high intensity workouts where you are lifting close to maximal weights), it's important to get a quality Post Workout Meal (PWOM), preferably in liquid form for faster absorption, and consisting of carbohydrates and protein, within minutes (up to 60) of completion of your workout. During strength workouts especially, you deplete your muscles of glycogen, and to assist in muscle repair and recovery, you need to get the necessary nutrients back into the body. Improperly fueling your body can mean that repair and recovery are delayed. Examples of a PWOM might be yogurt, fresh fruit and juice with ice blended together into a smoothie with protein powder tossed in; powdered mixes with carbs and protein that you mix with water, milk or juice, or even an Odwalla protein drink.

Exercise and Illness

The 6 hours following a high-intensity workout or race is the critical phase for remaining healthy, as the immune system is stressed and less capable of fighting off illness. This is a good time to make sure your nutrition is optimal. If you feel a cold coming on and you're wondering whether to exercise, tune in to your body to see where the symptoms are: "Above the neck, what the heck? Below the head, stay in bed." In other words, if you have a scratchy throat, runny nose or sneezing, you probably can work out at reduced intensity. However, if you are suffering from chills, fever, aching muscles, or chest cold (with material in your lungs), you may have a viral infection and would be best served to rest fully. Taking vitamin C, drinking lots of liquids, getting plenty of good sleep, and even taking some echinacea (others swear by it) can help at the first signs of a cold.

Active Recovery Workouts

Experienced athletes or lifters can benefit greatly from active recovery workouts that are significantly reduced in intensity, either later the same day or the following day. For triathletes, that might be a very light bike ride or swim for 15-30 minutes to stretch out and allow the body to work out residual soreness. For the competitive power lifter, that might be some light reverse hyperextensions for the lower back or even some band work for high repetitions and fraction of max weight. For the climber, that might be a short session on the wall that focuses on low-arm climbing (below shoulder level), footwork, or rest-position traversing, avoiding a flash pump at all costs. It can also be a mode of cross training, using completely different muscle groups than usually taxed -- say, roller blading for the rower, short hiking for the swimmer, or shooting hoops for the runner.


Some people may enjoy a hot shower, soak in the tub, whirl pool, or sauna after a challenging workout. Make sure if you opt for this method that you continue to drink fluids to help speed recovery, but steam rooms tend to have the opposite effect. For optimal results, you may want to alternate between heat and cold -- a short stint in the hot tub, followed by a quick dip in the pool -- for two or three cycles.

Relax and Stretch

Stay off your feet, rent a movie, read a good book, take a short nap. Sit on the floor and stretch gently. Lean against walls or counters if you do need to remain on your feet (as in working the afternoon of a race, heaven forbid!) Listen to some good soothing music. Eat plenty of good, wholesome food, and get plenty of sleep.

A great idea for a post-outing recovery workout is a non-impact yoga video or DVD, such as those offered by Karen Voight.

Yoga Videos

Yoga & Sculpting DVD
70 min Yoga + 85 min strength more

Yoga Focus DVD
30 min strength, 20 stretch more


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