By Brad Culp on 17/06/10 at 10:05 pm
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with graduate and undergraduate students pursuing a sports medicine/athletic training degree from the University of Alabama. Of all the schools in the country, I thought it was quite ironic that I had a connection with their college town (Tuscaloosa was the sight of the 2008 Olympic Trials and upcoming U.S. Nationals in September). I spoke alongside an athletic trainer who works with athletes at the Olympic Training Center on a daily basis. I was there to give an athlete’s perspective. The topic—recovery. If there is one thing I have learned the over the past six years of being an elite athlete it is the importance of listening to your body to properly recover.
I have heard it said that, “It’s not how hard you train, it’s how hard you recover.” The past several years I have realized how true this saying is in order to reach your potential and to avoid injuries. Of course, by pushing our bodies to the limit on a weekly basis, injuries occur throughout an athlete’s career. However, with proper recovery techniques, the likelihood of these injuries can be greatly decreased.
Thinking back to my days of running at an NCAA level in college, I realize now how little I knew about recovering. I did not have much knowledge on nutrition, proper sleep, and stretching techniques, just to name a few aspects. There wasn’t much known about recovery-based training ten years ago, but nowadays, it has been scientifically proven to work.
The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has an entire building devoted specifically to recovery techniques. Three years ago, this center opened to all resident athletes and is available for athletes to use as much or as little as they choose. Athletes are allotted 90 minutes of massage per week. In addition, the center is equipped with a dry and wet sauna, cold bath, hot tub and a yoga/stretching room. Recently, compression pants have been added for athletes to use post workout or between workouts. These pants help flush out waste from the legs, similar to a massage. With nutrition being a fundamental key to recovery, the center is stocked with bars, fruit, and plenty of fluids. If an athlete chooses to take advantage of all the recovery tools, it can definitely give he or she the extra edge needed to perform at the highest level.
Just as training can be individually based, I feel recovery works the same way. A certain recovery technique that works best for one athlete may not work best for another. So the trick is to find out what works best for you! Some of the key recovery techniques that I use and pay attention to are:
1) Nutrition/hydration: Making sure you are fueled properly pre/during/post workout. Fueling within 30 minutes after finishing a quality session is key for the muscles to recover.
2) Sleep/rest: The best way for the body to recover is quality sleep. Sleep is one of the best ways for me to listen to my body and know that I am properly recovering. If I begin to have consecutive poor nights of sleep, this alerts me that I may be overtraining.
3) Massage: This is a great way to flush out the legs after travel or tough training and helps decrease the risk of injury.
4) Ice bath: After a high intensity bike or run session, ice baths are an excellent way to help flush out the legs and get them ready for another challenging session the next day.
5) Strength training/stretching: I spend a little time every day working on my flexibility and strength training all the “little” muscles to help prevent injury and improve my performance.
6) Compression tights: I find these are great for travel or after a key workout. They keep the blood flowing in the legs to speed up recovery. If for some reason I can’t prop my legs up after a tough workout and I have to be on my feet, then compression socks are a must.
Good luck with your race season and don’t forget to recover!