The Importance of Muscle Recovery

The concept of recovery periods during training is something that many people in the amateur world of sports tend to overlook when training for their big events. I have seen first-hand, many cyclists, triathletes and runners who have neglected cool downs, stretches, sports massage and rest days believing that the harder they train the fitter they get. To a certain extent this is true, but one thing that must be taken into consideration is over training and the effect this can have on the muscles, and how the neglect of recovery protocols can have negative long-term implications on the health of the muscles.

When training, your muscle fitness drops below its baseline fitness where it started before the training due to fatigue as the energy levels deplete. Given the right amount of recovery time, 1-2 days rest, the baseline fitness then becomes greater than where it begun as the body reacts to the training, building stronger muscles than before to cope with the stress that it had endured at the training phase. If the recovery phase is insufficient the muscles will not have sufficient time to repair efficiently, and the fatigue will continue to reduce the muscles baseline fitness level, with risk of over training.

Significant fatigue due to over training can increase the muscles susceptibility to injury and can increase the probability of the onset of muscle cramps, stiffness, and reduction in muscle flexibility which in turn can lead to muscle strains and even tears during hard training sessions if not appropriately treated. Without neglecting the recovery phases during training and by regularly increasing the intensity of training and with sufficient recovery protocols, you will set the stage for your body to become the fittest it can be.

During my time in the Sport Therapy field, far too often have I witnessed amateur athletes of all sporting activities neglect the recovery phase and protocols during training schedules and have seen the long-term effects this can have on the muscles. If you are somebody who trains regularly within any sporting capacity or gym environment, these symptoms may sound familiar to you: muscles feeling tight, stiff, heavy & sensitive, the lactic threshold and fatigue setting in quickly during training sessions, some pains occur around the joints and muscles effecting training and even sometimes preventing it. These are just some of the complaints I hear nearly daily within the Triathlete community and it so often coincides with a lack of recovery protocols. These symptoms are commonly a by product of the muscles not being given sufficient time to repair from the microscopic damages that occur during hard training sessions or enough time being given to flush out the waste products of physical exertion that lay within the soft tissue after exercise.

This waste produce will build up in the muscles without sufficient cool downs and if left stagnant for too long, will cause the muscle fibres to stiffen leading onto muscle soreness. A cool down after exercise is the facilitation of the muscles being active, to a resting state which is all part of the recovery phase to facilitate the body in naturally removing those waste products via maintaining the circulation of blood. If you stop immediately after exercises and do not cool down, the blood circulation will reduce dramatically to the muscles and the body will struggle to remove the waste products efficiently thus causing the issues described. To help prevent this stiffness within the muscles building up, part of the cool down phase is stretching. Without stretching and increasing the flexibility back into the muscles, over time the whole muscle can become less flexible and in turn can cause issues through the tendons and muscles, usually presented as a deep muscle ache or pain on the attachment site.

A good cool down protocol should consist of 5 minutes light movement of the muscles that have been worked hard, followed by 10 minutes of stretching those same muscles.

It is important to know what to do with your recovery time to gain the most efficient way of recovery and to hit the Super-compensation phase faster, in order to be able to get back to training as fast as possible for the most effective training programme. In today's Sporting world, there are many recovery enhancing techniques that help facilitate the muscles repair and efficiency so that training can be optimized and the baseline fitness levels can increase at a faster rate. It has been proven that Sports Massage is a great enhancer of muscle recovery as it helps increase the blood circulation to the muscles being treated, which in turn helps increase the rate in which the waste products in the muscles form exercise is extracted from the muscles and increases the deposit of good nutrients to help the muscles repair faster. Massage will also help the chronic symptoms of muscles stiffness and lack of flexibility which can help with any stiffness related issues such as ITB pain, quadriceps tendon issues, and Achilles tension.