Recovery for Athletic Growth

Recovery for Athletic Growth

Today’s article is for the athletes out there. Most athletes know that recovery is important for performance, growth, etc…but most do a poor job when it comes to recovery.The reasons, I believe are twofold: impatience and fear of performance degradation.

Performance degradation

The performance degradation issue appears to be logical on the surface, but the reality is that it’s simply not true.

Many experienced athletes have experienced good results after a slightly prolonged recovery period.This may be due to several reasons, which we will explore below, but the bottom line is that the fear of performance degradation is irrational.


“Patience is a virtue” comes from the poem “Piers Plowman” written between the years 1360 and 1387, and attributed to William Langland, by most literary historians. So, if being patient is good for us, why are we so bad at it?

Spending more time in the gym beyond what is necessary, isn’t going to speed up the process of muscular growth or strengthening, if you’ve already stimulated your muscles properly. The same applies for endurance athletes.

Once you’ve stimulated the growth process through training, more training won’t accelerate it. More training may even have the opposite effect.

If you have already trained properly with good intensity and in accordance with your specific goals (strength, hypertrophy, performance, etc…), then it all comes down to nutrition, sleep, and recovery. Most athletes are terrible at recovery and need a recovery protocol that takes into account the 2 kinds of recovery, localized and systemic.

Localized Recovery

Localized Recovery means letting your muscles repair themselves in relationship to the amount of intensity that you put on them.The higher the intensity or the more volume placed on a muscle group, means that the muscles need more time to recover locally.

One of the best ways to enhance localized recovery is to train sore muscles lightly the “day after.” The old advice of “don’t train a muscle when it’s sore” is outdated. You want to bring blood into the sore tissues to bring nutrients into the area to encourage the healing process. 

Systemic Recovery

Systemic Recovery is about the nervous system and is far more important than localized recovery.This is because training stress and general life stress are intertwined within your nervous system. Your body doesn’t know if you’re about to do a max back squat or if you’re about to go over the edge at work due to budget deadlines. All your nervous system knows is that it must release certain hormones in response to stress, and this generally ends with a high release of cortisol (the fight or flight hormone).

For systemic recovery to happen there must be a give and take relationship that allows for homeostasis to occur within the autonomic nervous system, which is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight response, where your adrenal glands get activated and release epinephrine and cortisol.This causes your blood pressure to rise, suppresses the immune system, and turns body fat into available energy. This is what happened when a saber tooth tiger was stalking our ancestors.The sympathetic nervous system gives us quick energy to run, jump, lift, etc…getting away from danger.

Unfortunately, in today’s America, many of us are turning on our sympathetic nervous systems constantly due to chronic stress. Not just athletes, but the entire population. Poor sleep, financial stress, relationship issues, job issues, poor nutrition and related health issues, etc…The list below shows some of the consequences of a constantly activated sympathetic nervous system.

  • Sexual impotence
  • Decreased longevity

The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as your “rest and digest” system. It works in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system. Below are some of the benefits with a healthy parasympathetic nervous system:

  • Better sleep
  • Lowered blood glucose (less chance of getting Type II Diabetes)
  • Better sex
  • Increased longevity

So, to summarize, every stress needs a de-stress to ensure proper recovery and thus lead to performance increases.With this behind us, now we can get back to the concept of a recovery protocol.Here are 4 effective rituals/techniques/practices that you can adopt to create your own personalized recovery protocol.

Start your day with a Gratitude Journaling Practice. 

Simply write down 2-3 things that you are truly grateful for in your life.  When you do this, really concentrate on why you are grateful and disconnect yourself from worry, fear, stress, and angst. This is one of the best things you can do for yourself with respect to recovery. This practice can be enhanced with a bit of prayer, meditation or deep breathing, following the journaling. Many experts recommend this practice and personally, I love it.

Release some Oxytocin. 

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called “the love hormone.” Oxytocin release is not limited to just hugging and kissing.  Cuddling, being generous, helping other less fortunate, playing with your pets and sex all work great.  You will feel great and promote recovery.

Release serotonin by eating carbs strategically.

Several elite coaches are well-known for advising their athletes to eat carbs at night (Charlies Poliquin, Paul Carter, Christian Thibadeau, to name a few).  The idea is this;  eat carbs in your last meal, prior to going to bed.  Carbs promote the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you sleep.  Complex carbs work best for serotonin release, not processed sugars.  The reason is that complex carbs help to drive tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. And if you ate protein at dinner, then you consumed tryptophan.  So what you are doing is setting yourself up for a great night of sleep, which is super important for recovery.

Decompression training

Decompression training is the concept of giving the nervous system a break, while still getting in some training.  This means training at a slower pace, with lighter weights and higher reps, while focusing on quality breathing.  It’s low intensity training.  It will push some blood into sore muscles for localized recovery, while also enhancing mood, especially if you’re a gym rat. 

Do you need help designing a recovery protocol? Let me know.I’m here to help!

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