Restoration is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, but when implemented properly can have a huge impact on your recovery, health, and for competitive athletes, longevity in your sport.
There are many forms of restoration and it is important to note that you do not need to do all of them all the time. Some forms of restoration include:
- Extra workouts – strength, mobility, flexibility, etc.
- Cold and hot contrast
- Massage, chiropractic, and other soft tissue therapy
- Low intensity cardiovascular exercise
- Yoga, qigong, meditation, etc.
Extra workouts are a very simple form of restoration but it is important not to turn these into max effort sessions. Extra workouts can be anything from light weight high repetition exercises, various types of sled pulling with lighter weights, exercises with resistance bands, body-weight drills, club swinging, or stretching and mobility focused exercise. These workouts should be short, 10 to 30 minutes, and should be very low intensity. The goal should be to increase circulation and blood flow without exhausting the muscles.
Hot and cold therapy can be implemented in a number of ways. A cold compress can be put on the body, you can use an ice bath or cold shower, and you can take advantage of a cryotherapy chamber if you have access to a facility that offers it. For heat a compress may be used, hot tubs or showers can be used, and you can take advantage of dry heat in a sauna or moist heat in a steam room if you have access to such facilities. Hot and cold contrast is a popular method of restoration as well. In contrast methods you generally alternate between extreme cold and extreme heat in intervals for designated times. For instance you may do a shower where you stay under extremely cold water for a period of 30 to 60 seconds followed by extremely hot water for a period of 30 to 60 seconds finishing with a cold rinse.
Body work is great for restoration as well. Having a good therapist is a great idea. Massage therapy, Active Release Technique (ART) therapy, Graston, needling, chiropractic, and other forms of body work are all regularly used by many of my athletes and clients.
Low intensity cardiovascular exercise is great for restoration. Swimming and aquatic exercise, walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, etc. all performed in the appropriate heart rate range (for most people 130 to 150 beats per minute is a good target) for durations of 30-90 minutes can have a very restorative effect on the body. One of my former coaches used to refer to this as “massage for your heart and lungs”.
Adopting a practice like yoga, qigong, meditation or even an internal martial art like Taijiquan is a great way to balance higher intensity training and sport performance. These all encourage a focus on proper breathing and awareness and have a profound effect on stress reduction. Exercises like yoga, qigong and Taiji can be viewed as a form of moving meditation. However they should not replace your seated meditation practice.
Nutrition is often overlooked as a form of restoration, but let’s face it garbage in equals garbage out. I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation on what the best diet is, but I do think it is wise to focus on getting a lot of unprocessed, whole plant-based foods. Focusing on eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds will give you all the protein, carbohydrates and fats you need. Unfortunately due to the overuse of the term “macros” in fitness pop culture, the ever important “micros” are overlooked and underappreciated. A diet focusing on whole plant foods provides micronutrients in spades. Eating a ton of plant-based foods will give you an abundance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals / phytonutrients that are essential for good health, energy, and cellular repair. In addition whole plant-based foods provide a ton of fiber. In addition to good food, make sure you are drinking plenty of fresh, clean water daily. Waiting until you are thirsty is poor practice for proper hydration.
Some of these practices should be done on a regular basis. I feel it is imperative to focus on good nutrition and engage in a meditative practice daily. Daily movement and activity is essential. Doing extra workouts on “off days” is much better than doing nothing. A light workout or extra mobility and flexibility work will help you recover from a heavy workout far better than sitting on your ass and doing nothing.
Restoration and recovery practices that are more therapeutic should be used only when needed. I feel that the more you use these methods the less effective they become. Soft tissue work, chiropractic, contrast therapy, etc. are all very effective but do not need to be performed daily.
By implementing the appropriate restoration and recovery methods and exercises into your annual, monthly, weekly and daily programming you will help to reduce the chance of injury and improve health, longevity and performance.
Stay strong and healthy!