Perform at your best this season

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Whether you love or detest the New England Patriots, you have to respect Tom Brady and the performance he put on in the AFC Championship game this past weekend at 41 years old. He’s performing at his peak in one of the most physically demanding sports at an age where the average athlete is a decade or more into retirement. Brady attributes a huge part of his success to his work on Active Recovery.

As you approach the most important and demanding part of your school basketball season, Active Recovery (AR) can be one of the best tools you have to get an edge over your competition.

However, if you’re like most high school players, you barely think about AR, let alone practice it every day.

Passive Recovery

We all know that after a big game or hard training session we are hungry , tired and sore. Most of us grab a bite to eat, drink a bit of water and head to bed hoping we’ll feel better in the morning. This is Passive Recovery…just letting time take care of your recovery.

The problem with this approach is that, while we may feel more rested in the morning, using Passive Recovery alone will leave our muscles a little more sore, a little less pliable and a little more dehydrated than the day before. This isn’t a major problem for any one particular day…however it is a MAJOR DETRIMENT TO PERFORMANCE over the long term.

If we want to be able to perform at our peak, we need to aid our bodies by practicing ACTIVE RECOVERY.

What is Active Recovery?

AR is the process of removing lactate and other metabolic waste generated by exercise from the muscles. It is also the process of keeping our tissues soft, pliable and with the proper electrolyte and nutrient balance.

Why is it important?

When we exercise our muscles burn the energy and use water stored in them while also producing waste products. Also, during competition our muscles get bumped, bruised, stretched and strained, which leaves them less pliable while the body heals itself.

Given adequate time to rest and proper nutrition, our bodies tend to do a pretty good job of repairing themselves. However, if you want to be the best you can be, you can’t wait several days between workouts for your body to completely recover. You need to be ready to go 100% the next day.

If you solely rely on Passive Recovery, you won’t be ready to go as hard or perform as strongly the next day as the athlete who actively aids her recovery. On any given day this may difference may be minor…but over time the difference can be huge.

Although this is an emerging field of study that can be difficult to navigate fact from fiction, you can use logic to guide us to develop our own practice.

Step 1- refuel your body

  1. If your muscles are burning fuel, you need to adequately replenish them with fuel immediately after competition. While saving the finer nutrition details for another post, refueling your body with complex carbohydrates and lean protein in the 60 minutes after a workout is a great practice. (eg. protein smoothie)
  2. If your body is using/losing a lot of water during exercise, you need to be replenishing it with even more. Drink lots of liquid and avoid sugary and all caffeinated drinks. Water with added electrolytes is the best hydrating drink for your performance. (eg. Lyteshow)

Step 2- remove waste products

Now that you’ve taken care of replenishing your fuels, it’s time to get rid of the waste products that have built up primarly in your legs. There are many different ways to do this. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Continue to move after your workout is finished. The best way to remove waste products buried in your muscle tissues is to contract and relax your muscles with movement and/or compression. Make sure that you’re moving enough to have strong muscle contractions, but not hard/fast enough to be generating additional lactic acid (waste). This could be done with a walk or really light jog or by hopping on an exercise bike. My favourite is going for a run with a swim vest or noodle in a warm pool. Target a heart rate of approximately 120 beats per minute for 20 minutes to give your legs a solid flush. Note how you feel the day after a hard workout when you finish with this routine and you’ll be surprised by how much fresher your legs feel.

2. Compression sleeves are relatively new but highly effective tools for limiting/removing waste products from your legs. If you haven’t seen a compression sleeve, imagine a pair of boots that come right up to the top of your thighs and sequentially squeeze the muscles from your foot to your quads. If you have a couple thousand to spend, get the ones Lebron James uses from Nomatec. If you have a couple hundred to spend, consider these ones from Air Relax that are equally well rated. I have a pair and feel much better when I use them after a big game.

3. Do a self massage. With or without massage oil, start at your feet and push against your leg muscles towards your heart to physically push the waste products out of your legs.

4. Get a massage stick. Inexpensive and effective, these tools are good for recovery flushing and warm-up too.

Step 3- maintain your pliability

With your muscles refueled and the waste products removed, it’s time to keep your muscle tissues pliable. Hard exercise and physical contact both create small tears and bleeds in the muscle tissue. As the body tries to heal these tears, it usually leaves blood, scar tissue and other substances in the muscle itself. While this trauma is a natural part of the exercise cycle and contributes to increased muscle size and strength, it is very important that athletes work to maintain the pliability of their muscles. Strong but stiff and tight muscles do not make for great athletes.

Great athletes have strong and supple muscles that can contract and relax quickly. Great athletes are PLIABLE. The following tools will help you keep your muscles and fascia smooth and injury free.

The Hypervolt by Hyperice is a great percussion massage tool for lengthening and softening muscle tissue. I love using my Hypervolt for warm-up and for cool down. There are cheaper versions of this that do a similar job…but are generally much louder and have shorter battery life.

Vibrating massage rollers have a similar effect to the Hypervolt but are particularly good for areas like the back and hamstrings which can be hard to reach with the Hypervolt.

A Lacross ball is a lower cost, lower tech option that will also help keep tissues long and healthy.

These are just some of the tools currently available to keep your muscles fresh, long, healthy and pliable regardless of your training demands throughout the season. Perhaps most important of all is developing the mentality that, if you want to be your very best, you need to think about these issues and practice active recovery every day.

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