The Importance of Recovery - Are You Training Yourself Ill?

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Working as an Osteopath I have come to accept that most of the athletes that come to me for treatment are not encorporating substantial recovery strategies into their training programmes. Training as an athlete and martial artist I have also come to see and experience my training partners inadequate approach to recovery and subsequent injuries and overtraining.

As with anything in life, there is a threshold, the amount anything can take. Within our individual lives we call this allostatic load, and it is related to the stress response which has both a protective and damaging effect. In the short run it is essential for adaptation and survival, though over long periods it adds to the ‘pile’ of how much we can take, and can accelerate disease processes. This article focuses on the short term effects of allostatic load in relation to exercise and training, and how if we don’t focus more on recovery, our training efforts will in fact be adding to the allostatic load and predisposes us to injury, illness, overtraining and fatigue.

Recovery In Your Training Programme

Physically hard and appropriate training and conditioning is important to build the fitness and resilience needed for optimal performance. Initial hard training causes underperformance but if recovery is allowed, there is a super compensation and improvement in performance (Budgett R. 1998). It has also been proposed that such training may actually protect against injuries (Gabett, T.J 2016).

However, it is when these programmes are incomplete and do not include proper recovery strategies through cyclical periodisation, and progressive overload when injuries and fatigue occur. Training extremely hard without proper rest and recovery will lead to injuries, overtraining, burnout or reduced performance (Cochrane, D.J 2004).

So, first lets get clear about what happens when we overtrain. Overtraining in a nutshell (a very big nutshell), leads to fatigue. Here we will regard fatigue as four different types. It is important to acknowledge each type so as to be able appropriately prevent and recover from them efficiently.


Metabolic Fatigue

Irritability, sudden fatigue, weakness, feeling cold, headaches

It is important to develop nutritional strategies to help supply extra fluid and fuel to the working muscles and reduce the buildup of toxic metabolic by-products (Davis et. al 2000). There is substantial evidence indicating these nutritional strategies can delay exercise induced fatigue (Naderi et. al 2016)

Dehydration and malnutrition are perhaps the most common and the most preventable causes of fatigue among athletes.

It takes roughly 24 hours to fully restore glycogen used during 2 hours of hard exercise, IF appropriate amounts of carbohydrates have been ingested to replenish stores.

Athletes will commonly use supplements, however it is important to get the basics of a well balanced diet right first. Supplements should only used to supplement a well balanced diet. Adequate nutritional intake is essential for maintaining health and obtaining optimum performance.


Neural Fatigue

Lack of drive and motivation, soreness, reduced proprioception and performance

The autonomic nervous system is subdivided into two functional parts—

1. Sympathetic- related to energy mobilisation and the fight or flight response.

2. Parasympathetic-related to the rest, digest and recovery response.

These two parts of the nervous system are generally in a dynamic balance, to produce the appropriate state of arousal. Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes the release of chemicals such as adrenaline. Adequate rest and recovery allows for the sympathetic nervous activity to return to normal resting levels.

However, if the training load is too high or too repetitive, and the necessary rest and recovery is not sufficient, sympathetic activity will become increasingly high. This unbalanced nervous activity leads to the effect of “over training” and a static imbalance in favour of the sympathetic nervous system. Due to the intricate relationship the autonomic nervous system has with the entire body, the effects of this static imbalance are many.


Psychological Fatigue

Stress and emotional states have a huge impact on recovery, overall performance and the likelihood of overtraining (Vacher et. al 2017).

One of the most significant psychological factors tends to be poor sleep quality. There are significant relationships between sleep and mood states, which dramatically influence athletes’ sports performance (Brandt et. al 2016).


Environmental Fatigue

Due to climate and travel - dizziness, confused behaviour, headache

Extreme temperature changes can have major effect on performance. Prolonged training in hot climates and high body temperature per se causes fatigue (González-Alonso et. al 1999). Cold temperatures are also reported to increase metabolic rate and reduce skin blood flow and it is reported that athletes will often underestimate the intensity of exercise (Achten & Jeukendrup 2014).

Travel is also known to cause physiological stress and predispose athletes to fatigue, car journey’s to plain rides all have an effect on our systems.


Use Your Heart Rate as a Way To Get To Know Yourself


The art of recovery is about being in touch with how you feel in your body, mind and soul in a very honest and realistic way. Heart rate monitoring is a superb tool for athletes to use to help achievethis.

Heart rate recovery has been suggested to be a marker for autonomic function- the function of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (Daanen et. al 2012). And as discussed earlier, it is the appropriate balance of function within the autonomic nervous system which will allow for the parasympathetic recovery phase, instead of being in a constant state of ‘go’, ‘stress’ and sympathetic activity. Autonomic function interacts with most the physiological systems within the body and so it’s proper functioning is imperative to our proper functioning as a whole.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the continuous interplay between the excitatory sympathetic and inhibitory parasympathetic nervous systems effect on the heart rate. The parasympathetic nervous system generally has a lower degree of physiological arousal and decreased heart rate, and as this the phase for recovery, it becomes a very good indicator for the athlete as to when recovery is happening… or not.

Monitoring heart rate is one of the most common and cost efficient ways of assessing internal states to avoid overtraining (Halson, S.L 2014). Resting heart rate, sub maximal heart rate and heart rate recovery can all be used as tools to identify and assess fatigue and recovery states (Crowcroft et. al 2014). Sub maximal heart rate has been shown to be decreased in almost all ‘overtraining’ studies (Achten & Jeukendrup 2014).


To wrap this all up, it is important to acknowledge the fact that each of these ‘types’ of fatigue are all interconnected. Each one will inadvertently end up impacting the others. Seeing it through the allostatic load model enforces us to pay equal attention to each aspect of fatigue and recovery so as to be able to perform our very best, injury free, feeling fantastic and fully able to attain those peak performance flow states. I have written this article specifically for those who are training and active, however, the principles are true for everyone.


By Jet Mackelin

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