Recovering from competition is something that athletes and coaches are always looking to maximize. There are many ideas out there on how to approach the situation with everything from, “lift hard the day after the game since it is the day which is furthest away from the next game” to “take a full day of rest the day after the game to allow yourself to recover”.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Tufano et. al. (2012), Effect of Aerobic Recovery Intensity on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Strength, set out to look at the result that different aerobic intensities had on recovery from a delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) bout of resistance training.
Twenty-six women in their early to mid-twenties participated in the study. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- Moderate Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 70% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Low Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 30% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Rest (control) – 20min of sitting on the bike without pedaling
Baseline testing consisted of a pain scale evaluation, isometric force of the right quadriceps, and dynamic strength of the right quadriceps.
Within one week of baseline testing the subjects reported back to the lab for five consecutive days. Day 1 consisted of the DOMS inducing training protocol: 6 sets x 10 reps of maximum eccentric efforts for the knee extensors. Following this protocol the subjects then performed their randomly assigned recovery protocol (listed above). The subjects were re-tested on the above variables, immediately post and then days 2-5 the subjects reported back to the lab and where assessed in the same baseline variables at 24h, 48h, 72h, and 96h.
Some of the findings:
- Pain Scale was the greatest immediately post training than any other time period.
- Dynamic strength was significantly greater pre-intervention compared to immediately post; however, it was not significantly greater at 24h, 48h, 72h, or 96h.
- While the control group and low intensity group showed no significant differences in isometric strength during any of the time periods the moderate intensity group showed no differences between baseline testing and 48h, however 72h and 96h were significantly greater than at 24h of recovery.
This was an interesting study. I am still trying to figure out what I can pull from it knowing that the subjects are not athletes and knowing that they performed the recovery protocol after the eccentric training protocol rather than the next day, which may have been more “real-world” for an athlete who goes out and competes one day and then comes back the next day to train. Also, the paper did not tell how much time was placed between the training protocol and the recovery protocol.
Trying to get an athlete to recover quickly following a competition is often an important goal for most coaches, especially in sports where the athlete may be required to compete multiple times a week (e.g., hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball). The idea of going to the gym to train the day following a competition is something that many coaches place importance on and the hypothesis is that by moving around and getting blood flowing one is able to remove greater amounts of waste product and shuttle more nutrients to the cells to promote greater healing and restoration. This, of course, is still up for debate as science is still trying to understand what exactly is going on – perhaps there is also a large psychological component that goes into doing some exercise following competition and allowing the athlete to mentally get back in the game rather than sitting around and loafing, and perhaps this also can be helpful from a recovery standpoint. At any rate, it seems like doing something has benefit and the next question is always, “how much should we do?”. “Do we do a full on heavy lifting session the day after the game“. “Do we do a light foam rolling and mobility/stretch session?”
While this study did not look at doing high-intensity work following the eccentric training protocol it has been my experience that most athletes do not want to do a heavy or high-intensity session the day after the game. Most are pretty beat up, sore (pain scale was indicated in this paper), and tired – provided they played a significant role in the game – and the last thing they are thinking about is training hard. What we might be able to take away from this paper is that doing too little is simply not enough. Perhaps some medium intensity aerobic work would be the best option to keep the athletes moving following the game, get blood flowing, and prevent psychological lulls in the weekly schedule.
Of course this paper only looked at one aspect of the recovery process (training) and we should also keep in mind that recovery following intense competition is often multifaceted and often includes a variety of restorative modalities – massage, cold water therapy, nutrition, sleep, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, as well as how we train the day following a game, can potentially further the athlete’s ability to recover.
Similar to the findings in this paper, I have been a fan of the idea that the day after a game we do some form of moderate intensity aerobic work. The modalities I often use include things such as:
- Circuit training workouts using body weight activities, light calisthenics, low resistance exercises, and even working in various cardiovascular activities into the circuit (IE, light runs of short distance during the circuit, light cycling or versa climber). HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- High resistance bike rides performed on a spin bike with a high intensity (45-50rpms) for a set period of time (usually we do several rounds of 5min high resistance : 2.5min easy pedaling) and HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- Bodybuilder type training, which is what I call doing loads around 75% of less for 8-12 repetitions, not to failure (leaving 2-3 reps in the tank), and using total body movements (squatting, bench press, rowing movements, lunging movements, etc).
This type of work, along with soft tissue work (aimed at the individuals specific needs – both physiologically and structurally), has been useful at getting guys back on track. Of course I am always looking to refine these methods and ideas but hopefully this offers readers something to think about, consider, and play with.