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The importance of rest, recovery and rejuvenation for Athletes

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Plus 7 tips to maximize sports recovery and rejuvenation

"Sleep is extremely important to me- I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body" - Usain Bolt

So true... Rest is when our body grows and muscularly develops after our training or competition. This is of course a natural part of our life cycle, and is a very crucial part for ensuring tomorrow's athletic performance is consistent.

Athletes tend to understand the value in adequate recovery as they always perform better. Therefore, the incentive of having better results, has begun to drive athletes into focusing more on better recovery and nutrition. Plus, the level of competition is encouraging athletes to find every way possible to maximize their recovery.

As well, just as much time needs to be put into mental rejuvenation, which is vital for clarity, memory and focus. Getting deep sleep and not over training the body, can ensure the parasympathetic nervous system can be used effectively for repairing the brain. Cognitive function and nervous system efficiency are all linked to proper rejuvenation and recovery. This is why a 20 min nap can make us feel 100% more alert.

Sleep is such an important part of life, and athletes need it even more. Athletes routines consist of constantly pushing their body's to the max, and in this process muscle fibres are micro tearing, joints are getting excessive repetitions and cardiovascular organs are pumping to improve aerobic capacity and VO2 Max levels. So rest is the only way to ensure staying healthy and away from injuries. We need to typically get 8-10 hours of sleep with adequate R.E.M cycles and deep sleep. In deep sleep our body repairs at the cellular level as it completely shuts off the rest of the body, just to focus on repairing necessary muscles, joints or tissues. In this phase cellular growth and development occur. R.E.M (roving eye movement) cycles are necessary for rejuvenating the mind and brain. In this phase we dream and have vivid memories, so it is a crucial phase for mood, learning and memory. Light sleep is another necessary part of rest and it is the beginning phase for complete and healthy sleep. In this phase we become more alert and energized for when we wake up. Typically it is best to wake up during a light sleep cycle, as it is the closest to our body being awake. If we wake up straight out of deep sleep, we can feel groggy and slow to get up as our body has not yet turned on all our functions. This is when we usually want to roll over and go back to bed. If you wake up energized and ready to jump out of bed, then not only did you get adequate rest, but you woke up at the right time in your sleep cycles. Now a days you can get sleep calculator apps that tell you exactly when to go to bed for a desired wake up time, just so you can time your sleep cycles perfectly.

Diving into some recovery techniques these include: foam rolling, stretching, mobility/stability, massages, ice baths, acupuncture, cupping, electric stimulation, and theraguns. Each of these can assist in a specific type of recovery, but some have more specificity to maintaining old injuries or preventing new ones.

Foam rolling helps break up and flush lactic acid out of the muscles to decrease recovery time of muscles. Plus it helps break up fascial and muscle knots that can be from excessive use and cause discomfort. However, sometimes manual therapy is needed to fully release those issues.

Stretching is vital for maintaining muscular flexibility. Dynamic stretching is great for increasing blood flow and prepping for movement or sports, but can be used afterwards to help facilitate proper cool downs. Static stretching is best done right after a training session, workout or competition to prevent cramps and help maintain mobility after persistent contractions of the muscles and joints. Static stretching can be done before training or competition but must be followed up with adequate dynamic stretching and muscle engagement.

Mobility/Stability is key for maintaining joint health and strength. Athletes tend to over use certain joints because of high volume of repetitions, and specific techniques and exercises can ensure your joints stay healthy and in a full range of motion.

Massages if available to you can also speed up recovery time and reduce muscle fatigue. Massages are perfect for breaking up lactic acid and removing knots in the muscles. Mentally they help release tension and boost recovery due to endorphins getting released.

Ice baths can help decrease muscles spasms and speed up muscle fibre repairing. They also can be great if training or competing in Hot climates, as it can cool the body down after undergoing extreme heat.

Acupuncture is used more specifically for treating pain or nerve problems.

Electric Stimulation helps increase blood blow to the desired area to improve repairing and function of the muscle. Using electric signals the stimulation creates activity and tells the body to supply more blood to whichever muscles.

Cupping is a Chinese technique that uses suction cups to elevate dead blood cells to the surface of the skin and helps improve muscle recovery and blood flow. Many professional athletes are starting to use this more and more even though the science behind this technique is still coming out.

Theraguns are a decently new tool that many athletes and trainers are using as another form of lactic acid release and removal of knots in the muscles or fascia. They can be a great tool as it has more adjustability to how it is used and can be manual placed on specific spots easier than a foam roller.

Mental Rejuvenation is just as needed in the recovery process as the body follows the mind. Most of our rejuvenation comes from resting, but some other possibilities can be mindfulness techniques such as Meditation or Yoga. Of course everyone will have different go to things that can help them rejuvenate. But, it's just about finding what works best for you. Some people enjoy doing nothing and potentially napping, while others may prefer light exercise and nature walks. Whatever works best for you, find it and repeat it. The more consistent we can do these things in our routine the easier it will become to maintain a higher quality of performance and quality of living.

7 Tips to help maximize rest, recovery and rejuvenation

1) Eat well portioned nutritious food, ensure adequate protein and carb intake based on level of training or competition.

2) Hydrate consistently and focus on drinking 3-4 litres of water to reduce the chances of muscle cramps or spasms.

3) When not training, stay off your feet if possible. Horizontal or elevated legs is best as much as you can.

4) Go to bed and wake up around the same time, this will help improve your body's own central nervous system clock to be more in tune with when to rest or wake up.

5) Stay off your phone and stop watching t.v right before bed, the blue light spectrums throw off our brains ability to tap into all our necessary sleep cycles. This can lead to constant fatigue and always feeling tired when waking up.

6) Limit how much caffeine is used in the afternoon or evening. Over stimulation can as well lead to inefficient sleep cycles.

7) Listen to your body, if it tells you it needs more rest or isn't ready for maximal performance, take that into consideration before your next training session or competition. Injuries can be prevented if you listen to your body.

The KEY takeaways from this topic, is to find the best ways for you to recover and rejuvenate so that your performances are improving and or maintaining consistency of where you want them to be. We can not grow or develop in all regards without proper recovery. How ever hard you train, you need to rest just as balanced. If not, then you can begin to "overreach" and this can promote fitness gains, but also increase chances of injury or performance decrease from over training. Find the techniques that work best for you, and if their is anything new you learned today, give it a try and see if it can help level up your recoveries. Focus on the little things, and watch the bigger picture take care of its self.

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