The Shocking Truth | Recovery is just as Important as Grinding | Athlete Training
ATHLETE TRAINING GOAL: The goal of this article is to encourage you to look at your recovery as an official part of your athlete training program. Train your recovery.
Note: This article is written has if I am directly speaking to athletes. If you are a coach or other professional in the athlete training industry then you will find value in this article as well.
Training your recovery is more important than ever before. The World is a volatile place right now. Because of 24/7 access to social media and the news cycle, the majority of athletes are over-connected with all of the World’s events. This impacts recovery in a negative way because our sympathetic nervous is consistently activated. I am going to start this article with a couple of quotes taken from the textbook Positive Psychology and the Body written by Dr. Kate Hefferon.
MEET YOUR (AUTONOMIC) NERVOUS SYSTEM
This is how Dr. Hefferon explains how stress and recovery impact our nervous system,
“The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the reactive, integrated system that responds during periods of activation, such as feelings of fear, anticipation and excitement. Activation of the SNS induces physiological changes such as increased heart rate, secretion of adrenaline, sweating and pupil constriction. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), on the other hand, ‘is the system of rest, repair and enjoyment.’ Balance between these two branches of the autonomic nervous system is essential for optimal functioning. The propensity for one of these systems to dominate over the other under certain circumstances, thereby producing appropriate physical responses, is a fundamental requirement for flourishing. If one systems tends to dominate (typically the SNS, thereby inhibiting appropriate activation of the PNS) then the balance between these two branches of the nervous system is compromised and optimal functioning is compromised. In order to assess this balance, psychophysiologists can study heart rate variability.”
Meet your autonomic nervous system.
It has two parts: The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
At the risk of oversimplifying, the sympathetic nervous system is basically the “ON!” switch. The parasympathetic nervous system is basically the “OFF” switch.
In our modern world, it’s as if we’re stuck in a constant, chronic, grinding “ON!!!” state. But, only ALL DAY. EVERY DAY.
This is mainly because of tech. We live in an attention economy where big businesses like Facebook, YouTube, and CNN make money by grabbing and holding our attention. What is the most proven way to grab our attention? By triggering the fight or flight response. Here is Dr. Hefferon again,
“When we are scared or frightened, the brain immediately reacts, sending signals to the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which secretes the hormone cortisol from the adrenal cortex. This process ensures that increased levels of cortisol are passed through the entire system in less than 15 minutes. Cortisol is a steroid hormone and essential for many functions within the body system. Cortisol’s primary function is to regulate all these processes around a 24-hour cycle. Basal levels of cortisol are controlled by the body clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus located in the hypothalamus of the brain) and informed by light/dark cycles. For optimal functioning, levels should be low during sleep, produce a peak in the first 30-45 minutes after awakening and gradually decline over the day. However, cortisol is also the body’s primary stress-response hormone. The issue is that in our society today stress is ever present as threat is usually psychosocial in origin, and not physical as it was during evolution. For us humans, environments that induce novelty, lack of control, unpredictable events, anticipation, threats to self-esteem and physical illness can all increase the secretion of cortisol. The problem is that exposure to excessive stress can disregulate the HPA axis such that its primary role as conductor of 24-hour cycles becomes compromised and when this happens, illness can result.”
Illness can result, AND your skill development, training adaptation, and performance on Game Day’s will be negatively impacted.
HOW DOES THIS IMPACT YOU AS AN ATHLETE | ATHLETE TRAINING
Being an athlete means that your body is your vehicle to success. Think of yourself like you are a high-end race car going into a super competitive race. Your body is the race car and your brain is the driver. A racecar cannot drive forever it needs to refuel consistently. A high-performance race car needs to refuel more than the average car because of how hard it is pushing itself. This means as an athlete in training you need to be training your recovery even more than the average person.
LIVE YOUR LIFE LIKE A SPRINTER | ATHLETE TRAINING
I competed as a high-level sprinter. I was fortunate enough to be coached by one of the greatest coaches in the World, Remi Korchemny. We trained on the track for 2 hours every day. Most of this time was spent preparing and recovering. Jim Loehr is a human performance coach. He has been doing it for thirty-plus years, and he is considered one of the top coaches in the industry.
In his book the power of full engagement, this is how he described the importance of training our recovery and how we all want to live like a sprinter, “To live like a sprinter is to break life down into a series of manageable intervals consistent with our own physiological needs and with the periodic rhythms of nature. This insight first crystallized for Jim when he was working with world-class tennis players. As a performance psychologist, his goal was to understand the factors that set apart the greatest competitors in the world from the rest of the pack. Jim spent hundreds of hours watching top players and studying tapes of their matches. To his growing frustration, he could detect almost no significant differences in their competitive habits during points. It was only when he began to notice what they did between points that he suddenly saw a difference. While most of them were not aware of it, the best players had each built almost exactly the same set of routines between points. These included the way they walked back to the baseline after a point; how they held their heads and shoulders; where they focused their eyes; the pattern of their breathing; and even the way they talked to themselves.”
Loehr and Schwartz continue by discussing the fact that in the sixteen to twenty seconds BETWEEN points, the best tennis players were able to lower their heart rates by as much as twenty beats per minute. The heart rates of their competitors who didn’t have the same dialed-in rest rituals often stayed at the same levels.
Now, imagine a tennis match going from the first set to the second to the third to the fourth and perhaps to the fifth. If I’m playing against you and I can squeeze in twenty seconds of rest after an intense burst of activity dozens and dozens of times while you can’t, who do you think will be sharper at the end of the match (and, therefore, of course, more likely to win consistently)?
The one who knows how to go back and forth between super intense and super relaxed. If you’re going ALL the time and don’t train your recovery in a way that allows for work-rest cycles, you are going to be MAJORLY impacting your development. Sounds become the music in the spaces between notes, just as words are created by the spaces between letters. It is in the spaces between work that skill acquisition, adaptation, and high performance are nurtured. Without training for recovery, you will not maximize your potential as an athlete.
You are short-changing all of your hard work.
Think for a moment about what it takes to make muscles, such as your biceps, strong. If you try lifting weights that are too heavy, you probably won’t make it past one repetition. And even if you do, you’re liable to hurt yourself along the way. Lift too light a weight, on the other hand, and you won’t see much, if any result; your biceps simply won’t grow. You’ve got to find the Goldilocks weight: an amount you can barely manage, that will leave you exhausted and fatigued—but not injured—by the time you’ve finished your workout.
Yet discovering such an ideal weight is only half the battle. If you lift every day, multiple times a day, without much rest in between, you’re almost certainly going to burn out. But if you hardly ever make it to the gym and fail to regularly push your limits, you’re not going to get much stronger, either. The key to strengthening your biceps—and, as we’ll learn, any muscle, be it physical, cognitive, or emotional—is balancing the right amount of stress with the right amount of rest. Stress + rest = growth. This equation holds true regardless of what it is that you’re trying to grow.”
The ultimate growth without burnout equation: Stress + Rest = Growth.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR RECOVERY
The fastest way to improve anything is to track it. If you want to improve your recovery practice then you want to start tracking your recovery protocols. Personally, when it comes to my recovery, I track 4 things.
1) How many times I Check my Phone per Day (The average American checks there phone 150x per a day, that’s insane, and not helpful in your recovery process.)
2) Relaxation Sessions (These are 3 minute sessions that I do throughout the day where I lay down in corpse pose)
3) Meditation (15 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes with the entire family mid-morning)
4) Sleep (No tech after 5, and the goal for me is to be in bed by 8)
These 4 things are how I train my recovery. They are all science-based and you can see they are all free. Cryotherapy, Hyperbaric Chambers, and Float Tanks all are Great Recovery tools too, but why not really dial in the free tools before diving deeper.
Let’s get better today,
This week experiment with a recovery protocol. Track what you are doing. Remember, Stress + Rest = Growth.