The Recovery Technique That Few Really Talk About

If you search any running, swimming, cycling, triathlon–heck, really any training–blog, magazine, or forum you are going to find an article on recovery.

“How to recover faster…”

“Best Training Modalities…”

“Science or Junk recovery modalities”

“Best foods for recovery….”

In essence, these articles will most likely have the below topics and recommendation mentioned at least once:

  1. Compression tights or boots (NOT scientifically proven)
  2. Ice baths/cold therapy (NOT scientifically proven
  3. Turmeric, Omega-3s, and vegetables (Proven but limited)
  4. Stretching (Jury is still out)
  5. Foam rolling (Not proven)
  6. Sleep (Proven)
  7. Yoga

But what is not talked about popularly is MEDITATION despite a few studies showing positive effects of mediation on recovery (2 and 3).

 

IMG_8464 2

The problem with the last study and most studies on yoga and meditation as a performance booster is that there could be mediating factors. Is it the yoga in and of itself? Is it the stretching? Is it the linkage of the breath and the body thus developing an athlete’s ability to listen to his/her body? Is it that yoga helps athletes relax and thus restores the central nervous system? Or is it the mindfulness component of yoga? Or is it that relaxation is the acting mechanism?

Asa the Saha et al study showed, including yogic practices improved anaerobic capacity in athletes as compared to aerobic capacity. While the study had its design problem, it does bring up some interesting points and connections. I would surmise that the yoga practices aided in anaerobic capacity because of its calming effects on the CNS, thus opening up the connection between yoga and recovery.

This is still does not answer the question though was it the mindfulness component of yoga or was it the yoga itself or was it the relaxation of both as suggested by van Hooff.

HeadspaceFrom personal experience, I can tell you that mindfulness without yoga specifically does aid in recovery. In the past couple of weeks, while I have not been practicing yoga, I have been practicing meditation (15′ every morning via the Headspace App) and my heart rate variability has been improving compared to when I was doing neither yoga nor meditation. As mentioned before though, this all could be because I am relaxing more and thus sleeping better.

There are some confounding variables here of course. It could be that the meditation is improving my sleep which in turn is helping me recover. But I do think that the connections goes beyond this.

Our body responds to stress be it from work, relationships, life, environment, or exercise, but to the body stress is stress regardless of the source. Over stress the body coupled with under recovery, and problems arise. But, balance the stress, allowing you to recover, and you will thrive.

Meditation specifically compared to relaxing helps with balancing all the stress because it changes your relationship with the stress itself. Instead of you being stressed, you still feel the stress but can let it go. It does not power over you.

Your office work load is what it is and will get done; you will fit the workout in and the paces will be what they are; and, if you do not get x, y, and z done then so be it. A problem is not a problem unless your mind labels it as a problem. This is where coaches comes in to help.

What a lot of coaches (and online training programs for that matter) simply do not do effectively or at all is balance the stress of their athletes nor work on the mindset of their athletes to help them relate to the stress better. Obviously, a coach cannot control all the stress that arrises in an athlete’s life. Coaches cannot nor should say:

“You can’t have that baby. It will be too stressful for your training. You have a race coming up”

“You should just call in sick from work for the next two months because you have a heavy training block.”

What a good coach can and should do though is adjust the training load to accommodate and balance this stress. In addition to designing a proper training program, including recovery modalities, like yoga and meditation, will also help balance out the stress levels.

Coaches knowing their athletes well enough to balance their life stress with their training stress sets the good coaches apart from the mediocre and the successful athlete from the overtrained but that’s just my two watts.

 

Post script:

A good study would take a sample of athletes and have 5 groups: Control, Stretching, Yoga, Mindfulness Meditation, and just Relaxation. Subjects would be put through the same 3 month exercise regiment with each session followed by either nothing, a stretching protocol, a yoga practice, a meditation practice, or simply relaxing. Recovery time as measured by HRV, inflammation markers, and self report would be monitored as well as improvements in athletic performance. Sleep and nutrition would also need to be recorded as a potential controlling variable.

Obviously, there is not funding for this but it would be a cool study regardless.

Citations

  1. Interview by, B. D. (2017). For athletes, yoga can improve sleep and boost recovery. Los Angeles: Anthem Media Group. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/docview/1879409992?accountid=6180
  2.  Murphy M, Donovan S, Taylor E. The physical and psychological effects of meditation. A review of contemporary meditation research with a comprehensive bibliography 1931–1996. 2nd ed. Sausolito: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1997.
  3. Saha MTomer OSHalder K, et al. Aerobic and anaerobic performance improvement through yogic practice. 
  4. Solberg EEIngjer FHolen A, et al. Stress reactivity to and recovery from a standardised exercise bout: a study of 31 runners practising relaxation techniques
  5. van Hooff, M. L. M., & Baas, M. (2013). Recovering by means of meditation: The role of recovery experiences and intrinsic motivation. Applied Psychology, 62(2), 185-210. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2011.00481.x

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