Athletic Recovery: One Size Does Not Fit All

Recently one of my clients asked me to write about athletic recovery. In my fourteen years as a massage therapist, I have seen many athletes, particularly triathletes (for the laymen: a triathlete is someone who participates in races that consist of consecutive swimming, biking, and running), both before and after races. In my extensive experience, I know one thing for certain: recovery is not “one size fits all.” Good recovery after a race or athletic event comes from proper training beforehand.

So what is proper training? You can find thousands of training plans online, you can buy the books and follow the training plans. But how do you know if any of these programs are ideal for your unique body? Here are some of the elements that, in my experience, make up a good training plan…and in turn, a great recovery:

1.) Body awareness – Body awareness means that you are able to identify pain levels, locate the area, and decide if you should listen to it or ignore it. In my experience with athletes, they will often “push through” the pain. There are times when that is okay, but before doing so you need to have a full understanding of where the pain is and what is causing it.

More often than not, pain is like a branch on a tree. It doesn’t stand alone; it traces back to a root somewhere. Ibuprofen or other drugs, topical ointments, or compression garments may treat the symptoms for a while, but they won’t reach the root. The problem will creep back in at some point and by then you may have more “branches” to deal with.

yogaTo develop more body awareness, I recommend listening closely to your body’s signs rather than pushing through them. Consider getting a postural analysis done, practicing Stott Pilates, taking a balanced approach to strength training, and practicing meditation. I am the unfortunate queen of running injuries, and these things have helped me immensely. Sometimes we become so focused on reaching a goal that we lose track of the effects of training on our bodies.

From my experience, Symmetry Pilates in Bedford, NH is an amazing Pilates studio. You will learn how your body develops habits (“branches”) that try to compensate from pain or injury to keep your body (“tree”) from uprooting. In addition to Pilates, it’s also helpful to work with an athletic trainer who can guide you through the right type and frequency of strength training. I prefer Top Fitness, and when I’m doing specific race training, I also use Peak Triathlon Coaching.

Another thing to implement is meditation. I am a type “A” person, as are many athletes, and at first you might find the concept of meditation unfathomable. Soon you’ll learn how important it can be. There are specific meditations that focus on body awareness. If the above video link doesn’t particularly interest you, there are many others out there. Banyan Tree Yoga Studio is a great local meditation site, with meditation classes every Tuesday night.

2.) Hydration – When I was training for my first half marathon, I ran the farthest I ever had, 10 miles, on a hot day with only 8 oz. of water with me. I told my trainer, Coach Colin, how afterwards my sweat was very salty (and that I had only drank 8 oz. of water.) He was concerned about the salt loss and asked which sport drink I used. Sport drink? Oops.

These days, it’s almost common knowledge that sport drinks are a helpful ingredient in strenuous exercise. Running just a few miles, you should make it through with just water. But when you get into longer distances, especially in the heat, replenishing lost electrolytes is vital. This is another aspect of training that is not “one size fits all,” however, so I recommend seeking the advice of a coach or sports nutritionist.

3.) Nutrition – This is one of the most important aspects of proper training and recovery. If you eat a Snickers and drink a Coke like the TV commercials, how do you think you will really feel during and after a race or workout? Proper nutrition is imperative. Leslie Why is an amazing sports nutritionist who can help you develop a plan and guide you in the right direction. Leslie helps people locally and worldwide, both in person and online. If you would like more suggestions, feel free to send me an email.

4.) Periodization – This is a concept that has always fascinated me. It is the practical science of when to exercise, how strenuously, and if you practice multiple sports, in which order to perform them. Periodization is best handled by hiring a fitness coach.

If you have these four elements mastered, recovery should be fairly pleasant. It all depends on your sport of choice and on what you find works best for you. There are numerous articles out there on the positive effects of massage therapy in recovery, as well as in training. Here’s an article on the recovery benefits if massage cited from Men’s Fitness. Please feel free to share your training and recovery stories or other suggestions by commenting!


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