Any athlete participating in fall sports knows the ache and soreness from two a days or from getting back into regular practices.  Practices in September are hot, and the coaches tempers tend to be even hotter early in the season to get players whipped into shape.  Gassers, line sprints, shuttle runs… there’s tons of different tricks coaches use to try to wear players out.  So how do you recover?  Even in middle school, high school, or college, the body needs time to recover, and there’s rarely a lot of time between practices or games.

The idea of “active recovery” has been a buzz topic in the world of performance and physical therapy the last few years. Active recovery is the idea that you perform different techniques and exercises to help speed up your recovery time.  In general, this includes things like foam rolling, stretching, eating/drinking (healthy of course), sleeping, and light movements like walking or slow biking.  For contrast, the word “rest” implies that you just lie around and don’t do anything, hoping that your body handles the recovery on its own.

With regards to eating, food is going to restore any energy lost during practice as well as provide protein to help rebuild muscle tissue.  Here’s a resource from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on some things regarding dietary intake.  Eat within an hour or two after practice, because that’s when you muscles are screaming for nutrients.  Sleeping gives your body the time to sufficiently distribute energy sources, gives your muscle cells time to rebuild, and gives your brain a chance to recharge.  Here’s a chart from the National Sleep Foundation on recommended hours you need based on age.

As far as the more active parts of active recovery, here are some techniques to try:

  • Foam rolling – Activities like foam rolling are best done after you’ve already been moving around, while you’re still warm.  As soon as you can after a practice, get that foam roller out and work some of the big muscles in your legs, back, and anywhere else that tends to get sore or stiff.  Spend 30-60 seconds on each area as needed.  If you don’t have a foam roller try tightly rolling up some bath or beach towels and put a rubberband around them.
  • Stretching – Like foam rolling, stretching is an effective tool after you’re warm.  Spend 2-5 minutes total stretching out any areas that tend to get sore or stiff, and emphasize trying to breathe into a comfortable stretch.  For after-practice stretching, holding a comfortable stretch for 15-30 seconds or more can be a great way to help prevent muscles from getting tight.
  • Light movements – One of the biggest contributors to soreness after vigorous activity is that muscle tissues have broken down and are trying to repair themselves.  This is due to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and not lactic acid, but that’s another topic.  Using a light form of exercise, like walking at a moderate pace or gently peddling on a bike, can elevate the heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles, which can speed up recovery.  20-30 minutes is plenty of time to increase blood flow, and just moving around can help keep you from getting too stiff.

They say that 50% of a job is just showing up.  That’s no different for athletes.  If you aren’t able to get on the field, it’s going to be difficult to contribute to the team for game day.  Developing good practice habits are obviously beneficial, but any physical changes like improvements in strength or balance occur between practice.  Practicing smart recovery is the best way to make sure that you’re as fresh as you can be for the next day.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to be limitless.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

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