Today we answer the big one: Is there anything I can do outside of reducing my training/exercise volume and intensity to prolong the period that I make progress? In other words, you’re making great gains in the gym and you’re hungrier than ever to make even more gains, but you've noticed that your body is starting to feel beat up (check out part 1 for some helpful tips on what you should be looking out for). At this point, you're approaching that fine line between optimizing your performance and landing an injury. Decreasing your training/exercise volume and intensity would be the safest option to reduce the risk of potential injuries, but no one ever became great at what they do by always playing it safe. Instead, taking small calculated risks can yield substantially larger gains in the long run. With that said, it doesn't make much sense to take a calculated risk if we're not managing our recovery very well and leaving potential gains on the table, so let's first go over the following items: Nutrition, Sleep Hygiene and Stress Management.
I'll be the first to admit that as a Physical Therapy Resident, my understanding of nutrition is rudimentary relative to my Registered Dietitian colleagues (Hi Maiya!). Nonetheless, I've spent the better part of my life being a competitive athlete and I've also earned two degrees in Human Kinetics, giving me an understanding of some of the basics. With this little caveat in place, if you aren't eating enough calories to meet your energy demands, you're leaving progress on the table. Not only will this reduce your stimulus for adaptations (i.e. you can't train as hard as you would with enough or more than enough food), but it will also reduce your body's ability to recover and/or adapt to the imposed stimulus (i.e. you won't recover from your training session as well eating less than enough food). I'll also add that knowing what to eat and when to eat can also have a profound effect on your ability to recover, but those topics would likely be better covered by Maiya, our Registered Dietitian here at Kinect Rehab and Performance.
Another important piece to hone in on for one’s recovery is sleep hygiene. This topic has been covered in athletic circles for years, but not including it into today's blog post would be a grave mistake given the variety of disadvantages that come with sleep deprivation. I'll also add that making changes to your sleep hygiene is free outside of requiring a little bit of discipline. Vitale et al. (2019)'s review on sleep hygiene for optimizing recovery in athletes highlights many cons to sleep deprivation, including: slower reaction times, decreased vigor, poorer accuracy, decreases in strength, decreases in endurance, and not to mention declines in cognitive function that can impact one's decision-making skills during a pivotal moment in competition. Having said that, even adhering to some of the basics of sleep hygiene can improve one's recovery and performance. For my clients, athletic and non-athletic alike, I like to keep it simple unless they're very keen to fully optimize their sleep hygiene. Some of the strategies I'll use with my clients include: Sleep at least 7-9hrs every night, avoid using screens at least one hour before going to bed, avoid stressful and/or stimulating thoughts before bed, and sleep in a cool dark room. While these recommendations aren't a 'one size fits all', they serve as great starting point to getting enough quality sleep so that you're maximizing the benefits of your training sessions.
Lastly, I would be remiss to not include stress management as a means of optimizing one's recovery. Given that stress and anxiety can impair one's ability to sleep, it is no surprise that utilizing stress management strategies can greatly improve one's ability to recover. It is therefore a no-brainer that we should have strategies in place that help us manage psychological stressors (e.g. deadlines at work/school, relationship conflicts, passing of a loved one, etc.). Unfortunately, providing specific recommendations in this post is unlikely to be helpful since every client that comes into our clinic is working through psychological stressors unique to them. Having said that, from a more general point of view, even just acknowledging that psychological stressors are currently at a high can help manage one's expectations, reducing the frustration that follows a disappointing performance. In my experience, psychological stressors also tend to be transient so weathering the storm is often a viable strategy to preserve a positive outlook on one's current situation.
-Decreasing exercise intensity and volume is a safe route to avoid overuse injuries, but doesn’t necessarily maximize fitness gains
-We should reflect on our own recovery habits (i.e. Nutrition, Sleep Hygiene and Stress Management) prior to making the decision to decrease our exercise intensity and volume
Now, I know what you're thinking— “Alan, you hinted in part 1 that managing sleep and nutrition aren't the only tools you guys use at Kinect Rehab and Performance to optimize performance, what gives?”. Well, I hope you're not sick of my writing quite yet. In part 3, we'll be going over specific strategies to help you guys keep the gain train moving even further along (Hint: Exercise variability is your friend).
Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(8), 535–543. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0905-3103