Dec 23, 2012

This is the final installment of the "Setting Up Your Training Program" series. In this article I will cover what I feel are the best 10 methods to amplify your training and speed up your recovery.

If you haven't checked out the previous articles in the series you will find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Recovery is a hotly debated topic in the training realm. In my opinion it is the most important part of any program. In fact, once you figure out what you want to train for the next thing in line is how many days of recovery you can allot outside of gym training and/or sport training. The entire program should be based around recovery.

Everyone wants to smash the weights in the gym and hit PRs every time they train (if you don't then you're probably reading the wrong blog but thanks for visiting). This is of course an ideal situation. Life is never ideal, however, there are a few things you can do to make sure you're fresh and ready for the next training session each and every training session.

Before I get all of you to try out these recovery methods and then email me saying they didn't work or you still can't get to your goals any faster, here's a disclaimer: THESE ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS!!

EVERYTHING doesn't work for EVERYBODY. But, the following are what I use personally and what I tell my clients to use to speed up the recovery process and continue making steady progress in the gym.

1. SMR (self-myofascial release)

SMR (much like what I covered in Part 1) is a fantastic way to relieve some soreness from a hard workout and push some fresh blood into the muscles. By mashing on the fascia of the muscle any knots or adhesions are "rolled" out, much like you would knead dough to make it uniform.

Not only is it a good idea to include SMR in your warmup, but also in your cool down after a workout and on off days to increase circulation and keep the muscles scar tissue free. This won't ensure you don't get sore but it will definitely aide in recovery and keep you moving well.

2. Contrast Baths/Showers

The hot/cold effect works much like Icy Hot and should be used after a training session or on an off day. The really cold water draws the blood closer to the important stuff (brain, heart, lungs, digestive system) and away from the extremities. Follow this up with really warm water (not scalding hot) and you get a rush of blood back out to the extremities. This rush will bring nutrient rich blood to the entire body and also remove any waste by way of metabolites. This continuous process of hot/cold works well to alleviate soreness and speed up recovery.

This doesn't have to be a full bath or shower either. You can easily target a sore spot (arm, leg, knee, elbow, foot) by making up 2 buckets of water (one hot and one cold) and performing the contrast method. My only suggestions are not to let the time in the cold water let you get numb and not to make the hot water so hot that it burns your skin.

3. Ice Massage And Cold Packs

Relieving inflammation immediately after a workout can be the difference between staying injury free and creating a problem. If you have a really sore or painful area after a training session strap a cold pack or bag of crushed ice right on it. Try to wrap the bag in a paper towel or rag so that the ice isn't directly on your skin. Also, having an Ace bandage handy will be a huge help if you can't hold the ice in the position it needs to be in. The bandage gives you some added compression as well. The usual prescription is 20 minutes on, 1 hour off, as many times as you deem necessary, followed by a warm shower. DO NOT LET THE AREA GO NUMB. Numb is bad.

Ice massage is utilized for smaller areas and is very effective in relieving inflammation but a little intense. Grab yourself a couple of those small Dixie cups, fill them with water, cover them in plastic wrap, and let them freeze. After frozen, massage whatever area you need to in a quick circular fashion. You don't need to go any longer than 5-10 minutes.

4. Moist Heat

Moist heat is great for relieving aches and stiffness. The heat, again, flushes nutrient rich blood into the area and makes the muscles more pliable. 20-30 minutes of moist heat has done wonders for me personally the day after a hard deadlift session when my hamstrings are screaming at me in all sorts of languages.

5. Naps

Yes I said it. You should pretend you're in preschool and take advantage of nap time. We all know the benefits of sleep such as GH release and muscle repair. Taking a 20-60 minute nap a couple times per week will definitely speed up your recovery, not to mention make you more alert and ready to take on the world.

6. Sleeping At Least 8-10 Hours

Getting enough sleep will ensure you recover faster. Not getting sufficient sleep will not only hinder your recovery but also your performance; 2 things we do not want. Here are a few tips to get better sleep and in turn better recovery:

  • Take at least an hour to really relax before you go to bed. No TV, no cell phones, and no computers. Reading is ok, but nothing with a backlit screen that will overstimulate your optic nerve and keep you awake.
  • Try not to eat immediately before you sleep. Give yourself an hour or 2.
  • Make your room as dark as possible. This will set the mood.
  • Try to sleep in a cool room. This is more from personal experience than any studies but I've found that for myself, sleeping in a cool room promotes less restlessness. Any time my room has been warm I ended up waking up in the middle of the night or waking up in the morning and not feeling like I got any sleep. Just a thought.

7. Stretching And Yoga

These 2 methods are fantastic for increasing blood flow to the muscles and returning them to their optimal resting lengths. I suggest trying all forms of stretching (there are some great books as well as free pdf's on this) and all types of yoga. Not for anything but hot yoga is my favorite. Definitely not as easy as you would think and I always feel super loose afterwards. Be open minded.

8. Recovery Workouts

I won't go into detail here but these are basically high rep, light, to no weight sessions to be utilized the day after a hard training session. The entire purpose is to flush your entire body with fresh nutrient rich blood and speed up your recovery process. An example would be to drag a light sled after a heavy lower body day. I spoke on this topic in Part 3.

9. Avoiding Stress

Okay so this one is easier said than done but stress wreaks havoc on your nervous system. I think of the nervous system much like Charlie Francis (world renowned sprint coach) in that you can equate it to a cup. You fill the cup with all the stress of your kids, your job, your bills, and problems with friends and family. Now you want to add in the stress of a solid exercise program. At some point the cup is going to spill over and this is where you run into problems like holding onto fat, gaining or losing weight, loss of strength, lethargy, and the list goes on. Try your best to avoid being stressed so you can worry about filling your cup with the important stuff.

10. Taking Time Off

I know you probably don't want to hear this but taking a week off from training can be a good thing. Just like with the previous example, sometimes the cup overflows and you have to reset things. I've done this more than a few times over the last couple years and it's always led me to a PR. You can't go hard all year round indefinitely. If you can than you're some kind of super human or a machine, literally.

Try to add in some scheduled deload weeks of lesser intensity every 4-6 weeks or plan a full week off every 12 weeks. It WILL make a difference.

Try out a few or even all of these recovery methods and keep yourself fresh and ready to smash some PRs. Enjoy.

In Strength,
Franco Crincoli


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Franco Crincoli
I am a personal trainer, strength coach, and all around iron addict, with a philosophy deeply rooted in old school methods. My training has been influenced by strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, gymnasts, and the Golden Era bodybuilders. I believe in reaping the greatest rewards the simplest (not easiest) way possible and having fun doing it.
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