Broadly speaking, physical training can be compartmentalized into two principle components: Stimulus & recovery.
Why should you care?
Well, if you ever want to make progress, you should care :) but more seriously, it's because you're actually not building anything while you train. You're providing the stimulus, but the actual growth itself comes when you recover.
Today we'll be discussing this subject, and why you shouldn't believe the hype around supposed ways to "recover" from hard exercise or injury.
Why is that?
Because most "recovery" methods - like oh so much in the health/wellness/fitness/training worlds - are unsupported by peer-reviewed research, rely on faulty mechanistic understandings of the body, and simply do not work.
What are the most commonly cited recovery methods, and why don't they work?
What's the golden rule for supplementation? Supplement only what you're deficient in and unable to get from a complete and healthy diet. The best supplement is only better than a bad one, and both are always worse than whole foods.
In terms of recovery, it is frequently cited that certain supplements enhance, promote, or accelerate your recovery time.
That's what steroids do.
Creatine, whey protein, glutamine, glucosamine... none of them will do anything for you if a deficiency isn't already the limiting factor. Whey protein will only help your recovery if you're already deficient in protein.
As a more extreme case-in-point around pseudoscience in the world of strength & conditioning: glutamine.
You'll find it as a principle ingredient in nearly every recovery supplement on the market. Yet... it doesn't. Do. Anything. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
"It is generally touted as a muscle builder, but has not been proven to enhance muscle building in healthy individuals; only those suffering from physical trauma such as burns or muscular wounds (knife wounds) or in disease states in which muscle wasting occurs, such as AIDS. In these individuals, however, glutamine is effective at building muscle and alleviating a decrease in muscle mass typical of the ailment."
An exception to this may be fish oil, with strong anti-inflammatory properties, improving immune system function, and optimizing Omega 3:6 balance. Then again, I'd consider fish oil more of a food than a supplement. Regardless, there are a few interesting studies on this matter for review:
Smith, L. L., et al. “The impact of a repeated bout of eccentric exercise on muscular strength, muscle soreness and creatine kinase.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 28.4 (1994): 267-271.
Gray, P., et al., Fish Oil Supplementation Reduces Markers of Oxidative Stress But Not Muscle Soreness After Eccentric Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2013.
Alessio, HELAINE M. “Exercise-induced oxidative stress.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 25.2 (1993): 218-224.
Tartibian, Bakhtiar, Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, and Asghar Abbasi. “The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 19.2 (2009): 115-119.
Jouris, Kelly B., Jennifer L. McDaniel, and Edward P. Weiss. “The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on the Inflammatory Response to Eccentric Strength Exercise.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 10.3 (2011): 432–438. Print.
Supplement companies, like all traditional companies, exist to sell products and turn a surplus profit. Dig deeply into the research yourself and don't believe the hype.
2. Heat, cold, massage, foam rolling, acupuncture, cupping, and all the other things...
Wait - so why did supplements get a category all to themselves? And why are all these other seemingly disparate modalities lumped into one?
First, because supplementation is one of the most pernicious myths regarding recovery. And I truly hate that.
Second, because these other methods generally don't work - or, put another way, they don't work if you don't understand the how and why of their use.
What do I mean?
These methods ONLY work inasmuch as they increase blood flow to damaged tissue in the body.
That is the ONLY way that they will help you recover: the extent to which the modality promotes the free flow of blood throughout damaged tissue in the body.
Sounds harsh because it is. Reality bites. Let go of useless dogmas.
A small caveat: any or all of these modalities might make you feel better. And this, in itself, is a form of recovery. If they genuinely add joy to your life and promote relaxation - then they are helping you recover. Simple as that, and you're of course free to choose what activities you engage in on a daily basis.
However, the research is crystal clear - in terms of actual, tangible recovery, none of these have a measurable or a noticeable effect on the body.
This is why blood flow is the key, and why the quick and easy fixes like supplements or cleanses simply don't work.
Promoting the free and ample flow of blood supports your body's natural abilities to recover by removing metabolic waste products, delivering nutrients (it's not enough to just have good nutrition - you have to train in order to make full use of them), and promoting localized healing.
As anyone who's ever had a body piercing will tell you... there's a reason why a tongue piercing heals faster than a bellybutton piercing. The answer is simple - blood flow. Enabling or increasing blood flow to an injured area will promote rapid healing and tissue restoration. Impeding that process will slow or even reverse the healing
And of course, this is key for building muscle. The faster you can recover, the more you can train, and thus the more you can grow.
However, it's essential for another reason entirely: the health of your tendons, ligaments, and joints and the healing of injuries.
See, muscle tissue is exceptional in that it has a ready supply of blood coursing through it. Optimizing or increasing that flow - the point of this article - increases the body's natural ability to recover from training.
Tendons, ligaments, and joints don't have the luxury of being party to large amounts of blood flow - this is why they heal that much more slowly, take that much longer to condition and adapt to a training stimulus, and are prone to much more serious injuries. This is the principle behind programming templates like a steady-state-cycle, in theory allowing all types of tissue an equal chance to recover and adapt.
So HOW does one do this? How do you increase blood flow to promote recovery?
Far more than a facetious turn-of-phrase, movement truly is the key to recovery.
Because it's the only way to induce blood flow to muscle, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
You stimulate blood flow when you move, when you exercise, when you train - it's the secret behind the classic bodybuilder "pump", the swelling of muscles post-exercise, and it's the secret to rapid recovery.
It's why the RICE protocol - rest, ice, compress, elevate - doesn't just not work. It's why it's actually damaging.
Immobilizing tissue and subjecting it to sub-zero temperatures is a perfect way to limit all blood flow and inhibit the body's natural mechanisms of healing. For extremely serious, short-term acute injuries, some of the RICE protocol might be helpful - but 99% of the time, it's an absolute waste of time.
Ditch your RICE protocol, throw away your supplements, and put down the foam roller.
Attend our seminars, workshops, or training to learn the specific recovery protocols we use, including exercises, programming, frequency, and the rest of our toolkit.
And more importantly - keep MOVING.