Senior Lecturer, Dr John Fernandes, answers your questions on recovery from exercise.
Recovery from Exercise – Part 1 can be found here.
What is the ‘best’ recovery method?
Short answer; there isn’t one.
Long answer, the majority of the recovery methods have the potential to decrease soreness but with little effect on muscle strength.
The nutritional methods (discussed in the previous article) are promising as are things like compression garments. Which is fortunate as these provide a practical way to support recovery after exercise.
Research is beginning to indicate that cold type therapies, at best, reduce soreness, but in some cases, these can prolong the recovery of muscle strength. Interestingly, there is some data to suggest that recovery is related to an individual’s perception of the recovery; if you think it is going to work than it just might!
Again, these provides a nice practical implication in terms of selecting a recovery method that you enjoy and think works.
Now, one of the most potent ways to improve your recovery is to induce the repeated bout effect (i.e. you damage less and recover quicker as your training age increases). This sounds complicated but let me explain. When you first start exercising your muscle damages to a greater extent and takes longer to recover because the exercise is unaccustomed. As your build up your training experience you don’t damage as much and you recover quicker. This is an adaptative process but essentially your muscle is able to tolerate the load that it is under to a greater extent. Now, the repeated bout effect works to differing magnitudes depending on your age, but it works in everyone so, keep exercising!
Is myofascial release or stretching effective for recovery? Does myofascial release or stretching slow down recovery?
Self myofasical release and stretching are methods used to lengthen the muscles and connective tissue. These methods can be used to can be used to enhance range of motion acutely and longitudinally. Moreover, they are often used to alleviate muscle soreness and fatigue after exercise.
Whilst foam rolling has the potential to alleviate soreness (the effect is really small though) and improve range of motion when the muscle is damaged its has little effect on muscle strength. In fact a recent meta-analysis (this is a study which collates the data from loads of different studies to develop a conclusion about a given area) indicated that the effects are partially negligible and because the mechanism by which its works are not fully understood, athletes should be cautious when using this method.
The two most common methods of stretching are static (holding an extended position) and dynamic (moving through a range without any holds). The current research has applied these types before and after exercise and these appear to have no effect on muscle soreness, and in some cases can increase this.
Therefore, whilst it isn’t clear if stretching impairs recovery, there isn’t enough evidence to support its use as a recovery method. What I might add that though, is that there is a large variability with these studies and if you, personally find that it reduces your soreness and improves your performance then this might be beneficial.
Do recovery strategies differ depending on whether the training session was upper- or lower- body dominant?
This is an excellent question and not necessarily one I have a straight answer for (sorry!) – this would be a great study though. Hopefully, I can still shed some light on this.
Despite anecdotes, the upper body is actually more susceptible to muscle damage and displays a prolonged recovery after exercise. This is because it doesn’t have a strong repeated bout effect – think of how much exercise your lower body does daily compared to your upper body.
Thinking about this logically that would suggest that you need to plan for longer time/recovery between upper-body sessions than your lower-body.
In terms of recovery methods, the lower body has been investigated more thoroughly than the upper body. In part this is because methods like cold water immersion and foam rolling are easier to apply on the lower-body than upper-body.
Although this isn’t directly helpful it does inform us of the methods we can use from a practical perspective (e.g. stretching, compression garments).
About the Author
John joined Hartpury University in August 2017 as a lecturer in Strength and Conditioning. He currently leads the BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences degree. Prior to this he lectured at the University of Chester whilst completing his PhD which examined the fatigue and recovery and responses to resistance exercise in trained middle-aged males. John’s recent research has focused on velocity-based training, particularly seeking to explore the reliability and agreement of wearable accelerometers and linear position transducers. His other research interests include exercise-induced muscle damage and ageing.
UWE photo by Paul Jenkins. UWE #21 is Rashaad Cooper