How to improve your recovery – Part III

Todays topic is Relaxation

Relaxation is to day time what sleeping is to night time, making it another heavy hitter in our recovery toolkit.

In fact, relaxation is not only one of the most important recovery tools, but is also the reason that a variety of other recovery modalities have an effect. In a perfect world, everyone would spend a large amount of their non­-training time in a state of relaxation, minimizing physical and psychological efforts.

In the real world, most of us have jobs, families, and a variety of other commitments, so there are some significant recovery hurdles facing us. In my experience, many coaches and athletes dismiss the idea of promoting relaxation as lazy.

The joke is unfortunately on them and the athletes/ people they train, as skipping relaxation will have them missing out on a massive potential recovery benefits.

Relaxation can be summarized as the process of bringing someone from a heightened state of physical and psychological arousal to a state of physical and psychological calmness.

How does relaxation work?

As physical and psychological stressors accumulate throughout the day, they typically induce varying degrees of stress responses, such as increases in sympathetic nervous system activity (the fight or flight system) and circulation of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, all of which can inhibit or blunt the recovery­ adaptive processes. (Read our blog on Stress for more info)

Relaxation can not only help reduce the active stress responses, but can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ system) this directly stimulates recovery and adaptation.

Typical outcomes from relaxation can include:

  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased respiration
  • Decreased metabolic stress
  • Decreases in circulating catabolic hormone concentrations
  • Decreases in catabolic cell signalling / increases in anabolic cell signalling
  • Improvements in mood and affect
  • Decreases in anxiety
  • Decreases in perception of fatigue and tiredness

There is a lot of direct and indirect relaxation strategies available. Recovery strategies sometimes come packaged as exotic or “miracle” tricks and treatments, but their positive effects are often just a by product of relaxation. Direct relaxation practices are straightforward and can be thought of as dedicated times to minimize physical and psychological efforts.

It’s as easy as it sounds—just try to avoid doing anything stressful for a set period of time.

Indirect relaxation methods are those in which a dedicated activity is promoting relaxation, such as breathing techniques and meditation. In in direct relaxation, the techniques themselves may or may not have any direct merit, however, if they successfully enable us to relax, this is arguably much more important.

It’s very easy to ride a scientific high horse and dismiss what appear to be silly, but at the end of the day, If you find a way to relax, no matter how silly the method, it will produce better performance by way of enhanced recovery.

Since relaxation practices have to be more strategically placed within the confines of our schedules, if your free time for relaxation practices is limited, the best times to schedule these would be:

  • In the immediate two hours post exercise
  • During a planned hour or so wind down routine before bedtime I cannot be overstated that when it comes to relaxation and recovery, more is better.

 

These times will provide the biggest bang buck. Relaxation performed immediately after training can help reduce catabolic stress (refer to our blog on stress) and stimulate some of the more time sensitive aspects of anabolism. Relaxing before bed can help reduce our physical and psychological arousal levels, and allow for a quick and seamless transition into sleep, our most beneficial recovery modality. At the very least, even if you can’t hit the recommended times in particular, seek out 45 to 60 minutes of planned relaxation time as often as possible.

During this time, avoid anything that may cause additional stress, such as checking emails, taking phone calls, work, chores, planning, and the like. Instead, take those 45 to 60 minutes do whatever it is you want to do.

Now, you might be wondering, what types of activities can we do to promote relaxation?

There are certainly a lot of choices! Some may seem obvious, while others are things you may already be doing, but never really thought of as a “relaxation activity”.

Here are some examples:

  • Sitting or lying in a comfortable position
  • Eating a meal
  • Reading your favourite book or graphic novel
  • Watching TV or movies
  • Listening to music
  • Recreational socializing via phone, text or chat
  • Playing video games
  • Using breathing techniques
  • Meditation
  • Some forms of Yoga
  • Spending time with friends, family, and pets
  • Sitting by a fire
  • Playing an instrument
  • Hobbies
  • Sensory deprivation chambers

 

We’re usually inclined to do the simple things, like sit on the couch, eat a post training meal, and watch tv for an hour, but there is no reason to stop at that, as plenty of others can also have a similar relaxation effect.

Something to think about relaxation in the daytime is the equivalent to sleeping at night, and although not quite as powerful as sleep itself, it should also be a major priority.

The goal is to enter a state where recovery can occur—what gets you there is entirely your choice. Even in cases where recovery works by a non-­relaxation related mechanism, we would argue that relaxation is still a contributing factor to the recovery achieved. Better established recovery methods like ice, dynamic or static compression, and hot baths have a distinct temperature or compression related benefit, but at the same time, these treatments necessitate you sitting or lying down and doing nothing for a while, so may to some degree confound the results by adding the potent recovery power of relaxation. Perhaps more appropriately, those treatments serve as an avenue for initiating relaxation while simultaneously providing their distinct benefit. Within this very large central concept of relaxation.

We also have the additional sub­consideration of planned rest. Although this largely operates in the same manner as general relaxation, it does carry some additional practical significance.

Each and every person will need a different make up for relaxation. It is the simplest and in the end it doesn’t cost you anything, so have a think and make a list. Once you have that list work on implementing it into your restoration.

Todays topic is Relaxation

Relaxation is to day time what sleeping is to night time, making it another heavy hitter in our recovery toolkit.

In fact, relaxation is not only one of the most important recovery tools, but is also the reason that a variety of other recovery modalities have an effect. In a perfect world, everyone would spend a large amount of their non­-training time in a state of relaxation, minimizing physical and psychological efforts.

In the real world, most of us have jobs, families, and a variety of other commitments, so there are some significant recovery hurdles facing us. In my experience, many coaches and athletes dismiss the idea of promoting relaxation as lazy.

The joke is unfortunately on them and the athletes/ people they train, as skipping relaxation will have them missing out on a massive potential recovery benefits.

Relaxation can be summarized as the process of bringing someone from a heightened state of physical and psychological arousal to a state of physical and psychological calmness.

How does relaxation work?

As physical and psychological stressors accumulate throughout the day, they typically induce varying degrees of stress responses, such as increases in sympathetic nervous system activity (the fight or flight system) and circulation of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, all of which can inhibit or blunt the recovery­ adaptive processes. (Read our blog on Stress for more info)

Relaxation can not only help reduce the active stress responses, but can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ system) this directly stimulates recovery and adaptation.

Typical outcomes from relaxation can include:

  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased respiration
  • Decreased metabolic stress
  • Decreases in circulating catabolic hormone concentrations
  • Decreases in catabolic cell signalling / increases in anabolic cell signalling
  • Improvements in mood and affect
  • Decreases in anxiety
  • Decreases in perception of fatigue and tiredness

There is a lot of direct and indirect relaxation strategies available. Recovery strategies sometimes come packaged as exotic or “miracle” tricks and treatments, but their positive effects are often just a by product of relaxation. Direct relaxation practices are straightforward and can be thought of as dedicated times to minimize physical and psychological efforts.

It’s as easy as it sounds—just try to avoid doing anything stressful for a set period of time.

Indirect relaxation methods are those in which a dedicated activity is promoting relaxation, such as breathing techniques and meditation. In in direct relaxation, the techniques themselves may or may not have any direct merit, however, if they successfully enable us to relax, this is arguably much more important.

It’s very easy to ride a scientific high horse and dismiss what appear to be silly, but at the end of the day, If you find a way to relax, no matter how silly the method, it will produce better performance by way of enhanced recovery.

Since relaxation practices have to be more strategically placed within the confines of our schedules, if your free time for relaxation practices is limited, the best times to schedule these would be:

  • In the immediate two hours post exercise
  • During a planned hour or so wind down routine before bedtime I cannot be overstated that when it comes to relaxation and recovery, more is better.

 

These times will provide the biggest bang buck. Relaxation performed immediately after training can help reduce catabolic stress (refer to our blog on stress) and stimulate some of the more time sensitive aspects of anabolism. Relaxing before bed can help reduce our physical and psychological arousal levels, and allow for a quick and seamless transition into sleep, our most beneficial recovery modality. At the very least, even if you can’t hit the recommended times in particular, seek out 45 to 60 minutes of planned relaxation time as often as possible.

During this time, avoid anything that may cause additional stress, such as checking emails, taking phone calls, work, chores, planning, and the like. Instead, take those 45 to 60 minutes do whatever it is you want to do.

Now, you might be wondering, what types of activities can we do to promote relaxation?

There are certainly a lot of choices! Some may seem obvious, while others are things you may already be doing, but never really thought of as a “relaxation activity”.

Here are some examples:

  • Sitting or lying in a comfortable position
  • Eating a meal
  • Reading your favourite book or graphic novel
  • Watching TV or movies
  • Listening to music
  • Recreational socializing via phone, text or chat
  • Playing video games
  • Using breathing techniques
  • Meditation
  • Some forms of Yoga
  • Spending time with friends, family, and pets
  • Sitting by a fire
  • Playing an instrument
  • Hobbies
  • Sensory deprivation chambers

 

We’re usually inclined to do the simple things, like sit on the couch, eat a post training meal, and watch tv for an hour, but there is no reason to stop at that, as plenty of others can also have a similar relaxation effect.

Something to think about relaxation in the daytime is the equivalent to sleeping at night, and although not quite as powerful as sleep itself, it should also be a major priority.

The goal is to enter a state where recovery can occur—what gets you there is entirely your choice. Even in cases where recovery works by a non-­relaxation related mechanism, we would argue that relaxation is still a contributing factor to the recovery achieved. Better established recovery methods like ice, dynamic or static compression, and hot baths have a distinct temperature or compression related benefit, but at the same time, these treatments necessitate you sitting or lying down and doing nothing for a while, so may to some degree confound the results by adding the potent recovery power of relaxation. Perhaps more appropriately, those treatments serve as an avenue for initiating relaxation while simultaneously providing their distinct benefit. Within this very large central concept of relaxation.

We also have the additional sub­consideration of planned rest. Although this largely operates in the same manner as general relaxation, it does carry some additional practical significance.

Each and every person will need a different make up for relaxation. It is the simplest and in the end it doesn’t cost you anything, so have a think and make a list. Once you have that list, work on implementing it into your restoration.

 

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