Recovery Techniques

Tournament play is always difficult: games scheduled close together, unknown opponents, little rest between games. Combine this with the stress of the end of the season and the mere fact that most likely the tournament matches will be of the “lose and go home” sort, and clear and effective techniques for physical and mental recovery after games is a requirement if athletic potential is to be maximized. The good news is that many very effective recovery techniques require a minimal amount of equipment and can be easily administered.

Recovery Nutrition and re-Hydration

Probably the easiest and most important technique for effective recovery is maintaining proper levels of carbohydrates in the body. There is a small window of opportunity in which the effect of ingested carbohydrates is maximized and utilized to the fullest extent in the body. More about this procedure can be read in the blog entry, Protocol for Post-Game Recovery. This should be the first course of action immediately after a strenuous game, especially in a tournament scenario or when their will be a limited amount of time before the next match.


The sauna is an ancient therapy used for over 2000 years to relieve stress, increase cardiovascular circulation, and cleanse the body and mind. It is also a valuable tool in the arsenal of today’s athlete to help with proper and effective recovery.

The effects of dehydration and loss of vitamins and minerals through sweat loss has to be dealt with to ensure proper recovery and adaptation. importance of replacing not only the fluids which are lost through sweating, but also by replacing the lost vitamins and minerals, by consuming mineral waters and special electrolyte drinks.

Sauna Protocol:

  • Use when signs of excessive stress and muscular tightness are present.
  • Take the sauna 1-2 hours after completion of exercise.
  • Before entering the sauna it is essential to wash with soap and dry the skin.
  • Sauna temperature should be set at 70°c (158 °F) and humidity 5-15% .
  • Repeat 2-3 times of 10 minute duration each.
  • Start on the lower benches for 2-3 minutes then gradual move to higher benches. On the higher benches the athlete is advised to lie down or sit with the legs in a horizontal position. During the time of perspiration it is important to achieve muscular and psychological relaxation.
  • In the last 2-3 minutes of being in the hot sauna, it is necessary to sit with lowered legs and only after this, to leave the heat.
  • Massage is given after the first and second exposures.
  • Take a 3-5 minute warm shower (36-38°c, 96-100 °F) after each massage.
  • The therapy ends with a 30-40 minute rest, during which time it is necessary to replace the loss of liquids and biologically active substances by using mineral waters and vitamin drinks.

Guidelines for sauna usage:

  1. Saunas should only be used by healthy adults (saunas are not advisable for anyone with respiratory and cardiac complaints).
  2. Air temperature should not exceed 90 °c (194 °F) with a relative humidity of 5-15%
  3. To increase the restorative effect, the athlete should not go in the sauna immediately after exercise. The best time is 1-2 hours after the completion of exercise.
  4. Before entering the sauna it is essential to wash with soap and dry the skin. This has the effect of creating the optimal conditions for sweat release and thermal regulation.

Contrast Showers

Contrast showers are a simple and effective tool for reducing the effects of sore muscles. The action of alternating cold water and hot water acts to stimulate blood flow and circulation, thereby flushing the lactic acid toxins from the muscles. This is especially effective if the shower head is detachable and the water can be directed to the major muscle groups (i.e. quads and hamstrings).

Shortly after exercising, alternate between 1-minute warm showers and 30 sec to 1-minute cold showers for 8 to 10 minutes. The contrast in temperature promotes blood flow and stimulates the nervous system, both of which positively influence recovery and nervous system activation.

10 responses to “Recovery Techniques

  1. Hello Chuck,
    I found your name in your posting to dr. Marco Cardinale’s blog. Do you agree with his conclusions that ice baths are detrimental to the goals of training?

    I’m also interested in your opinion about the use of professional electrostimulator use for recovery after sport training (and for training as well). I’m obviously an interested party, since I’m the US distributor of one of the two top devices in the US market; however, the results claimed by endurance athletes (marathon and triathlon elite athletes) seems sincere.

    Regarding one of your postings on stretching, you may be interested in this comment I’ve heard at a symposium from the strength and conditioning coach of the soccer team Inter, of Milan Italy. Dr. Nicola Bisciotti ( unfortunately in Italian) said that the reason why stretching doesn’t produce results, is that it is performed prior to warm up, instead it should be done after warm up. Do you think that the studies you cited would come up with different results if the stretching sequence was done in this different order?

  2. Giovanni,

    Thank you for commenting on my article at the Soccer Training blog. In regards to your questions,

    I don’t necessarily agree that ice baths are detrimental to training goals. It depends on the training goals. Much will depend on the specific macrocycle/microcycle that the player is involved in. Ice baths help reduce swelling and aid in recovery so that players can train at a practical daily/weekly frequency. In other words, during pre-season training for the soccer team, I want to make sure that everyone is available for training on each consecutive day. If a player chooses to forego the ice bath to (possibly) facilitate muscular adaptation, but cannot train the following day because of DOMS, then he/she will not be able to participate in the necessary technical and tactical work carried out on that day. In my experience, ice baths, provided that they are used correctly and within limits, are not detrimental to athletic development.

    Regarding electrostimulators, the main problems with their usage, at least at my level of coaching (college soccer team) is with cost, expertise, and numbers. Their cost compared to other training devices is relatively high. You will need a trained expert to administer the treatment. And in dealing with a team consisting of between 18 and 25 players, using electrostimulators as a recovery device, even with a small fraction of the full team, can be difficult. That being said, our physiotherapist at the college does have such a device and we do use it in cases of acute need. In those cases it works quite well.

    My opinion on stretching is that static stretching, in which the athlete remains more or less stationary while stretching various muscle groups, is not appropriate before training. The reason is that it is counter-productive to the main goal of preparing the athlete for physical work. It will allow the heart rate to reduce, it will calm the central nervous system (meditative effect), and studies have shown that pre-event static stretching can adversely affect speed and strength. Static stretching should only be done after training is completed in order to return to the body to a natural, relaxed state of equilibrium.

  3. Hi,

    I have some comments to add to the discussion regarding the periodisation or lack thereof of recovery strategies.

    The goal of training is to cause adaptations that benefit the development of the player such as increased speed, muscle mass and strength etc. Basic knowledge of strength and conditioning physiology implies that recovery must occur, be it immediate or planned and delayed (i.e., overreaching), if training adaptations are to be observed. However, implementing recovery modalities quash the inflamatory response to the training and consequently effecting the expression of the adaptations to the original training stimulus. This then raises the question whether the training was worthwhile in the first place if recovery methods are used after every session. Obviously, when games are congested and recovery is key for performance then recovery modalities are warranted – however, during pre-season at we only utilise hydro-nutritional aspects of recovery (i.e., carbohydrate-protein drinks) as we seek the adaptations to the training that we prescribe. As the season progresses we utilise different recovery strategies in addition to the hydro-nutritional recovery modalities.

    Comments welcomed.

  4. Stretching before any intense sprint activity (soccer) reduces performance. Boatloads of scientific literature shows this.

    Stretch after or the next day.

    Stretching does not reduce injuries. Absolutely no conclusive scientific evidence here, but many still believe in stretching…why?

    • Michael,

      I think I said this in Sports Research to Make Your Team Play Better Today. I agree that static stretching prior to any dynamic activity (i.e. running, sprinting, jumping, etc.) is not helpful and can be counter-productive. Stretching as part of a cool down or later is the only acceptable time to perform static stretching.


  5. Hello, I’m a soccer player and I would like to know which dynamic stretches will help me before a physical activity ( Soccer )

  6. Hey Brenin.

    You should stretch your large musclegroups before a physical activity.

    It is muscelgrouds like your legs.

  7. Mineral water is great for the health because it can provide trace minerals for the body. .,:`:

    Kindest regards

    • All sports drinks must satisfy certain criteria for them to be effective: They must contain the proper amount of carbohydrates, contain electrolytes to replace trace minerals lost in sweat, taste good so that the athlete wants to drink it, and, possibly, contain a proper amount of protein if it is to aid recovery and help repair muscle damage post-exercise. Additionally, one must be careful about carbonated drinks as this can upset the stomach and cause bloating which can hinder performace. Mineral water may contain the electrolytes needed to be replaced but it does not normally contain carbohydrates or protein. It may also be carbonated. So for those reasons it is not going to be as effective as a good sports drink.

  8. The info is extremely interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s