In the previous article on this topic (Recovery strategies part 1), we had a look at the possible effect that recovery methods could have on adaptation during the preparation phase of your season. In this article, I’ll explore a bit more what I think should be done during the competition phase of the year.
For me, the biggest difference between the preparation phase and the competition phase is that during the preparation phase, adaptation is the goal while during the competition phase, performance is the name of the game. During the preparation phase we have to consider the effect recovery have on adaptation, while during the competition phase, we have to explore the affect recovery method have on regenerating players in order for them to perform.
We should not forget that adaptation still happen during the competition phase and players at youth at developmental levels will keep progressing throughout the year and can often peak in performance indicators at the end of a season if training is programmed correctly.
In previous articles (Review on recovery methods part 1 and Review on recovery methods part 2) we had a look at the effect that popular methods had on recovery. Here’s a quick recap of its influence on performance:
If we look and competition phase recovery, I think it’s important to ask yourself what are we recovering from? A widely accepted principle of training is that the human body adapts to the specific stimulus we give it. This would imply that exercises be prescribed specifically to the desired outcome we want. The process is simple; Apply specific stress to the body via specific exercise, recover from that stress and bingo, adaptation occurs. Right? I’m not so sure. The problem is that despite the emphasis that is placed on specificity in the application of the training stimulus, it is quite noteworthy that there is very little emphasis on the specificity of the post-exercise recovery method used.
To simplify things, I have placed exercise stress into 4 categories:
Neural: This is your central nervous system intensive training like sprinting, jumping, plyometrics and ballistic type training. This training is mostly targeting the alactic system
Structural: This is more aimed at the muscle-skeletal system and could be training like maximal strength, hypertrophy or contact session. These sessions are normally very anaerobic demanding
Metabolic: These sessions are more focused on energy system development and consist of an aerobic and anaerobic session that is either conditioning focused on skill development focus.
Psychological: Often I hear coaches or trainers say they want to test the players’ mental toughness with a session. Well if you want to target that “system”, then you should be prepared to recover that system and should have tools in place to do so.
Before one apply any invasive recovery method, it thinks is essential to know the primary recovery modalities and without them, your effort to try and regenerate your player to perform better is wasted.
Firstly the greatest key to recovery is adaptation. Players that are better prepared and are fitter, stronger and have a higher tolerance to work capacity, will recover quicker and less likely to pick up injuries.
Number two is time. Some training stress just takes longer than others to recover from. It does not matter how many tricks you try if your players have played a full game of 80min, there is a minimum time for them to recover from it. This varies from players to player and it’s important for coaches & trainers to know which players take longer to recover than others. Not all players are the same, especially in rugby with various shapes and sizes and difference in positional roles and workload during a game.
Thirdly, sleep. In a simple study done on the effect that hour sleep per night has on the likelihood of getting injured, it was reported that athletes who sleep on average less than 8hour per night have 1.7 times greater risk of being injured than those who sleep more than 8hours. That is a significant finding proving the importance of quality sleeping habits for athletes.
The forth is good nutrition. This is not just for after matches but must become the lifestyle for any competitive rugby player. Proper nutrition strategy will:
- Replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores
- Inhibit muscle protein breakdown
- Manufacture new muscle protein and recondition damaged muscle
- Support the immune system to handle the damage and challenges caused by exercise
- Replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
- Promote adaptation which allows the body to become fitter, stronger and faster
The fifth and final one is planning. Planning of a training week or block is essential in optimizing one’s training stimuli’s and allowing the body to recover from the system used during a specific session or day. I believe we can train our players every day, just as long as we consider the systems we are stressing have been regenerated.
Once you have these modalities in place and can regulate the quality of it, you can start to intervene in the more popular regenerative modalities that we have discussed so far.
Below is a chart that I have used with academy & senior players in the past. It is based on using specific recovery interventions to try and aid the system that was stress in a session or on a specific date.
So how will your recovery strategy look like?
The first things we have to consider in a weekly program is our 5 primary recovery modalities (adaptation, time, sleep, nutrition & planning).
Allowing our players to adapt to a weekly load is crucial before increasing the load. I use a simple calculation (RPE x Time) to determine my players weekly load, but there are various methods based on the tools you have access to (GPS, load lifted, on feet mine etc.). This is an example of a weekly load progression I’ve used with a team over the first 6 weeks of preseason. In the second year, I had a group with a longer training history and some off-season work behind them, so I could start the load a bit higher because I know they would have been able to hand it better.
The second factor that I have to consider is the amount of time it takes to recover from each system trained. Now, this is not set in stone since every player will differ and it will depend on how hard you have pushed the system, but the table below gives you a reasonable indication of what recovery times is required for each system to regenerate itself. Readiness monitoring is a tool you can use to determine if you players are recovered and ready to train a specific system on a specific day, but I will post an article on that in the future.
Your psychological system is a different kettle of fish and players will differ hugely on how they can handle the stressful environment of professional sport. Wellness questionnaires are often used to determine players’ state of mind and mood state.
The following is a snapshot of a six-week preseason training template I have used with build in it recovery strategies based on the five fundamental modalities of recovery and some intervention.