Recovery is an oft-overlooked part of training. You spend a lot more time outside the gym than you do in it, so it stands to reason that what you do outside the gym will have a large bearing on your progress.
The same goes for playing your best golf - want to be able to practice your skills day in day out, spend time improving your physical abilities, and still perform your best come tournament day? You’re going to need to be taking steps to manage fatigue and recover well to get it done.
Unfortunately, many people miss the boat when it comes to recovery. With that in mind I thought I’d outline the recovery protocol we use with all our players and get your recovering like a tour player (if not playing like one!)
The foundations: Sleep and nutrition
Getting a sufficient quantity and quality of sleep and making sure to take care of your nutritional requirements are the corner stones of a good recovery protocol.
Reduced sleep for a prolonged period of time can decrease insulin sensitivity, testosterone and other anabolic hormones associated with muscle growth, not only that strength increases are acutely suppressed with sleep deprivation. There is mixed evidence as to whether missing a night of sleep actually impairs performance in itself, although it would be safe to say that it does not help, and could potentially hinder. If you’re training intensely you need to be shooting for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, though this varies from individual to individual and more maybe required.
Another thing to consider is the quality of your sleep. Strategies such as manipulating light exposure for brighter white/blue/green lights in the morning and dimmer red/pink lights (or just darkness) at night aid in maintaining a proper sleep cycle. Abstaining from stimulants in the environment (TV, noise, bright lights, etc) and in your diet (caffeine, etc) definitely help with sleep latency and quality. Research has also pointed to having a carbohydrate-containing meal at night aiding in maintaining a proper circadian rhythm. Supplements, such as ZMA or melatonin, and introducing relaxing molecules (lavender and theanine for example) can also help with sleep quality.
Nutrition has come a long way in the last 5-10 years. Gone are the days of high carb diet, low fat diets (remember those cardboard snacks that were all the rage) Increasingly, as are the days of truly low or no carb diets. Balance in your diet and nutrition is important as well.
Your body needs macronutrients to build and repair muscle when engaged in physical training. For sure you need protein for muscle repair but you also need carbohydrates to provide energy, as well as to create certain hormonal response and supress others that reduce stress and aid in recovery. Fat is also essential to maintain normal cell function and combat inflammation that results from physical stress.
Whilst this sounds confusing the take home message is simple, for recovery purposes, eat a high amount of nutritional dense foods throughout the day. Additionally, in my experience daily supplements in the form of multi-vitamins and fish oil will ensure appropriate micronutrient levels and in my experience have value for almost all.
The house: Post-workout/ post-round recovery
After their workouts all my players are assigned one simple task, earn more than 70 recovery points. This ‘gamification’ makes the typically more boring tasks or stretching, foam rolling, etc, more enjoyable and adds a competitive element.
Points are assigned to various activities based on their effectiveness and time commitment and players are provided with the table you see below and are free to choose any combination of activities to achieve their 70 or more points.
Protein + Carb shake:
A post workout shake consisting of a protein powder and a carbohydrate in a 2:1 ratio, will massively aid recovery from your workouts
Self-Myofascial release/ Static stretching:
The fascial system is like a web that covers every bone, muscle, artery, vein, etc. in the body. The problem occurs when areas of the myofascia are restricted or damaged, it pulls on surrounding areas. If an area in the middle of your thigh is restricted, the surrounding areas between your knee and hip would get short and tight.
Therefore whilst your restriction in the middle of your thigh is the cause of the problem, but it may manifests itself in your upper thigh or around your knee; in fact, it could even damage areas that are very far away from your leg as fascia is all interconnected
Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, massage sticks, etc, are used to release myofascial tissues and restore the body to its optimal state. Simply roll on the foam roller with pretty much any area of the body you can think of (IT band, calves, hamstrings, quads, adductors, back, lats are the usual suspects) complete 2 or 3 passes, pausing on areas of soreness for 15-20 seconds. If you are after a really top notch solution to all your SMR needs check out RAD roller (I don't get paid to say that by the way it's just the truth)
Additionally, whilst I am not a fan of it for increasing ROM (there are much more effective ways, some of which are outlined here) static stretching on the other hand delays the onset of muscular fatigue, prevents and alleviate muscle soreness after exercise.
One of the big things we assess with our clients and athletes is whether they are parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system dominant.
For a super-quick primer, here are some things to remember:
Sympathetic – Toned up, anxious, fight or flight, etc.
Parasympathetic – Chilled out, relaxed, rest and digest, etc.
If you need to function and concentrate for a long period of time in a sport like golf it pays to be parasympathetic as it’s a lot less fatiguing both physically and mentally.
Your workouts should put you in a sympathetic state, this isn’t a problem – in fact it’s useful in driving adaptations we want like strength and power development.
The question is, once you go sympathetic can you get out of it?
Too often an athlete can’t shift out of that sympathetic nervous response quickly once they’re in it or even are constantly in it! This really hinders this ability to go play and practice for long periods of time, and explains why these guys will often gas out towards the end of the round.
Breathing drills post-workout or nightly will help relax you, getting you back into that parasympathetic nervous response, aiding recovery.
Low intensity cardio/Pool workout:
“Cardio” seems to get a bad rap these days, and to a certain extent I agree. Your cardio workouts should be specific to your sport and, with that in mind, I think many golfers should spend more time working on power endurance style cardio workouts and less time pounding the treadmill or bike in pursuit of golf performance.
However, low intensity cardio such as walking, rowing, riding a stationary bike, or even pushing a prowler/dragging a sled are a fantastic tool for aiding recovery; flushing metabolic waste from the muscles, providing nutrition to the joints, reducing levels of stress hormones, increasing ATP (the molecule muscles use for energy) production and improving sleep, as well as also aiding in getting you back to a parasympathetic nervous response same as the breathing drills.
The key words here are LOW INTENSITY. Keep it light/easy and remember this is for recovery purposes – nothing more, nothing less.
The pool is a fantastic option for your low intensity cardio. The buoyancy is great for your joints, not to mention there’s a fantastic therapeutic effect to hanging out in water.
These two options are staples in our recovery routines because of their ease of use.
One of the simplest things you can do post-workout is to ice down the specific joints you trained that day. Now obviously, icing down your hips can be a challenge. But the extremities (shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, etc.) are pretty easy to get at.
Contrast showers and baths are one of the easiest methods for speeding recovery after an intense workout. The hot water stimulates dilation of the blood vessels, while the cold water produces constriction. This contrast effect aids in the mobilization and removal of metabolic wastes, and brings fresh blood and nutrients to the damaged area to speed recovery.
The premise here is simple: Treat the area trained most intensely (e.g. low back following heavy deadlifts) with 1 minute of hot water, followed by 30 seconds of cold water; this is considered one circuit. Perform 3-5 circuits and always end on cold!
Studies suggest that 15 minutes in a sauna provides physiological effects that would take 2 hours of rest to achieve. If an athlete can recover from a bout of training more rapidly, he or she can adapt more often within the same period than those who do not utilize such means.
Saunas stimulate the release of growth hormone, improve local and general blood flow, just like the hot water in contrast baths/ showers and normalize metabolic processes. This promotes the excretion of toxins through perspiration via the vasodilatation of sweat glands. If said toxins are not eliminated, fatigue can linger and affects CNS stimulation.
If you are using the sauna for recovery benefits make sure to drink plenty of water during/after to replace the fluid lost by sweat in there.
As great as SMR/foam rolling is, they definitely aren’t a replacement for quality, hands-on manual therapy.
Pricey? I have to admit yes.
Worth it? Absolutely.
Not only can hands-on therapies address tissues and restrictions that you simply can’t touch with a foam roller or lacrosse ball, but the quality of your movement will improve drastically as well.
Incidentally, if you are in the UK, I recommend paying Tom Feeney of Whitley Bay Chiropractic a visit.
The roof: Rest day ‘active’ recovery
For all the same reasons mentioned above low intensity cardio is also great used on rest days to further aid recovery. Some other options for active recovery include running through your warm-up or dynamic mobility drills a few times and developing a nightly foam rolling and static stretching routine (you can also use this as an opportunity to utilise some corrective exercises and fix your movement dysfunctions, killing two birds with one stone). Here is an example of a nightly mobility/ corrective exercise sequence I wrote up for one of my online coaching clients:
There is an adage found in many old soviet weightlifting manuals that there is no such thing as overtraining only under recovery. Whilst this is perhaps an exaggeration and only true with the copious use of ‘recovery agents’ (a.k.a anabolic steroids) the point still holds. Train hard for sure, but remember to recover hard too!