Your athlete or client has just completed his hardest workout of the week. What is your advice about recovering quickly and effectively?
Gillanders: I generally recommend movement, compression and elevation. This could come through a structured cool-down after the workout that includes active stretching. It could come through wrapping a painful or swollen area with compression garments. It could come by elevating the involved areas.
If I were forced to choose heat or cold, I would say warm. A warm tub, say body temperature, can provide an environment to get some hydrostatic pressure, an in-place stretch and active movement. It is not great for elevation, but you can get that later by putting legs or other heavily worked areas higher than your heart.
Recovery is key to preparing the body for the next workout. This includes restoring the calories expended and rehydrating, as well as ensuring adequate sleep before the next workout. A hard workout will create inflammation because it is the body’s way of starting the healing process for the micro-injured area. Jumping in an ice bath will stop inflammation but also postpone the healing process.
Hays: I normally tell my athletes to use both ice and heat — two cycles of 10 minutes of ice, alternated with two cycles of 10 minutes of heat. Ice slows blood flow and heat has the opposite effect, increasing blood flow. The increase in blood flow helps to flush out the byproducts created by the workout, and the ice helps to reduce inflammation.
During a hard workout, blood rushes to your muscles, carrying oxygen and the needed energy to complete the workout. After a hard workout, muscles are inflamed and you have countless micro-tears in your muscles. You want to flush out all the waste that is the byproduct of this process.
The cooling part of this process doesn’t need to be an ice bath; 65 to 75 degrees is fine. The cold water reduces the blood flow to the muscles and reduces the inflammation while still allowing for waste products to be flushed. Athletes experience less post-workout soreness after a cool bath.
Have you tried other methods? What led you to the practice you recommend today?
Gillanders: In physical therapy, the use of ice has been long-standing. Post-injury, the standard has been RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. What caused me to change was that the relevant research really did not support RICE, especially rest and ice.