In my last blog post titled “How Hockey Players Can Manage Fatigue” I went over some of the primary sources of fatigue most relevant to hockey players, their individual implications on performance and some of the best strategies in which to manage them for optimal recovery and adaptation.
Over the course of this blog post I am going to go over some popular fatigue management strategies that athletes and teams use to recover that may not be the best options, and in some cases they can be downright counterproductive.
When you begin to accumulate more fatigue than your body can handle in its current regime, a series of issues start to present themselves. Meaning, if you’re training very hard with the intent on making serious progress and you’re accumulating more fatigue on your body that your hormones, current intake of nutrition and sleep habits cannot deal with… you will knock over the first domino in the 4-point fatigue line.
What Not Recovering Properly Can Lead To
#1: Poor Technique
As the onset of fatigue sets in, the first thing to go is technical ability. Remember, lifting weights is extremely technical and this becomes even more so when you are lifting heavy loads. All your body parts, distribution of weight and core-bracing has be working completely in tune while trying to lift 90% + 1RM lifts. Much easier said than done.
Improper technique can lead to all sorts of things you don’t want to run into such as injuries, structural imbalances, cheating with a lot of momentum in lifts, not going through a full range of motion and just not getting the most bang for your buck.
As a side note, I never really understood why people cheat with their lifts. The only person you’re cheating is yourself. Using momentum instead of musculature or decreasing the range of motion so you can try and put more weight on the bar and look like a “cool guy” only ends up decreasing your own progress, muscle mass, strength and performance in the long run.
The amount of half squats and even quarter squats I’ve seen on my social media feed is ridiculous and embarrassing. Or guys who say “Nah man I only bring the bar down to my eye level during military press”
Oh really? So you just happen to neglect the hardest part of the movement by not bringing it down to your upper chest? Bet that extra 25lbs plate on either side will make for a killer profile picture though!
Look, don’t be that guy.
Bad technique creates bad physiques and bad athletes. The longer you take to realize that, the longer you will be neglecting your own progress.
#2: Lack of Progress
The second domino that fatigue knocks over is your progress. You may be able to maintain your current level of strength and fitness for a period of time. But the actual progression of that strength and level of fitness will come to a halt. This is due to a variety of factors including:
• Fatigue decreases overall concentrations of anabolic (muscle building) hormones in the body
• Fatigue increases overall concentrations of catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormones in the body
• Decrease technical skill
• Decrease mental capacity for hard training (“I’m just not feeling it today” type of self-talk)
#3: Declining Performance
Third in line to be struck down from the accumulation of fatigue going unchecked is your current level of performance. As mentioned in the previous point your progress will come to a halt and you will be at a standstill, or some would call a “plateau” with your current level of fitness.
But once you have reached this point, even your current level of strength and fitness will begin to decline to a lower level. As an extreme example, just think about when you’re tired versus when you’re not tired.
If somebody asked you to perform a 1RM in the bench press in the middle of the day after you have had a couple of meals versus if somebody woke you up at 3AM to do a 1RM bench press. Which one do you feel you’re going to perform better in? Unless you’re a bat or a vampire, you’re going to go with option A.
You can think about accumulated fatigue in the same way except over a longer period of time. As fatigue gradually increases, performance will identically decrease in an inverse relationship.
A workout digs a ditch, your job with recovery is to refill that ditch before the next workout. But if you keep digging and digging, you’re going to be stuck in a hole of overtraining and your current levels of strength and fitness will all decline.
The last and worst thing to happen here that accumulated fatigue will eventually lead to is an injury. The combination of #1, #2 and #3 is a recipe for disaster and it is only a matter of time before an overworked, under recovered individual is going to get hurt.
For example, a decrease in technical ability combined with a decrease in performance can create a situation where an athlete picks a weight he used to be able to do well for eight reps, but can only do now for six. But he is stubborn so he breaks technical form a bit during the last two reps so he can squeak out a set of eight, but in that technical breakdown in the last two reps he tears a muscle.
Simply put, if you don’t make time for recovery now… Your body will force you to make time for recovery later.
Of course this is relevant to all people, nobody wants to get hurt. But it is especially relevant for hockey players because not only could an injury sideline you for 6 months, but you may never come back with the same movement mechanics again which can devastate your long-term athletic potential.
What if you tear your ACL and then skating never feels the same again? Or you’re scared to stop on the dime because you’re afraid it’s too much knee pressure on a previously injured joint?
See how important recovery is?
Don’t overlook it. It can be everything and lead you to nothing if you don’t give it the respect it deserves.
It would be the dumbest thing in the world to tear your ACL only to be sidelined from hockey for 6-8 months because you were too stubborn to deload and you felt like doing an extra rep so you could beat your last set.
For optimal recovery strategies, check out my nutrition articles and my last blog post. And for no nonsense complete direction on everything, check out our hockey training programs.
But we can’t just talk about how to recover, we also should talk about how NOT to recover.
Recovery: What Not To Do
Knowing what doesn’t work is just as powerful as knowing what does work.
When you know what doesn’t work you don’t need to waste any time or money doing that activity anymore, and you can spend more time doing the things that actually do work. Everybody reading in on my blogs all must believe in education to some level and believe in proper research to some level, and I want to provide you with the absolute best information that’s out there. Any complete conversation of the topic would also have to include what doesn’t work.
These suggestions are far more often than not echoed by gym teachers, coaches, and well-meaning friends / guys at the gym. This doesn’t make them a bad person in any way, I just want the followers of my page to be able to steer clear through the abundance of information that’s online and out there in conversation at school, work, and in the gym. This mainly includes steering clear of the huge amount of crap that’s out there that people just throw around with no regard to what’s actually in the research.
Without further ado, here’s what doesn’t work:
Static and dynamic flexibility are important to hockey players… up to a point.
Does a hockey player need to be as flexible as a gymnast? No.
Should a hockey player be more mobile than a bench press only competition powerlifter? Absolutely.
What I’m saying is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Once you get to a certain level of mobility, there isn’t going to be an advantage trying to get even more mobile from there. Simple maintenance will do as you invest your time into more productive things that can actually make you a better hockey player instead of a freakishly flexible person.
One thing that is for sure is that athletes have been stretching for many decades.
Do you know why they do that?
To increase their range of motion.
Do you know what they don’t do it for?
Where the myth started that it improves recovery is beyond me because there is zero, and I mean zero research to show that static stretching improves recovery. In some cases, I would believe this would actually be the opposite. Some people take stretching to the extremes, holding for long periods of time or having partners increase the stretch by pushing or pulling on them.
Strength training is trauma and stress to the muscle group you trained, the body recognizes that stress and builds that area bigger and stronger so that next time you are exposed to that stressor you are more prepared for it. How this process works is through stimulated recovery adaptation (SRA). Saving you a long explanation, this new stress introduced after the training session can interfere with the intra-cellular signalling that is responsible for creating the adaptation you desired in the first place from strength training (which ironically is what you’re trying to recover from).
Meaning, stretching can harmfully effect recovery if done to extremes. And even in normal stretch routine scenarios it still won’t improve recovery, so don’t use it for recovery. Use it for improved mobility and program it into your routine accordingly.
#2: Sauna, Hot Tub or Steam Room Extremes
These only become an issue when they are done to an extreme. Staying in too long or jacking the temperature up to an extreme level can cause some unwanted issues that detract from recovery much more then they enhance it.
First and foremost we learned in my last fatigue blog entry that high temperatures increase rate of glycogen depletion. This is very counterproductive given that one of the primary things we are trying to accomplish post-workout is glycogen repletion. Glycogen storage all by itself sets off anabolic intra-cellular signalling that tells the body it’s primed for muscle growth. On the other hand, glycogen depletion decreases the body’s ability to put on muscle mass regardless of how hard you train. Just a couple of the big reasons why hockey players should never go low-carb.
Secondly, we run into dehydration issues.
Dehydration up-regulates stress hormones in the body and can bring the body out of homeostasis. The energy in which your body uses to both get out of homeostasis and then try to regain it again is costly and is just more energy going not in the direction of recovering your exhausted muscles.
Not to mention dehydration increases cortisol levels (a part of the stress hormone cascade) and cortisol decreases levels of testosterone and acts to release glucose into the bloodstream as opposed to store it as glycogen. Extremely counter-productive in the recovery window and creating unnecessary debt in hydration does you no favors here.
A big take away for stuff like this is just don’t be ridiculous with it. Not too long, not too often, not too hot. This is especially true for those times where you actually start to feel tired in there and that you are wearing down. At that point you are creating a larger fatigue debt than anything else. Another good strategy to take with you here is bring some water in there with you, stay hydrated.
#3: Low Intensity Cardio
Getting back to SRA, these additional cardio sessions can interfere with the process of recovering properly and getting the adaptation that you are actually trying to gain. This comes down to the intra-cellular signalling processes that take place during and after exercise but the effects of that signalling process can take place for days (depending on the volume and intensity of the workout).
For example, if you strength trained this morning with the intent of building muscle mass and strength, your body is going to receive that stimulus and say:
“Ok, this workout was brutal. I have to build more muscle mass and strength in case I am ever going to be exposed to that stressor again”
How your body tells your muscles to get larger and get stronger is a highly complex and intricate process that goes outside the scope of this post. But it mainly kicks off through an anabolic pathway known as mTOR. When mTOR is stimulated, it creates any and all things anabolic and creates adaptation to strength training. That is, building muscle mass and strength.
But, if you go on a long jog later on that day your body is more like:
“Ok, so he is also trying to gain endurance. I don’t want to put on as much muscle mass as I can because more muscle mass would be counter-productive to endurance. Let’s stop the recovering process from building more muscle, and instead create cardiovascular adaptations”
This is done through AMPk. AMPk is a cell signalling pathway that creates all things endurance adapted in the body. Such as improved use of fat for fuel, increased mitochondrial density, increased efficiency and utilization of energy substrates, etc.
AMPk doesn’t sound so bad right?
But here’s the kicker, AMPk shuts off mTOR. This is why you don’t see guys who strength train and run all the time ever get big. AMPk blocks the anabolic signalling cascade that mTOR is trying to create.
What can we take from this?
Cardio does not improve recovery. In fact, it negatively effects recovery from strength training. Here are some strategies you should utilize when trying to build aerobic capacity and strength train at the same time:
• It is crucial you get in enough calories per day to support both activities PLUS have enough calories left over to build muscle
• If possible, train those qualities on different days. Strength train one day, go for a run the next.
• If you absolutely have to train both in the same day, separate the workouts 6-8 hours a part minimum.
• When training in the off-season, more often than not the #1 goals are to increase strength and muscle mass. Don’t delay your progress here during this time. You only have so long in the off-season to accomplish this before you have to decrease training volume and intensity again during the season.
Artificial recovery is not recovery.
Anti-inflammatory medications are a big no-no for me for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that inflammation is a normal part of the process of becoming better. Our bodies need and use that inflammation to repair and remold the site that was damaged. In our case, sore muscles from training. We don’t get inflamed for no reason, inflammation is what kick starts the cell signalling process to adapt to the training and recover appropriately to the given stress. Inflammation is required for maximal adaption from exercise.
Something I can tell you for sure is that if you’re very sore from training, it’s not because you have a deficiency in Advil. This is more often than not a dietary, sleep, or training periodization issue. But trying to make up for it with using a bunch of anti-inflammatories only disrupts the process your body is trying to create to better itself.
Anti-inflammatories are to be left for extremely rare occasion’s only involving injury. Not soreness from exercise. This is all also without mention of the effects it can have on your current metabolic status. Anti-inflammatories taken on a regular basis can deplete the body of:
• Folic acid
• Vitamin C
Depletion of any one of those vital nutrients can create issues in the body, let alone a combination of them. This can be hugely detrimental to the recovery and performance of a hockey player.
Recovery Wrap Up
In closing, I hope these last two blog posts on recovery have given you a greater respect for recovery and how important it is to the growth of your performance on and off the ice as a hockey player. Also, knowing both what works and what doesn’t work I hope is going to help guide you make the best gains possible moving forward.
We include full recovery guides and nutritional information in our Next Level Performance program that can be found at our Hockey Training Programs page.