Athlete Recovery – Why Recovery Is More Important Than Training Itself

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This blog is brought to by Apex Performance Wellness & Rehab CEO, Jeron Mastrud. Utilizing his background as an All-Big XII & NFL Tight End, he’s excited to offer the Apex Athlete Recovery session. 

What Is Recovery?

Recovery is a buzzword that athletes hear from all angles. Coaches, trainers, parents and everybody in between are always giving their two cents to their athlete on all the ways they should be recovering and stressing its importance. However, it often takes a back seat to more pressing issues. In this article, we will discuss the different components of athlete recovery and why it’s needed day in and day out to stay performing at a high level all season long. 

What My Version of Recovery Was in High School

If you’re like me, recovery was most commonly known as rest and doing nothing. When I was in high school, after playing both ways at quarterback and defensive end all game long, I wanted nothing more than to lay on the couch all weekend. This meant long hours spent horizontal watching college football on Saturdays and NFL football on Sundays with some homework sprinkled in between. Little did I know, this was far from the most conducive approach towards keeping my body in shape and ready to go for the next week.

I thought I was giving my body a break, which is true. But as the weeks went on, soreness from Friday started to linger all the way until Monday…and then Tuesday…and then Wednesday. This slowly escalated as the season drug on until I was finally feeling recovered by Thursday, just enough time for a walk through and the next game. But do you want to spent all season just getting by or do you want to feel great and dominate? Do you want to put your best foot forward when the college scouts are in the stands, or do you want to feel limited with all types of lingering aches and pains? 

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Apex PWR CEO & former NFL Tight End Jeron Mastrud going through an active recovery workout

What Athlete Recovery Looked Like as a Collegiate Athlete

Once I got to college at Kansas State University, we were brought in the day after the game to get a 45 minute lift in with 15-20 minutes of “light” conditioning. Most of us, especially the underclassmen, thought this was torture at first. How would an additional workout – ESPECIALLY THE DAY AFTER THE GAME – be beneficial towards recovery?! All we knew was this was the opposite of rest and thought this would make us more sore.

Boy were we WRONG! 

As my career progressed through college, I was playing at a higher level, with significantly higher speed impact all throughout the game, but nowhere near as sore as my high school days. I felt fresh come Monday and was ready for another week of action in hopes of leading us towards a Big XII title.

A Glimpse of Recovery for an NFL Player

This recovery revelation continued when I entered the NFL. I surely thought that the pros took their time after a game and REALLY laid low. I couldn’t have been more WRONG about that. Not only is a workout with lifting and conditioning mandatory, a myriad of other treatments were also commonplace. Even when we were fortunate enough to win a game (which wasn’t always often playing for the Dolphins and Raiders) , which would warrant a “Victory Monday” (meaning you get the day off), guys would still come in and get their workout in. This was because everyone knew that if they didn’t want to feel like absolute crap, then this was required. Guys often SUPPLEMENTED the workout with their choices of yoga, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, hot tub, steam room, etc. – but nothing replaced (or can replace) you moving your own body through exercise with weights and light conditioning to keep the body primed and ready.

I watched for years throughout my career, guys far more talented than myself, self-destruct and become less and less available for the team. Whether they became injured, repeatedly were injured, had to limit game and/or practice reps, had to limit style of play because of pain/stiffness or another ailment, you name it – mostly all these cases were due to a lack of attention to recovery. 

Is Recovery MORE IMPORTANT than Performance or Skills Training?

This then sparked the question amongst my peers in the NFL, is recovery more important than performance training and sports skill training itself? If you’re not recovered, how can you workout to your max to improve strength, endurance, speed or explosion? If you’re not recovered, how can you perform at a championship level to take your team to the next level? Below we discuss a few important components of recovery. Ensure that these are a part of your post competition routine to keep the body primed and ready all season long.

First Element to Train in Your Recovery Sessions – Balance

Active Recovery Workout for NFL – Recover in between off season training sessions like NFL offensive linemen Lucas Patrick, Green Bay Packers, and Josh Andrews, Indianapolis Colts

A critical part of recovery that is often overlooked is balance. Many people often overlook the extent to which they play on a single leg. In most sports, there’s a level of contact and/or impact either briefly, intermittently or all competition long. When the body experiences any level of trauma, your stabilization muscles in that area can become affected. This will impact your balance. When your balance decreases (even slightly), and your sport demands the same level of single leg stability, injury risk increases. To offset this, balance and single leg exercises need to be present in post game workouts. We love to incorporate a variety of drills utilizing an Airex (balance) pad. This presents an uneven surface for retrain the stabilizing muscles all throughout the leg. Be sure to feature at least three different movements for balance. Whether it’s something simple like standing on a single leg for 30 seconds, or laterally hopping onto a balance with a med ball pass and throw, balance exercises are imperative to athlete recovery. 

Moderately Challenge Your Workload Capacity – Muscular Endurance

NFL Offensive Linemen – Lucas Patrick, Green Bay Packers, Josh Andrews, Indianapolis Colts – Recovery Workout at Apex PWR in between training sessions

Endurance is frequently correlated to cardiovascular endurance. However, athletes need both cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. Your muscles need to be trained to fire at a high level all game long, so exercise accordingly. A great way to help the body recover is weight training paired with light conditioning. When it comes to the weight room from a recovery standpoint, choose moderately challenging (nothing more than 70% of your maximum) weight and combine it with timing your rest intervals. While in both college and the NFL, recovery workouts featured a leg exercise, superset with an arm exercise, superset with a core exercise. All three of these movements use different primary muscles to complete them. Performing them back to back to back with no rest in between brings attention to your muscular endurance. Now, this is in-season, so the goal isn’t necessarily to increase top end strength (otherwise there would be a different approach). However, we want to keep the body primed and ready to exert strength repeatedly even as the heart rate rises. It’s easiest to do that in the format listed above. An example of a recovery lift could feature walking lunges, with dumbbell bench, finished with alternating V ups for the core. Time how long it takes you to complete the three exercises (although do not race through them or sacrifice technique for speed), and then aim to complete each round with the same tempo. This will keep your body conditioned to perform at the level you demand it to all season long. After your lift, be sure to get some sort of light conditioning in. We typically ran striders in varying distances from 20 yards to 100 yards. Giving a short burst accelerating upwards towards top end speed (but not reaching it) and then carrying that momentum for the remainder of the distance. Get at least 10 reps in of the distance of your choosing to get blood back moving through the legs and challenge the lungs. This will help keep your conditioning up for the week of practice and upcoming games. 

Lastly is strength training. Even though we just discussed strength training for muscular distance above, now we need to bring attention to the general concept of strength training in season. I’ve seen too many athletes, especially in baseball and basketball, that totally avoid weights because it will make them sore, limit performance or some other reasoning that doesn’t make any sense. In reality, avoiding strength training is only increasing injury risk and decreasing performance. Avoiding strength training throughout the season can also lead to lean muscle loss. Most often this shows itself in weight loss throughout the season. Even worse, some athletes may overeat to recover AND compliment that with no weight lifting, leading to increased fat mass AND decreased muscle. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it? As much as lifting may sound tiring, it’s one of the best, if not the best medicine for an athlete’s body in both recovery and performance. Be sure to implement weight training, at a minimum, three times per week throughout the season to stay in top shape. Anything less will lead to muscle mass dipping and injury risk going up. With less muscle to support joints and ligaments, your body becomes increasingly exposed for a late season injury. Not what you want when you’re trying to get ready for a championship run!

In conclusion, be sure to implement a workout the day after competition to stay in top shape. Be sure that this workout features balancing exercises, endurance training, and strength training. With all three of these elements, you can stay in top shape all season long and avoid (or at least minimize) the slow decline that occurs to the body throughout the season.

For more on recovery, performance and improving yourself as an athlete, visit ApexPWR.com. If you’d like to experience recovery like a professional athlete, be sure to join our Athlete Recovery sessions, now available on Saturday mornings. 

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