Most athletes finish practice, walk off the court, change, and go home. I used to do exactly that. Through high school and my first 2 years in college, when I finished my last shot or last rep, I simply left the gym. I wasn't lazy, I just didn’t know any better.
Looking back on that version of myself, I cringe at the wasted opportunity. When I compare how I feel the next day after hard training sessions today versus back then, I feel like a completely different person.
Today, I feel fresh and energized and am excited to go train - even after the toughest workouts. I've also noticed that I can train harder, longer and with greater focus. The biggest difference between the old and new versions of myself is my commitment to post-practice recovery.
Before I optimized my recovery, I was only operating at a fraction of my capability, which led to a series of negative outcomes including...
- Injuries (I was forced to miss an entire season due to the preventable wear and tear of tendinitis)
- General fatigue
- Difficulty warming up
- Mental sluggishness and difficulty focusing
You don't have to accept feeling crappy as part of being an athlete. So take control of your recovery and unleash your full capabilities.
With that in mind, let's get into the details that you can use to boost your performance. Post-practice recovery falls into three categories:
1) Physical/Injury prevention
This is what most people think of when they hear the word recovery. It's your stretching, mobility, icing, foam rolling etc. All the direct physical activities you perform to prepare your body for the next training session.
The goal here is to refuel your body and give it the nutrients it requires to fully recuperate. After practice, your body is left depleted and needs to be rebuilt.
Use the 3 R’s to remember your nutrition needs:
Refuel: We burn through our glycogen stores when we train. To rebuild those stores, we need carbohydrates. Healthy, easy sources include fruits (apples, bananas), milk, whole grain bagel or bread, sports drink (as a last resort because of high levels of sugars and preservatives)
Rebuild: After workouts, we also need to repair damage to muscle tissue. This is where protein comes into play. Protein is vital for building muscle, repairing damage to muscle fibers and limiting muscle soreness.
Rehydrate: The purpose of hydrating is to restore the fluids and electrolytes lost during intense exercise. Water is typically fine but if you tend to cramp up or feel lethargic during workouts, I recommend electrolyte packets. I use Trace Minerals’ Power Pak. You can mix it with water and it provides all the potassium, vitamins and electrolytes to refuel without the excessive sugar, preservatives, and additives that exist in most sports drinks.
This is the most overlooked aspect of recovery. Just as much as your body gets stressed during practice, your mind does too. It’s important to spend a few minutes mentally decompressing from the strain and tension of competition. This can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths.
Your mental recovery should also involve addressing your mental weaknesses. For example, if you struggle with confidence, spend some time going over your positive plays of the day, rather than letting negative self-talk take over.
A third aspect of mental recovery is honest self-analysis of your performance. What did you do well? What areas of the game will you concentrate on next practice? Were you out of position defensively a few times? Did you struggle to handle defensive pressure? And in the long-run, what are the skills you need to continue to improve?
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that being an athlete doesn’t end when practice finishes. You stress your body to the limit every time you play. So it's absolutely crucial that you give yourself the time and resources to recuperate, otherwise it will start to break down over time.
Every year I’ve refined and tweaked my recovery process to where it stands now. I’m in no way perfect, but I think it’s worthwhile to share to give you an example of a specific recovery routine that has absolutely revolutionized my performance.
So with this in mind, here’s what my complete recovery process looks like after every training session. It takes 20 minutes in total.
Nutrition (Within 10 minutes after finishing practice!)
- 1 serving of Whey original protein powder mixed with water
- 1 banana
- Chocolate milk
- It has an ideal ratio of carbs to protein and can be used to both Refuel and Rebuild. Studies from The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism have shown chocolate milk is actually more effective than commercially available sports drinks.
10 minutes static stretching
- Hip Flexors
- Achilles Tendon
- 10 minutes ice rub (I cut off the top of a plastic bottle, fill it with water and stick it in the freezer. Then I put in a cooler and take it with me to practice. After practice, I pop the ice out of the plastic water bottle mold and it’s a ready-made ice cup.)
Where’s the Mental Recovery?
You may be thinking, you're missing out on the mental aspect of recovery! Well, hold your horses. Between stretching and icing, I have 20 minutes to mentally review what just happened. I typically use my 10 minutes of stretching to mentally decompress and unwind. I find the process of stretching to be calming and meditative where I can let go of the stress and tension of competition.
After stretching, I spend 10 minutes icing. This is where I objectively analyze my performance. I usually think both about the things I did well and the things I need to improve upon. Since I'm always striving to improve my confidence, I make sure that my self-talk is always in a positive tone and my criticisms are constructive.
I just want to note that I’m not a robot. I don’t completely isolate myself from my team immediately after practice. I’m more than willing to chat with teammates, make jokes, etc. But I always set aside at least a portion of these 20 minutes to get my mind right.
Consistency is King
The biggest thing here is to be consistent. Your recovery has a cumulative effect. The more consistent you are, the greater the results you’ll see and feel. Occasional recovery efforts just aren’t going to cut it.
So, choose a recovery routine and stick with it. It’s important that you make recovery a habit (see my comprehensive posts on habits here and here) so that you can experience the massive improvement that comes from the cumulative effects.
Quick note: recovery isn’t limited to the few minutes right after you play. You can continue recovery practices any time of day. For example, I foam roll when I wake up in the morning and make sure I get 8-10 hours of sleep.
Don't underestimate the power of recovery! These tips may seem small and insignificant, but over time, those small habits can have powerful results. So design a post-practice recovery routine that incorporates...
- Injury prevention
- Mental recovery
Once you design your recovery routine, send it to me! I'd love to see you take action and experience the performance boost that comes from adopting a simple post-practice recovery routine.