Dr. Harry’s Optimal Sports Performance and Recovery Series - Part 3
How Compression and Massages can Improve Performance Recovery
- Written by Dr. Harrison Weisinger MBBS, PhD.
It’s no secret that exercise and endurance training work your muscles and body to the extreme. If it didn’t push you, then everybody would be an athlete.
While not everyone can be an athlete, there are countless factors that contribute to athletic performance. Genetics account for the major part, as does sporting history as a child and as a young adult. These factors are interesting and very good at explaining why some go on to win the Tour de France, whereas others are destined to remain in the lower grades.
Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about them, and neither can you. In medicine, we call these “non-modifiable” factors. However, there are things that you can easily modify. The good news is, these modifiable things can make an enormous difference in both performance and how you feel.
Let’s talk about what happens when you exercise….
Exercise injures muscles and ligaments (which is, of course, a necessary part of adapting). The injury signals the body to produce inflammation, which is why you would have noticed your muscles become hot and engorged after a hard session. Unfortunately, while it is intended to help, inflammation isn’t always beneficial to healing, so it’s best to reduce it as much as possible.
A good way to reduce inflammation to assist with recovery is compression. Compression mechanically squeezes fluid from in and around the muscles of the legs back into circulation.
There are a few ways to use compression.
There are a few ways to use compression...
1. Use graded compression socks
This is the simplest and cheapest way. These are a fancy version of the ones we use in hospitals to prevent deep vein thrombosis, but they work in the same way (by squeezing the most at the ankle and the least at the top of the calf, thus creating a pressure gradient that moves the fluid upwards toward your heart).
2. Use full-length tights
These extend the pressure gradient right to the gluteal muscles. The advantage of these is that they can be worn for hours at a time without restricting normal activity (but never wear them while training!).
3. Use pneumatic compression boots
These are perhaps the most effective form of compression. Pneumatic compression boots attach to a device that inflates segments of the boots in sequence over a period of 10 minutes to an hour. When they were first introduced, these machines cost thousands of pounds but can now be purchased for a fraction of that.
So what about those muscles that are worked so hard during training?
The answer to all your muscle concerns is massage. Massage is considered one of the most crucial post-competition interventions in professional cycling, triathlon and team sports. Why?
To understand the answer to this, I need to go back to second year university physiology lectures which taught that the force a contracting muscle can create is proportional to its length. An already contracted muscle is unable to create anywhere near the power of one that is relaxed and supple.
The tightness you feel in your body after a fierce training session or race is due to the combination of inflammation and semi-contracted muscle fibres. Firm (and somewhat painful) remedial massage works to loosen contracted muscle fibres, thus preparing them for your next workout.
The other advantage of regular massage is that it enables your nervous system to recruit muscle fibres more effectively, which in turn delivers more force. I would suggest a fortnightly, if not weekly, massage for all serious endurance athletes, both amateur and professional.
So you want to heal faster and train better? both compression and massage make an enormous difference in the recovery game.
Check out Part 4 to find out how Ice Baths and Anti-Inflammatory Agents can Improve Performance Recovery!
Dr. Harrison Weisinger (MBBS, Ph.D.)
Dr. Harry is the Medical Director for Truth Origins, and a practicing medical doctor in Australia. Throughout his working career as medical doctor, university professor, and scientist, Dr. Harry has committed his life to improving human health. Each month he reads the various journals and studies being conducted across the world’s leading universities and research hospitals to bring you the latest research surrounding the truth about plant-based medicine.
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