Eat, sleep, train, recover, and repeat! If we had to pinpoint four key aspects of performance, these are the fundamental components of performance success. Of course, as we all know, not only are there numerous constituents to these variables, but they all don’t work in linear fashion all the time.

The overwhelming majority of science has focused on training, despite the fact that most adaptations to training take place during recovery. Without a doubt, recovery is one of the least understood and most understudied elements of the training and adaptation cycle. Further, the most dedicated athletes spend much more time in recovery than in actual training. For athletes to achieve optimal performance, proactive recovery must become a planned and systematic part of any training program.

At the present time, there are certainly more questions than answers such as how can recovery between sets or days be optimized for better training. How much individual variability is there among athletes in recovery? How does periodization (and what type) affect recovery? What are the cellular and neural components of recovery? What are some practical applications for quantifying recovery? What specific modalities or techniques are useful? Teese are all important considerations. Let’s address several avenues of recovery.

Recovery and training

Recovery is a fundamentally important process to the overall scope of the training program and it is vital for maximal performance benefits. If the rate of recovery is enhanced, greater training volumes and intensities are achievable without consequential overtraining (2). Despite the importance of the recovery process within the training program and although many athletes, coaches, and resistance trainers often use different approaches for this process, recovery may not be fully addressed, particularly in the area of fatigue, such as central, peripheral, and/or neural fatigue. Strategies for optimal recovery exhibit individual variability, depending on the type of fatigue (i.e. central, peripheral, neural), training history, and ability to cope with other potential stressors (i.e. emotional, psychological).

Recovery can be defined as the ability to meet or exceed performance in a particular activity (2). It should be noted that training sessions produce a level of fatigue or depletion that is followed by supercompensation. If the recovery intervals between training bouts are maximized, the next training session will accompany supercompensation and performance will be enhanced (24). There are also other important functions that coincide with recovery, particularly after exercise, including restoration of physiological functions and replenishment of energy sources (10). However, an individual should achieve a homeodynamic state where adaptation and recovery take the athlete to supercompensation and a more physically conditioned state.

The onset of recovery develops during and post-exercise. This is exhibited by the removal of metabolic end products [e.g. lactate that has been implicated during metabolic stress contributing to growth and hypertrophy (18)]. Throughout exercise, recovery is crucial in order to restore blood flow not only for the delivery of oxygen, which stimulates ATP resynthesis, but also for the recovery of muscle membrane potential and to reestablish intramuscular pH (23). Furthermore, a greater increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) also occurs.

The most immediate type of recovery, referred to as “immediate recovery,” occurs throughout exercise. To keep it simple, Bishop and colleagues (2) provide an example of a race walker with one leg in immediate recovery between each stride. During this immediate recovery period, the lower extremities regenerate ATP. If each leg recovers more rapidly, the walker will more quickly be able to accomplish the stride more effectively.

A second type of recovery, and most common form, is termed “short-term recovery.” This method of recovery takes place between exercise sets or between interval training bouts (19). A final form of recovery is referred to as “training recovery” and is characterized by the recovery between various training sessions or athletic competitions (2). For those individuals who engage in continuous training (i.e. same day or multiple events in a competition) without an adequate recovery period, performance impairments are likely. As a result, the individual is unlikely to be prepared for the subsequent training bouts. For a clearer understanding, these are the various types of recovery associated with training. However, overtraining would be indicative of the last category of “training recovery.”

Are you underrecovered?

Identifying the causes of underrecovery can be rather complex and certainly multidimensional given the multifaceted areas of sports performance and the actual sporting skill and, of course, training patterns, volume, intensity, and frequency. Although still used by many, the use of training logs and other recording systems helps to identify patterns of performance and training stress. Athletes should log all their physical activities both inside and outside the performance environment. More appropriately, the strength coach should also be monitoring athletic and strength improvement while simultaneously assessing recovery.

While a somewhat subjective measure, the use of a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) for the sessions along with the duration of the session gives information on both volume and intensity of the training session. Athletes who are or may be experiencing underrecovery should address their concerns with the strength coach to attempt to identify any direct or indirect causes of underrecovery. This is the perfect example of actually “knowing” the athletes and establishing professional relationships, which are critical for enhancing performance benefits. Coaches are encouraged to use lifestyle profiles in order to gauge an athlete’s lifestyle, which could hinder recovery and performance.

More importantly, underrecovery should not be used synonymously with overtraining. These are completely different concepts. Is underrecovery related to overtraining, or even overreaching? Sure, but it isn't a cause and effect relationship.

Recovery modalities

Let’s examine a variety of effective recovery modalities. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list but serves as a foundation for proactive recovery.


This isn't any surprise at all! Quality and quantity of sleep is the essence of recovery. Most of us don’t get enough or lack overall quality. This can have devastating effects on recovery and thus impede training progress. Sleep is a fascinating topic that has so much inter-individual variability yet has tremendous impact on life, stress, and physiological and psychological outcomes. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the impact of recovery.

Most of us hard training athletes need about seven to 8.5 hours of sleep each day (1). Sleep also serves as a restorative process for energy resources, tissue recovery, thermoregulation, and cognitive function (1), and deep sleep is vital for maximizing physiological growth and repair (9). Research has indicated that sleep cycles occur in approximately ninety-minute intervals, with deep sleep (stages three and four) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurring toward the end of these stages. If sleep disturbances are evident before deep and REM sleep is achieved, the whole process resumes, and deep and REM sleep stages are further delayed. Considering that sleep disturbances can result in the interruption of any given sleep cycle, it is likely to negatively affect recovery and recovery of sleep and overall circadian rhythms. Individual requirements for sleep show large variations, but chronic reduction in sleep can lead to immunosuppression (17).

We all have experienced sleep disturbances the night prior to a competition, which is all too common for hard training athletes. To add to this, recent evidence investigated the pre-competitive sleep behavior of 103 athletes and how it relates to pre-competitive mood and subsequent performance (11). Results revealed that on the night before competition, athletes slept well under the recommended target of eight hours of sleep for healthy adults, with almost 70 percent of athletes experiencing poorer sleep than usual. It was found that anxiety, noise, the need to use the bathroom, and early event times were among the most commonly reported causes of disrupted sleep in athletes on the night prior to competition. Of course, disrupted sleep on the night prior to competition can negatively relate to an athlete’s pre-competitive mood.

In addition, reports have shown that getting three fewer hours of sleep for five days reduced testosterone by over 10 percent (12) whereas an early report showed a 30.4 percent decrease (4). Interestingly, these reductions all happened within 24 hours of sleep deprivation (5, 6). Based on these results, it’s pretty clear that getting enough sleep quickly reverses this loss.

The bottom line on sleep: Get some!


Massage is used rather extensively in training to decrease pain, enhance recovery and reduce DOMS, and increase blood flow. It's also used just because it “feels good.” However, it is difficult to measure blood flow in these circumstances. Although many say that massage helps increase lactate removal, this isn't the case, as lactate is removed from the blood within thirty minutes following training and despite that we all produce lactate even at rest.

Weerapong et al. (22) published a comprehensive review of massage, including a section on massage and recovery. Despite a few studies suggesting that there could be a positive effect of massage, there appear to be no well-designed studies that have shown a strong effect of massage and its effect in speeding recovery. Although he did report that some studies have shown that massage effectively reduced delayed onset muscle soreness, others have not seen any effect.

More recently a review on recovery in soccer player performance reported that the majority of the evidence points toward massage being effective in alleviating muscle soreness and improving perceptions of recovery, although its effect on muscle function and performance is unclear (16). The authors further state that there are many inconsistencies in research findings due to the large variety of massage techniques used and the individual skill of the therapist.

The bottom line on massage: Just because science may or may not show something is effective, do it if you like it, it feels good, and you believe that it has a performance/recovery effect!

Soft tissue work (foam rollers)

Foam rollers continue to be a hot commodity and have been used extensively the last ten years in nearly every training and athletic center around the country, mainly for its use on self-induced myofascial release. There have been some very recent examinations of this topic. As of this year, Healey (7) examined twenty-six (thirteen men and thirteen women) healthy, college-aged individuals and used a randomized crossover design in which subjects performed a series of planking exercises or foam rolling exercises and then performed a series of athletic performance tests (vertical jump height and power, isometric force, and agility). Fatigue, soreness, and exertion were also measured. The results indicated that there were significant increases from pre- to post-exercise during both trials for fatigue, soreness, and exertion. Post-exercise fatigue after foam rolling was significantly less than after the subjects performed planking. Further, the reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements. Similar results were also reported recently with Sullivan (21) in that the use of the foam roller resulted in a 4.3 percent increase in range of motion but had no effect on hamstring strength. A report this year also found similar results and a positive effect on range of motion (15).

The bottom line on foam rollers: They have been shown to have a positive effect on range of motion and aspects of recovery. If you like it, it feels good, and you believe that it has a performance/recovery effect, do it!


It’s safe to say that everybody in some form or fashion uses nutrition and supplementation to enhance recovery. It’s impossible to discuss this in detail from all the science so let’s just highlight it.

Hoffman examined the effects of protein supplementation immediately before and after a bout of resistance exercise on markers of muscle damage and recovery of muscle function in resistance trained individuals (8). Volunteers consumed either a placebo or a protein supplement before and after completing four sets of resistance exercises with follow-up performance measures performed 24 and 48 hours later. Muscle performance, as indicated by the number of successful repetitions performed on a predetermined exercise session 24 and 48 hours after the initial training session, was higher for athletes consuming protein compared with the placebo. This is the first study demonstrating a benefit of protein supplementation consumed immediately before and after resistance training on muscle function recovery in trained volunteers. However, the experimental design would have been strengthened if it had included repeated measures rather than an independent group comparison.

There is also ample evidence of protein supplementation for military personnel (13). Further, the combined intake of carbohydrates and proteins and the use of antioxidants and/or anti-inflammatory nutrients within physiological ranges are interventions that can be beneficial in the recovery process. Although limited, the results seem to indicate that food might be a favorable option as a recovery strategy. Currently, the only tested foods have been milk, cherries, blueberries, and pomegranate with promising results (20).

Lastly, leucine has also attracted considerable attention in recent years as a trigger for muscle protein synthesis via mTOR and enhanced recovery. A report from this year indicated that absence of leucine in an essential amino acid supplement reduces activation of mTOR following resistance exercise in young females (14). Meaning, supplementing with leucine enhances stimulation of protein synthesis and/or inhibits breakdown, leading to improvement in net protein balance. In addition, more recent evidence indicates that a suboptimal dose of whey protein can be compensated for by increasing leucine levels via 6.25 grams of whey protein. In addition, a high dose of leucine (5 grams) was more anabolic than the same dose of whey but with less leucine [3 grams (3)]. This has very positive effects on protein synthesis as well as added recovery.

The bottom line on nutrition and supplementation: On the whole, there is very good evidence that protein supplements and even antioxidants work for greater recovery. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive review but still provides good insight.

Hopefully this has provided more understanding about the fundamental process of recovery, what is it, the purpose, it’s role in the training process, and the main recovery modalities used in training. It is recommend the individual try various modalities or use a combination of them to match his or her performance needs.


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