Whether you’re an elite triathlete aiming to win a 70.3, or just wanting to complete your first triathlon, the age-old rule applies – race results don’t come without putting in the hard work beforehand. However, many of us overlook the fact that training sessions alone aren’t enough to determine performance – choices made about recovery after competitions or training could actually make the difference between a PB and a DNF.
For a triathlete, understanding recovery is important as training involves intensive sessions in not one, but three different disciplines that make various different demands on the body. Sessions take their toll on mental and physical resources, but the regeneration that occurs after a session helps an athlete to become stronger and fitter. Most triathletes are aware they should timetable recovery into their training plans, yet despite its importance, recovery and rehabilitation hasn’t been viewed as an exact science – until now
Exercise science researcher professor Dr Alexander Ferrauti and sport psychologist professor Dr Michael Kellmann, in collaboration with researchers at Saarland University and the University of Mainz, have spent the past few years running a joint project trying to find the best recovery strategies for athletes after intensive training and competition sessions. The research was run to better understand the recovery process, and might help athletes and coaches choose effective strategies to optimise performance in the future.
For part of the project, scientists wanted to look at recovery after a number of different activities – part of their sample included elite athletes in Olympic training camps. They created training blocks and exercise programmes for a range of top athletes, including weightlifters and volleyball teams. Using blood tests, questionnaires and performance assessments, they studied how certain sports affect the body – and specifically how the body recovers from different sport sessions.
In another section of the research, the team looked at the effectiveness of different recovery methods after similar workout sessions. Active strategies, such as sport-specific stretches and cooling-down tasks were investigated, alongside other measures such as massages and ice baths. Interestingly, one result showed that while ice baths were linked to better performance tests, athletes reported feeling benefits from massages, which did not show this link. This highlights that biological markers should be taken into account alongside athletes’ subjective perceptions, as psychologically this can also influence the recovery process.
The results also reinforced that there is no ‘one size fits all’ for recovery, and that every athlete should choose recovery measures suited to their sport and also their personal preferences. However, as with training, recovery methods should be tried and tested long before competitions, and the body given time to acclimatise to new regimes.
Once the project has ended in late 2016, the organisers hope it will lay the foundations for more research into regeneration management, ultimately to create a tool that is sport-specific and can be used to pick the best recovery measures and rehabilitation methods for each discipline.