Are you optimizing for…
i.e. you’re mid-way through a tournament, doing everything you can do to remove soreness before the next event
i.e. you’re at the start of the pre-season period. You’ve got no big events coming up.
Most post-workout recovery methods work by “reducing inflammation”
Inflammation stimulates positive training adaptations (strength, size, speed). So, the method you pick depends on if you’re optimizing for performance or adaptation.
1. COLD WATER IMMERSION
PROS: CWI is likely to reduce muscle soreness and perceived recovery after high-intensity exercise (Moore et al., 2022)
CONS: CWI has detrimental effects on adaptations to resistance training due to blunting inflammation (Peterson et al., 2021)
2. SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE
PROS: Foam rolling improves short-term (~10mins) flexibility and pain scores (Jay et al., 2014)
CONS: Does not structurally change muscle tissue, benefits are due to an analgesic effect (Aboodarda et al., 2015)
PROS: None (in regards to recovery)
CONS: For some time stretching has not been recommended after exercise (Herbert and Gabriel, 2002; Herbert et al., 2011), as it might even lead to an increase in DOMS (Smith et al., 1993).
4. COMPRESSION GARMENTS
PROS: Compression seems to reduce muscle swelling and perceived soreness (Diego et al., 2016)
CONS: Works in a similar way to ice-baths, by reducing inflammation, which may blunt positive adaptations to training.
5. HEAT EXPOSURE
PROS: Khamwong et al (2015) found reduced soreness in wrist extensors following sauna exposure.
CONS: Not a huge amount of research (for recovery), but no obvious downsides if you stay fully hydrated.
When selecting recovery methods, ask yourself…
1. Am I doing the basics? Is my quality of sleep high? Am I managing my training load? How good is my nutrition?
2. What’s more important during this period – my performance or my adaptations as an athlete?
3. Do you like it? Time spent in the parasympathetic state (rest and digest) is more important than any specific methods. If you HATE ice baths, it’s probably going to cause more harm than good.