Why Athletes Should Train In The Off-Season: Part 2 - Active Recovery
When we talk about returning to sport stronger than you were before, we need to talk about the importance of recovery. When you work your muscles and tendons hard for 9 months of the year, they are under a lot of stress. That stress causes some break down in the muscles which is the catalyst that tells the muscle to get stronger. Stress is good for a muscle, it tells it what it needs to do to build up stronger so it is better at handling the stress next time. But in order for the muscle to build itself stronger, it requires recovery time.
When stress is repeated for weeks and months without a break, the muscles and tendons may not be given enough time to build back up before the stress is applied again. This can lead to issues like pain flare ups, tendonitis, or muscle strains. This is why recovery is so important! Recovery time can be measured in the hours after a hard practice or a big game, it can also be measured by the weeks you spend in the off season. Here we talk about the weeks of recovery you spend resting after a long season, or a few consecutive seasons, of working hard in your sport.
Muscle recovery is an essential part of your healthy-athlete routine, but is not just about rest. As muscles repair, they go through some break down. If you are resting completely, as in not doing any physical activity for weeks, the muscles will repair themselves to adjust to that level of activity. If your day is mostly packed with watching Netflix, playing Fortnite, and walking back and forth to the kitchen, your muscles and tendons don't need to be that strong to keep doing that. So as they repair, they break down some of the muscle you built during the season and don’t repair it to be stronger.
Complete rest allows the break down to be bigger than the build up, which means losing strength. If you want the build up to be progressive so you can maintain your strength during the off season, you need to keep up the stress to the muscle. But if you keep stressing the muscle in the same way, like continuing to run for 3 hours a day in the off season, you aren’t giving your muscles time to recover. This keeps them from healing and repairing in your recovery season and can lead to pain and inflammation.
So if you don’t run at all, the muscles and tendons get weak. Then if you run too much, the muscles and tendons don’t get stronger and may start to hurt. So how do you keep up the stress to make them stronger without giving the muscles too much stress so you can recover? The answer is simple, apply a different kind of stress!
Proper muscle loading for recovery means placing a different type of stress on the muscle that allows it to rebuild itself correctly. If you perform a lot of jumping in your sport, like basketball, your calf muscles are used to delivering a high force very quickly. This places a lot of repetitive stress on the tendons which can lead to tendonitis and chronic pain. Helping the muscle recover means performing the same motions, but slowing them down.
Performing a slow, controlled, strength training routine helps your tendons and muscles get the fuel they need to recover and grow stronger. Instead of loading your muscles with unpredictable jumping stress for a long period of time every day, we load the muscles with a specific weight in a slow controlled manner for a short period of time. This lower intensity training with fewer reps and moderate load will give your muscles the stimulation they need to rebuild for higher stresses applied when you begin training power and plyometrics in the pre-season.
After performing this for a few weeks, your muscles and tendons have recovered from the frequent jumping and are now stronger to handle jumping during your next in-season practice. Another component of helping those muscles recover, is strengthening their partner muscles, or the muscles that help them do their function. Read our next post to learn more about strengthening partner muscles to prevent injury.