The key to recovery and proper adaptation is good planning. Plan the recovery days. It goes back to Bill Bowerman’s Hard/Easy principle, an easy session following a hard session to allow recovery. Good planning will take of a high percentage of the problems. Plan fouteen day microcycles instead of seven to allow for better distribution of work and recovery.
The ability to recover from the training and adapt is the essence of the whole process. My experience has taught me that this is highly individual. To address this individuality in adaptive response to training I use the term recoverability. That is the subjective assessment of the athlete’s ability to recover from the stress of training. Assessing recoverability is very subjective, it demands a day to day, session to session coaching presence to constantly assess and evaluate the athlete’s recoverability. Remember there are fast adapters and slow adaptors, everyone does not progress and adapt at the same rate.
External means of recovery like massage, sauna, contrast baths, laser therapy all can add stress if over used. These external means if used indiscriminately will short circuit the adaptive process. A few years ago one of the NFL teams was having their players get a massage everyday post workout in the off season. That to me is overkill. Also more recovery modalities, treatments and therapies cannot make up for bad training design. I personally witnesses that day to day working the Oregon Project in 2005. Recover methods should not be used to enable even more and harder work.
As I said the other day I strongly believe that during certain periods of training that the body’s natural inflammatory response should be allowed to trigger the adaptative response. I emphasize – only at certain stages. I have also tried to only use external methods later in a microcycle or latter in a block when fatigue accumulates and in essence the bodies own ability to respond needs help. Not real scientific but highly intuitive.
You have to consider efficiency. If you are working one on one with an athlete then a lot of this practical. In large team setting it is not cost and time efficient. Teaching the athletes how to stretch properly post workout can help a lot. Large amplitude movements in a swimming pool can aid recovery at little cost.
One aspect of recovery that is seldom addressed in what the athlete does intra workout. What is done between sprints, between sets to possibly enhance the quality of the next drill or exercise? This should be explored. Carefully look at work:rest ratios. This requires very detailed planning that carefully considers individual variability. This is also about recoverability.
Last but not least carefully consider the demands of the sport. I divide sports into three categories that heavily influence planning of recovery. Impact sports are subdivided into Repetitive/chronic lower repetitive impact sports like distance running and Acute high impact sports like triple jump and gymnastic landings. Contact sports like soccer and basketball. Collision sports like American football, rugby, and hockey where there is actual external trauma to the muscle demands a whole different approach. Recovery strategies must be developed that are appropriate to the each of those situations.
Finally I would like to recommend an article by Dr Own Anderson in Volume 21, #6 August 2005 Running Research News entitled “The Six Step Recovery Process.” It is a very good article that cites relevant research and recommends some practical recovery strategies.