Recovery: The Missing Cog in the Pursuit of Better

In teenage athletes, I see it quite often: not a lot of sleep, not the greatest nutrition habits and (especially in today’s society) being involved in everything.

The problem: you can’t get better if you can’t recover, at least from the things that require recovery (which is a lot more than you may think).

It stands to reason: if practicing a skill (such as swinging an implement like a tennis racquet or a golf club) makes you better, then lifting weights makes you stronger. If you do the task, you will reap the rewards from the effort. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

The problem is that lifting the weight or doing the 10-yard sprint doesn't actually make you stronger or faster. While indeed you may improve technique within the session, which will make you better in the long-run, you don’t truly become stronger or faster during the session.

It happens after the fact when your body recovers and adapts.

While Mark Rippetoe and Starting Strength often comes off as too in-your- face and too one-size-fits-all, it does a great job of preaching the idea of the General Adaptation Principle.

I’ll try not to get overly “science-y” here (although if you want to talk more about it I love talking science and other nerd things!).

In order to get stronger and faster, you push your body past what it is currently used to. Your body responds by adapting to these new demands you placed on it by becoming stronger and faster.

But (and this is very important) that adaptation cannot happen without proper recovery. This recovery comes in the form of both nutrition and sleep. A lack of either can halt that pursuit of better.

So that may all make sense: we need to eat the right things (and enough of them) and rest enough in order to grow our muscles (among other things) to get stronger and faster. And if we overload our bodies without that nutrition and rest we stop getting stronger and faster (and may actually go backwards).

But what if I were to tell you that the learning of sport-specific skills actually require recovery as well?? That’s right: your brain needs the proper rest and recovery to learn new things.

Nick Winkelman does a great job of explaining this phenomenon. Athletes do far better learning new skills with proper sleep, and if that sleep is diminished or disrupted, the skill may not “stick.” And really, this makes sense as well.

After a day of testing (ACTs, SATs, MCAs, etc.) students are often exhausted – and they just sat there. Their bodies weren’t doing much, but their brains were working overtime. Learning a new skill causes the same effect.

Now I don’t expect athletes or the parents of athletes to have all the answers. Which is where the strength and conditioning specialist comes in. We can help provide the proper program and make sure recovery is where it needs to be in order to get stronger and faster.

The more things you are involved in, the more recovery you need. Athletes who do everything physically to get better but aren’t doing what they need to do from the nutrition and sleep side will eventually do nothing but spin their tires.

If you are going to train and practice hard, make sure you recover just as hard!

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