14 Aug Becoming Bulletproof: Programming for Recovery
As of right now, I have spent over a month with injuries. The first came with my wrist due to a hyperextension due to some light Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sparring. The second came to my left knee, my MCL in particular, and has left me in a precarious state: I have not squatted, deadlifted, vaulted, or really jumped at all since this injury. And while I’m going pretty close to insane from inactivity, I know exactly why I was injured. I knew all the components of recovery and injury prevention, and I was taking on too much on my plate to let my body do what it needed to do. Injury was inevitable.
What I want to provide here is a compendium for the traceurs, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts reading this to take to heart: don’t only program for your training. Program for your recovery. There is a lot that goes into it, and a lot that people just do not do. I realize that there are always time constraints. Work, school, family, friends… Life in general just gets in the way. But take the time to take care of your body, and the likelihood of injury significantly drops.
I opened this blog with an article on warming up that I hope everyone read through carefully. The better your tissue quality and the more mobile your joints, the less likely that you will be injured. For everyone involved in heavy lifting, I also want to hone in on the importance of warming up for your lifts. The big movements (squats, deadlifts, presses, and weighted pulls) all need to be worked up to before you perform your working sets. The stronger you are, the more warm-up sets that you will need. If you’re squatting over three plates, it is not enough to do a set at 135, a set a 225, a set at 315, and then break straight into your work set. Try to hit a minimum of 5 warm-up sets. This prepares your musculature as well as your nervous system for the demand that it’s about to take. It also helps to reinforce good technique. The rep scheme of your warm-up sets should reflect what your working sets will be.
For instance, if you are working up to a heavy single, then don’t waste your gas on doing high-reps even at low weight to warm-up. Maybe the first set will be at 8 reps, the second at 5, the third at 3, the fourth at 3, and the last as a single before you try to hit that PR. If you’re working to a 5RM, then I personally tend to go simple and do five reps for every warm-up set. On the last one, depending on how I’m feeling, I might drop it down to a triple before my 5-rep working set.
“Static stretching never died”
In our community, it’s easy to forget about static stretching. A lot of literature out there has been released that harps constantly on stretching. Granted, I do not let my clients stretch before their training sessions. And, in our Parkour classes, we will always say that pre-work-out stretching is a bad idea. This isn’t always true, but it’s a good rule of thumb. However, the benefits of post-workout stretching are still there.
It is a good idea to put in the effort to consider your stretching time post-workout. Additional stretching in the morning or before bed also never hurts. The more you build up your flexibility outside of workout time, the better prepared you will be for your workouts.
In the sporting world, there is a concept called active recovery where rest days are taken with some kind of movement. This promotes more blood flow into the muscles and can help facilitate a greater recovery effect, assuming the athlete or individual is well-conditioned enough that attempts at active recovery do not hinder progress. If you are simply too tired to move, listen to your body and just rest. Otherwise, a mild jog or – better yet – a long session of mobility drills and foam rolling might be just what you need.
Wait, to get stronger, I have to do less…?
One of the most crucial elements of strength training is the deload. In power sports like Parkour, it’s also something to consider. The deload is a week in your training program that you intentionally cut either the volume or the intensity (or both) of your training by around 50%. So, say I’ve been squatting 300lbs. My deload week would consist of about a 150lb squat. There are many reasons why we deload, but the largest benefit is maintaining efficiency with the lifts and techniques, keeping movement up, but also giving the musculoskeletal system a chance to recovery from the high demands that we place on it.
Runners have a form of a deload that they call “tapering” and it serves much the same purpose: give your body some time to recovery while still maintaining activity. The impact forces from running and from Parkour are of startlingly different natures, but the concept remains the same. When planning out your training, take one week a month to consciously reduce the impact that you are taking. This can be approached by either cutting the volume of what you are doing or by simply working other skills.
Food and Sleep… The two best words in the English language
We finally come to the end of your recovery considerations. They are the two base aspects of human existence, a requirement for optimal physical, mental, and emotional health. Simply put, without adequate nutrition and adequate sleep, injury is imminent. While this should go without saying, it is often the most ignored aspect of recovery. With the modern lifestyle, getting good food and enough sleep both are pretty hard to come by. The only thing I ask is that you try your best.
I want to also include a note for dieters. While losing fat is a lot of the time an approach to healthy living for most Americans, it is not exactly a “healthy” thing to do. Just as much as dieting can save lives, it is something that our bodies do not like. Depression, hair loss, insomnia, lethargy and more are all regular side effects of dieting. Aggressive training while dieting is often a recipe for injury. Your body will fight dieting all the way. When you are training for performance, dieting should not be part of your programming. Save weight loss for weight loss, and let your training be training. This may be a longer approach, as you might want to devote a couple of months to dieting and a couple of months to performance, but it is by far the safest approach.
Okay, now time to whip out the pen and paper.
I have outlined here several components to thoughtful recovery programming. The trick is actually doing it. It means looking at your training program, scheduling in deloads, working food and sleep into your work schedule, making time for stretching, foam rolling, and mobility work, etc. Recovery is hard work, but when is anything in the fitness world easy? When it comes to aggressive sporting though, this kind of consideration is necessary. Ask yourself every day, “Am I doing what I should?”
Andy Tran is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the NSCA. He has been involved in North America’s Parkour community for over six years and is one of Urban Evolution’s lead instructors. Andy is also a competitive powerlifter, holding a state title and the raw open records in Virginia for squat, bench press, deadlift, and total at 148lbs with USA Powerlifting.