Being that it is the first week of the high school hockey season I thought it would be a good time to discuss one of the most important aspects of performance throughout the season – recovery. Often overlooked, recovery can be a deciding factor in how successful a team is during a season. Players fatigue as the season wears on due to an accumulation of stresses from many factors; namely practice, games, school, and relationships. Breaking down these factors, two different types of stresses emerge: Physical and Non-physical. Physical stress can be attributed to stresses on the muscular system, the neurological system, and the cardiovascular system. Non-physical stresses include mental and emotional stress. I understand that to most of us terms such as “neurological” and “cardiovascular” do not mean a whole lot, so I will do my best to break down these stresses so they are easy to understand. First, I’m going to discuss some background behind recovery, and later I will get into the actual means of recovery. So, if you are in too much of a hurry or just feel like being “that guy” who doesn’t care as to why he knows something then scroll down, but I strongly urge you to read all of it. Who knows, maybe you will learn something, and that is never a bad thing.
When talking about physical stress, we mean the fatigue that occurs during any physical activity, such as practice, games, workouts, etc. Any time we undergo physical activity we stress our body, and become fatigued because of it. This fatigue is easy to see after a hard day of practice, we feel tired, our legs hurt, and we are out of breath. Other times the fatigue is harder to feel, for instance, after an easy jog, or a long walk. In both of these cases we are fatiguing our bodies through physical stress. Muscular stress is the fatigue that occurs in our muscles that we can feel in our legs or arms after physical activity. We have all had times where our legs feel like jello, or bricks, and times when you wake up very tight and sore. These are all the results of muscular stress.
Neurological stress is the fatiguing of our nervous system that occurs from extremely hard, short bursts of activity. This type of stress and fatigue is harder to see because we often do not feel sore or tight after. Instead, fatigue from neurological stress is felt during those times when our bodies feel good, but we are missing a jump in our step, and feel slow for a reason we are unsure of.
Cardiovascular stress is the stress placed on our heart, veins, arteries, and lungs. We can easily feel fatigue from cardiovascular stress after we perform a hard physical activity, as we are breathing hard and our heart is beating fast.
Non-physical stress is the emotional and mental stresses that we endure every day while interacting with the people around us. Friends, family, and teammates all stress us, and therefore fatigue our emotions. Getting upset with a person, or getting lectured by a parent stresses our emotions. Most interactions we have in a day cause some sort of emotional stress on us.
School is a main factor that stresses us mentally. Learning in school, studying for a test, and doing homework for a class all require high levels of thinking. The high level of thinking required to study or do homework fatigues us mentally, leading to mental fatigue.
Combining school and relationships gives us a typical day in the life of a high school student, and the stresses that accompany it. Add in practice after school and the stress level increases. All of this non-physical stress is placed on a high school athlete on a daily basis. The result? High levels of non-physical fatigue.
1) All of the stresses placed on a high school athlete can lead to fatigue very quickly after the start of a season.
2) To play at your best, fatigue needs to be low.
3) Recovery lowers fatigue.
How do we recover?
Recovery is the lowering of fatigue through positive influences on the body. More simply, recovery is doing the things that make you feel good. There are two types of recovery; passive and active. Passive recovery is performed with minimal movement required. Active recovery is achieved through gentle movements of the body. Both types of recovery are equally as important in lowering fatigue.
Passive recovery is about as easy as anything you will ever do. Sleeping and eating are the two most important parts of passive recovery. Getting appropriate amounts of sleep every night, and taking days off when they are needed will greatly help with recovery. Eating correctly is also extremely important. Most importantly is the amount of food being eaten. Being in-season means the amount of calories burned will be high. All of the calories lost need to be replaced in order to recover, stay healthy, and stay strong. The types of food eaten are also important. Diets should be well rounded and protein and carbohydrate intakes should be high. Fruits and vegetables should not be forgotten as vitamins help to keep nasty sicknesses away. Another type of passive recovery is stretching. Tight muscles do not work as well as loose muscles. Keeping your muscles at a normal flexibility, and your body moving correctly, will help prevent injuries and keep strength high.
Active recovery is best performed before or after a practice, workout, or game. Active recovery can also be beneficial on off days or right away in the morning. The main form of active recovery is light activity. After a practice, between periods and after a game, and after a workout light activity is the best way to recover. This can be done through slowly riding a bike for a few minutes, going on a slow jog on an off day, or even moving around in some easy dynamic movements between periods. Anything other than sitting in one spot for an extended period of time will help you recover and feel fresher the next day, the next period, etc. Active recovery can also be performed through foam rolling. I strongly believe that foam rolling helps with recovery. It is basically a massage you can give to yourself. It helps work out tight sore spots and knots that are caused from hard practices, games, and workouts. As I mentioned above, if the body moves correctly, the body will be stronger and less injury prone. If you really want to get the most out of your foam rolling, ditch the roller and use a softball or lacrosse ball. It’s going to hurt, but it will be worth it.
These recovery measures are easy to perform and only take a few minutes. If you really want to play at your peak for the whole season, they are absolutely worth the extra 15 minutes. So do yourself a favor, sleep more, pay attention to what you eat, stretch, roll out, and spend a few less minutes sitting. You can thank yourself come playoffs.