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Optimizing Recovery During a Shortened Sports Season

After many weeks of uncertainty the Michigan high school winter sports season has finally started. The shortened season means cramming a lot of games into a short time frame. If you want to maintain performance and reduce injury risk during the season it is more vital than ever to optimize recovery between every game. Here are 4 things high school athletes can do to help with recovery.

  1. Get More Sleep

Teenagers need sleep. Teenage athletes need even more sleep. Sleep is the most effective way for your body to recover. However most athletes do not get the 7-9 hours a night that is recommended for optimal recovery. Getting more sleep will enhance performance as well. A Stanford University study had 11 basketball players get 10 hours of sleep a night for 5-7 weeks. These athletes had faster sprint times, shot 9% better from the free throw line and 9.2% better from 3 point range. Just think how many more points you could get if you were shooting 9% better.

Here are some tips to help with sleep:

  • Stay away from screens before bed. The light from the screens messes with your melatonin production which makes it harder to fall asleep. Ideally you won’t look at screens 3 hours before bed. If that seems impossible, wearing blue light blocking glasses a couple hours before bed also works.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule of going to bed and waking up at the same time.

  • Limit caffeine. Especially later in the day.

  • Sleep in a cool room, around 65℉

  • Keep the room as dark as possible.

2. Foam Rolling

If you are an athlete you should be foam rolling on a daily basis. 2-5 minutes a day working on your sore spots can make all the difference. While foam rolling, move slowly along the muscles. Move up and down trying to find any sore areas. When you do find a sore spot, hold that area for about 10 seconds. Slowly let your muscles relax into the foam roller. To get to some harder to reach areas (neck, traps, between the shoulder blades) try using a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or some sort of trigger point massage ball. Again move slowly, try to find any sore areas. Hold it for 10 seconds while relaxing the muscles into the ball. If you need help with any areas there are lots of videos on YouTube to guide you.

Another option would be to visit a massage therapist or a chiropractor who works on the soft tissues.

3. Move More

An active recovery approach works better than a passive approach of just laying around. Ideally you’ll find some sort of light exercise that works for you. Something that gets the blood moving. Something as simple as taking a 5- 10 minute walk a couple of times a day. Another option would be doing a light workout that includes body weight squats. When you get the blood pumping during active recovery you remove swelling throughout the body, and you bring white blood cells to any damaged tissues. These white blood cells will speed up the recovery process.

4. Sauna

This one may surprise some people, but saunas are fantastic for recovery for a multitude of reasons. First saunas bring more blood into the muscles. They increase the amount of growth hormone that your body produces, which helps repair your muscles. Saunas have been shown to reduce soreness in muscles and joints while increasing mobility in the muscles. They also train the heart muscles and improve cardiac output similarly to moderate cardiovascular exercise. Saunas also help you get into a deeper more relaxed sleep.

In conclusion there are many things you can be doing to speed up recovery. Don’t neglect your sleep. Foam rolling can relax the tight spots in your body that may cause injury in the future. Light exercise that gets the blood into the muscles works better than just rest. Our ancestors had the right idea when it comes to saunas. Using these tips will help you to feel and perform better, and will give you an advantage over your opponents during this shortened season.


-Dr. Bradley Erkkila, DC


References:

  1. Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep 34: 943–950, 2011.

  2. https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/biohacking-articles/science-of-sauna/

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