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The game of hockey is at its very best when it’s played with passion, speed, and a willingness to lay it all on the line.

The exhilaration of hockey can be felt in NHL arenas across North America, in community rinks filled with tomorrow’s stars, and even on the outdoor rink battling for neighborhood bragging rights.

Unfortunately, the game of hockey can also be unforgiving on your body. The hard shifts, battles for the puck, blocked shots, and open ice hits will take a toll over a game, week, or season and will break you down physically and mentally. To help you stay in the game and perform at your very best, you need to incorporate various recovery tools on a regular basis. Today’s article focuses on how you can do just that. We have shared three of our favorite tools from our Recovery Menu and highlighted how they can help optimize your performance.

When we begin to talk about recovery it is often associated with injury and rehabilitation – something traumatic that has taken you out of the game and will require weeks or even months of hard work to recover from before you’re ready to step back on the ice. Of course, this is a form of recovery and one that deserves serious attention, but our focus here is on a more preventative approach and the steps you can take to help avoid missing games and keep you playing at your best night after night. The body is remarkably resilient and is continually recovering on its own … these tools can support that process.

GR Tip

Although this article focuses on physical recovery tools, they play a supporting role to the two most essential methods of recovering well – Sleep and Fuel. The quality of your sleep and the food you eat will always have the most significant impact on recovery and performance.

Cold Therapy

Cold Immersion (CI) has begun to gain traction in mainstream media for its multitude of potential health benefits, including improving mood (1), neurogenesis (2), and of course, the topic of interest today, enhanced athletic performance.

When we participate in strenuous activity, it causes a release of pro-inflammatory markers in our system. These markers are important for triggering tissue repair and growth. You stress your body, create an internal response that forces an adaptation to the stress, and your body grows stronger to handle the stress better. It is a very valuable process until the level of stress and the corresponding level of inflammation rise above a manageable limit. Think about how challenging it is to perform in back-to-back games, or at a hard weekend tournament.

Exposing your body to cold water triggers a release of norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter – which in turn reduces general inflammation by inhibiting the pathways that cause it. Athlete or not, everyone could use a little less inflammation in their body as it’s linked to aging and a myriad of other health complications.

Active Recovery

Active recovery is another tool that can be extremely beneficial in decreasing soreness and fatigue, as well as maximizing your performance. In the hockey world, active recovery is often associated with riding a stationary bike while conducting post-game interviews. Fortunately, it’s good for more than a sound bite.

From a nervous system perspective, it can help you to down-regulate after a competition. Playing a sport requires your body to enter a fight-or-flight state which is necessary when competing but detrimental to recovery as it will inhibit digestion and sleep – remember those two essential recovery tools. Aim for 20-30 minutes of low-intensity aerobic work, with a relatively low heart rate to calm down your system and get you recovering.

Active recovery can also help combat fatigue and improve your ability to repeat performance. A study (4) out of Poland looked at active versus passive recovery and found that 20 minutes of low-intensity work targeting the same muscle groups that were utilized during exercise is more effective than passive rest in returning the muscle to its pre-exercise state. The ability to better recover is especially important if you are required to compete again the next day, or several times over a short span.

Whichever active method you choose to use for your recovery session remember to keep your heart rate low to allow your system to calm down. You can also incorporate some of the corrective exercises that we will be included in our blog post later this month to help combat postural imbalances that develop from playing sports.

Compression Therapy

The last item that we will touch on in our recovery menu is the use of compression therapy, specifically pneumatic compression devices (PCD), the most popular of which is made by a company called Normatec. If you haven’t used a Normatec machine chances are you have seen an athlete lounging around in what look like oversized snow pants hooked up to a tube.

These devices work by applying a sequential wave of pressure up the tube (pants), starting at one end and progressing to the other. This wave pattern mirrors the natural process of peristalsis in our intestinal, lymphatic, and circulatory systems. PCD’s work by increasing the amount of blood flow through the limb as well as clearing out metabolites significantly faster than the body would naturally. A study (5) out of the US Olympic training center examined Pressure-to-pain threshold measurements. Pressure-to-pain is a measurement that assesses how much pressure must be placed on a tissue to elicit a pain response. It is a valuable tool for determining levels of tissue damage and recovery. The study showed substantial improvements in pain tolerance after using the Normatec versus a placebo, which would indicate that it is a useful recovery tool. The ability to passively recover is an asset for athletes, especially when they are required to travel and spend extended periods of time waiting in hotel rooms before they perform.

Recognizing that the body is an adaptive organism, incorporating a variety of recovery tools will help maximize their effectiveness and optimize athletic performance. Be sure to make your choices based on how you feel and what your body needs most.

Sources
  1. Link: Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression
  2. Link: Cold Shocking the Body: Exploring Cryotherapy, Cold-­Water Immersion, and Cold Stress
  3. Link: Regular postexercise cooling enhances mitochondrial biogenesis through AMPK and p38 MAPK in human skeletal muscle
  4. Link: Comparison of Two Different Modes of Active Recovery on Muscles Performance after Fatiguing Exercise in Mountain Canoeist and Football Players
  5. Sands WA, McNeal JR, Murray SR, Stone MH. Dynamic compression enhances pressure-to-pain threshold in elite athlete recovery: Exploratory study. J Strength Cond Res2014 Feb 12.