Cool-Downs; Your Warm-up for Recovery

Read on to discover what you might be missing when it comes to adapting to your training …

You’ve heard it before:

You don’t get stronger during your training session or your practice session.

You get stronger while you rest.

But WHY?

How does it work?

& What can you do to maximize it?

Let’s start with what we are trying to accomplish when we commit to a focused training program:

We are looking to be able to do more work, more complicated work, faster work and stronger work. And in order for us to be able to do something we can’t currently within the various systems in the body, we need to overload the systems, and we need to recover from that overload.

So if I want to be able to lift more weight, or move in a certain way, or be able to run for a longer period of time, you need to train so that what you are doing is just a little harder than what you can currently do.

BUT we don’t want to work too hard and too often, or we might experience burnout or expose ourselves to injury and illness.

And then there’s the other side of the coin: Don’t train too little, because “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.

The struggle is how to find the perfect amount. (AKA do the least amount of things with the most reward). And it takes trial and error.

The key is progressive overload.

Slowly stress the various systems in the body we want to improve, and then give the body time to adapt to these stressors. It’s the adaptation that we are looking for when we are training and working towards a goal. If you work too hard you might be too sore or too fatigued for too long. The magic of understanding balancing training and recovery and progressive overload is being able to do the least amount of work with the most amount of gains.

So if we don’t work harder than our current capacity and we work too easy we might lose some fitness, and if we work more than we are capable of we need time to recover fully in order to adapt to those stressors. It is that adaptation that lets us get stronger and what a lot of people miss when they are considering their training is to balance the rest.

How can I master the art of working hard and training hard?

The answer lies in balancing the nervous system; something a lot of athletes miss when they train, are looking to manage their mind and body, and forget to include in their warm-ups and cool-downs.

There are two important aspects of the nervous system you need to be familiar with. The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. These two systems work to help bring our body and our nervous system into balance, which is something we call in the science community homeostasis. Our body works best in homeostasis; not too active, and not too under active.

You know you’ve activated the sympathetic nervous system in situations like being startled; that feeling of adrenaline that rushes through your body, or when you are scared, stressed, overworked, or overthinking. It’s activated when we are both frightened, or excited.

The parasympathetic nervous system works in the opposite way as it helps prepare us for resting, digesting and recovering from activity. Image a baby sleeping: They’ve got slow, quite and deep breaths and their body is relatively still. We usually feel calm and relaxed when this side of the brain is activated.

Be in control of the volume.

I like to think of these two parts of the nervous system like I do a volume dial on a stereo.

We can turn up the volume on the nervous system and be ready to focus for a competition, or, we could feel afraid from some thing, freeze, run away, wanna fight. Those are unconscious and automatic responses that are relatively out of our immediate control.

The issue arises when we are in a more sympathetic or parasympathetic state when we don’t require it. An example would be sluggish before a training session, or anxious before we go to sleep. These are primal reactions that were originally designed to help you survive in the outdoors; activate sympathetic nervous system when you are being chased by a mountain lion, and parasympathetic when it’s time to relax near a fire and eat and digest the bison you just killed.

So what does this matter for curlers and athletes?

During a competition we actually don’t want to be too upregulated or two downregulated. We want to find that happy level of volume that lets us focus in a calm and confident and responsive manner.

As you learn more about the nervous system, you will notice the different aspects of your day and routine that help regulate your nervous system to appropriate for the task at hand.

For example, your pre-game warm-up isn’t just about the muscles and the joints and the blood flow.

Your warm-up is also about turning upon the volume, & getting the mind into a ready state, and part of this happens by managing your nervous system.

Adding in pieces that help down-regulate if you are too fired up or anxious, or up-regulate if you are feeling sluggish or unfocused.

Your cool-down acts in the same manner, just the opposite. The cool down isn’t only about finding the magic stretch, foam rolling position, or protein shake.

To truly master the cool-down you need to turn the volume down on the nervous system; it’s about slowing down the breath rate, slowing down the heart rate, slowing down the mind, and allowing the muscles to slow down.

We hold a lot of tension in our body when we are practising and competing, and this tension is necessary to create power, find stability and move in the ways we need to for our specific activities. So releasing this tension (commonly seen with an upregulated nervous system) following an event allows us to start tapping into the side of the brain responsible for resting and recovering.

Cool downs are not that exciting unless you think about them as the warm-up for recovery.

We need to tell the brain that it’s time to rest, we need to tell the brain then it’s time to recover, and we do that with various activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system to offset the sympathetic nervous system activation. Things like focused breath exercises, light stretching, soft tissue manipulation, hot baths, certain foods, journaling, slow walking, and meditation are all tools you can use to stimulate recovery.

If the first thing you do after training or a competition is not something to tap into the recovery side of the brain, then you are missing out on valuable time to make sure that you adapt to the progressive overload you just put your systems into.

As I write this we are in the midst of a pandemic. And there are a lot of stressors in our life that are not physical. A lot of our stressors are mental, emotional, and intellectual. Understanding that the nervous system governs all these areas of a holistic human being we can use this external and internal stress to practice teaching the mind and the body to relax.

Practice your warm-ups and cool-downs

For a lot of curlers right now, you don’t have access to ice, or even space to workout. Regardless of if you happen to be training in any way, the best thing that you can do as a high performance athelte is to practice your ability to rest and recover.

Curling games are not just physically taxing but also mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. So as you are planning out your training, or even your general physical activity, make sure that you are actively choosing some activities that help teach your body to tap into that side of the brain responsible for resting and recovering.

Some humans are drawn to things like yoga or tai chi, or meditation, journaling, adult colouring books, Lego, etc.

Learn how to use your warm-ups and cool-downs to your advantage, learn how to manage your own nervous system as you prepare for both training & games, and rest & recovery. Use this time to master the “softer side” of training, so that when we do get back on the ice and reconnecting with our curling community, your body is ready to adapt to the stressors of the game.

Planned rest

Schedule both active and passive recovery activities in to your week like yoga, breath work, journalling, perhaps even seeking out some therapy to help suss out the goings on in your mind. Hot baths, aromatherapy, calling a friend, going for a walk in the woods, and enjoying your favourite foods, are all ways to help teach the nervous system, and allow the nervous system to down regulate once in a while. The more often you practice this side of training, the better at tapping into it when you need it will be in the future.

So what can you do, if you don’t know how to rest and recover? Or maybe you need some guidance?

I’ve created quite a few resources such as a yoga series specific for curling, and a weekly recovery class that is open as a karma class for drop-ins.

Email steph@empoweredperformance.ca and make sure to subscribe to the newsletter for any changes or upgrades to current programs.

For a lot of my EPVIP athletes right now I am not only helping them with their training, but also helping them to create their own toolbox for recovery that can be used during both the off-ice and on-ice season.

So if you are frustrated with the culture of sport and fitness that is all about the “go go go, and waiting for burn out, and always feeling sore”, don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you’re looking for actionable advice on how to be better at recovering, hit me up via email. We can hop on a call and talk about how we can work together in a smart, progressive, and intentional way.

All the best

Coach Steph

Ps. Want more movement, mindset and CURLING specific resources straight to your inbox? Join me

— Work Hard — Hurry Hard — Play Hard —

Stephanie Thompson is a former student-athlete at Western University and is a certified Kinesiologist who plays on the WCT Women's tour.  This article, Cool-Downs; Your Warm-up for Recovery was originally published on on her blog, Empowered Performance, and is re-published here with permission.

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