Book Review: The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery

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Last month I read the book The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery by Sage Rountree. The book is all about recovery methods for athletes, primarily endurance-based athletes. Rountree is an experience yoga teacher and is also a certified USA Triathlon and Road Runners Club of America coach. She teaches regular yoga classes popular among athletes of all levels and is a frequent contributor to many publications, including Runner’s World, Yoga Journal, and USA Triathlon Life.

The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery is described on the back of the book as:

“The Athlete’s Gudie to Recovery is the first comprehensive, practical exploration of the art and science of athletic rest. Certified cycling, triathlon, and running coach Sage Rountree guides you to full recovery and improved performance, exploring how much rest athletes need, how to measure fatigue, and how to make the best use of recovery tools.

Drawing on her own experience along with interviews with coaches, trainers, and elite athletes, Rountree details daily recovery techniques and demystifies common aids such as ice baths, compression apparel, and supplements. She explains in detail how to employ restorative practices, including massage, meditation, and yoga. You will learn which methods work best and how and when they are most effective.”

I enjoyed the book, but I wished that it included a bit more scienitific study results. Of course as a biochemist by training I rely on peer-reviewed studies for my knowldge; however, Rountree wrote the book for a more general population so I understand why she did not bring a lot of studies into the book.

The first part of the book dicusses why recovery is an important part of the training cycle and ways to qualitatively and quantitatively to measure it during your training cycles. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “recovery is where the gains of your training actually occur, and valuing your recovery is the key to both short-term and long-term success, no matter what your sport” (page 4). Last year I really learned the importance of recovery during my training cycles. I have always been in the mindset that no pain, no gain or go hard all the time for the biggest improvements in my performance. However, I learned that is completely the wrong mindset to have. When working with my athletes and clients I always make sure to stress the importance of recovery. For the longest time I was under the impression that during workouts is when your body gets stronger and faster, but in reality it is AFTERWARDS during periods of recovery that your body repairs itself to make it stronger and faster. Rountree stresses this in the first part of her book. She states that “it’s the balance between the work and the rest that keeps us healthy and strong” (page 5). Rountree discusses the physiogologic adaptaion process well in laymans terms for those of us that may not be a super science nerd like myself. She also breaks down the perodization training cycle in words and figures for the reader to help them understand the concept easily and how recovery fits into each part of the cycle. One point she makes in the first chapter is that “your successful approach to recovery will depend on two traits: patience and faith” (page 13). I found this to be a strong point. Lord knows that I am one of the most impatient people. When I want something I want it now. I know as an athlete that I need to take the time and put the work in and I will see results. I will not become a top of the podium athlete overnight. I may never become one, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t put the work in and have a little faith that if I am patient that it will happen. You have to be patient with recovery and trust the process. Sometimes we all need a little time off. Certainly my body told me I needed time off this past Fall to heal from my nagging right hip issue and also the plantar fasciitis that results from that damn piriformis. Can I evict my piriformis yet?

Part two of the book dicusses recovery techniques. She discusses 12 techniques, which she breaks down into time, cost, accessibility, and confidence (she calls this “Sage’s Gauge”). Here is my take on each technique:

  • Active Recovery – is exercise at a low intensity. Easy, stand-alone active recovery workouts, such as an easy zone 1 spin or jog/walk, can elevate the heart rate just effort to increase blood flow to muscles to aid in recovery. However, these workouts must be light and easy enough to not tax the muscular and cardiovascular systems, aka 65-mile “recovery” rides are not really recovery rides. Who knew? Active recovery also includes proper cool downs during more intense workouts.
  • Stress Reduction – Let’s face it, we all live in a stressful world. Work, school, family, training, etc. According to Rountree the key to reducing stress is being aware of where it comes from. Okay, so my main source of stress is work. Mainly in the past month not knowing if I still had a job. Now that I know my job is a little more secure now my stress levels has gone down; however, I am prone to getting stressed trying to figure out how to fit work and train clients while completing my training all within 24 hours and then rinse and repeat. Welcome to being an age-group athlete, right?! Rountree suggests learning the ability to say no (definitely a major problem I have. I can be guilt-tripped into just about anything and I will probably regret ever saying that…), making realistic goals and periodically checking in on them, and planning a head.
  • Sleep – YES PLEASE! I think we all know how important good quality sleep is! Rountree suggests that we should sleep until you wake up satisfied without the use of an alarm clock. Naps are also a good idea. All great ideas but a little unrealistic for a majority of us real people working in the real world.
  • Nutrition and Hydration – Drink water and eat real foods. Enough said right? Recovery snacks are important for our bodies.
  • Supplements – These are designed to cover deficiencies in your diet. See above for what is really important in recovery, i.e. real foods and water! However, taking a multivitamin and a fish oil pill can help. Personally, I take a multivitmain to cover my bases incase I don’t have a good eating day and I don’t eat a ton of fish so fish oil pill a day is good for me. Fish oil has been shown to help reduce inflammation. NSAIDS, such as Ibuprofen can actually interfere with the body’s recovery process so it’s best not to swallow an entire bottle (or any at all) after a tough workout.
  • Cold and Heat – Ice bath party anyone? I started to use ice baths this past season after tough long brick workouts. I think they helped some. Mostly I felt like a badass sitting in a tub of cold water and ice cubes drinking my recovery smoothie (okay, sometimes it was a beer. Don’t judge me). Cold can be used to counter inflammation and to numb pain. Ice baths help with this and also to move waste products from the muscle. Some people also use heat. Rountree suggests eating a warm snack while sitting in an ice bath.
  • Home Remedies – Compression gear. I was interested to see what her stance was on the issue because it is currently debated in the scientific literature if compression gear actually works or if it’s more psychological. Either way, I like my compression gear. Rountree suggest based on studies that compression socks are more effective than calf sleeves. She also suggests that compression gear is more beneficial during recovery than while training or racing. That is my opinion also. However, compression gear intrigues me so I plan to look more into the topic.
  • Technological Aids – Got a lot of money? Yeah, me either! Thanks SallieMae! You can buy things like ultrasound and electrostimulation therapy or Normatec MVP boots.
  • Massage – Another, yes please! I think we all know that massages are beneficial to the body.Rountree discusses when massage should be scheduled in your training and racing cycles. During training she said scheduling will much depend on your budget. Once a month is probably fine for most people. Rountree suggests a good massage at least 3 days prior to an event would be good and then a really light quick massage after the race to flush-out muscular waste. A good deeper massage should be scheduled about a week later.
  • Self-Massage – Is your foam roller your best friend? Well, it should be!
  • Restorative Yoga – Restorative yoga is a gentler form of yoga and focuses on releasing tension in the body. Poses are held as long as 10-15 minutes. I’ve done one restorative yoga class. It was tough, but my body did feel good afterwards. Rountree gives pictorial examples of poses that are beneficial to the triathlete.
  • Meditation and Breathing – Similar to restorative yoga. Just taking time out of your day to relax and forget about the stresses of the day. Rountree states that the “goal of meditation is not to stop thinking; it’s to become aware of the thinking and to return to focus without getting swept up in thought” (page 168).

Part three of the book discusses recovery protocols. Rountree gives some ideas of how to string the techniques together along with training. Personally, I think everyone is different and different things work for different people, thus people should pick what works best for them. Overall, I did like the book and thought it was helpful. I personally would have liked to have seen more peer-reviewed studies included in more chapters, but I believe Rountree was targeting a more general population rather than the total trigeek like myself.

Have you read this book? What are your thought? What recovery methods work for you?

~ Happy Training!

 

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