In part 2 of our ‘closer look series’ on the importance of regeneration, we’re talking to sport physiotherapist Monika. She shares her therapeutic expertise on regeneration as an important tool to prevent injuries and boost your fitness levels.
How important is regeneration after sport?
Regeneration is absolutely key and as important to your training as exercise itself. If you wish to enhance your performance, whether you’re a professional or an amateur athlete, you should absolutely make time for regeneration phases after each sport activity.
How to support regeneration?
There are active and passive ways to help regenerate. Each individual regeneration method is based on the kind of sport and training type and intensity.
One good example is cooling down. Whether this involves easy jogging after an intensive run or quick walking or stretching after strength training, cooling down helps with cell regeneration and speeds up the natural regeneration process of the body and the removal of lactate from muscles.
After high intensity training, it’s a good idea to be active the next day as well. Going for a walk, easy jogging and stretching are perfect exercises to help the body regenerate. Examples of passive ways to support regeneration are cryotherapy (exposure to low temperature used as a medical treatment) or electrotherapy.
But think of regeneration is an important factor for your mind too – breathing techniques, relaxation exercises or even a massage can be helpful.
How can you as sport physiotherapist help?
As a sport physiotherapist, I mainly help my patients get fit again after an injury or I support them in a preventive way. After an initial conversation with the patient in which we draw up a plan, we start the rehabilitation. The goal of the rehabilitation is to restore the patient’s physical condition and allow him or her return to the sport. The focus lies on rebuilding the patient’s physical structure and helping to make it even more resilient. With preventive training on the other hand, I will create a specific training plan for each patient. This might even be done in consultation with a sports scientist.
Can regeneration help to boost your fitness level?
Regeneration is the basis for achieving better performance in sport. During training at high intensities, the muscles and tendons not only suffer fatigue, they are also subject to miniscule damage (so called micro lesions). That’s why we get sore after a workout. At the same time, our body releases stress hormones (such as adrenalin) which also supress our immune system. If the athlete does not rest at this point and keeps training, it’s very likely that he or she will overexert and risk injury. The body simply needs time to refuel (glycogen reserves) or regenerate (micro lesions) at this point. That’s how our body can adapt to training stimuli, which will hopefully lead to an increased performance.
Regeneration is the basis for achieving better performance in sport.
Is there a ratio for the frequency with which one should work out and the length of the regeneration phase that should follow?
That’s difficult to answer. First of all, it depends on your goal. Secondly, there are different ways to combine those two factors. The general aim of sports training is to improve coordination, strength, speed, endurance and mobility. A healthy adult should perform 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week and 20 minutes of intense strength training three days a week in addition to some form of coordination and mobility training in between. So our weeks definitely need some extra hours 😉 Even elderly people should try to follow this plan but with less intensity.
To find the right balance for training and regeneration you need to consider your fitness level, age, weight and overall health, which makes it difficult generalize. But allowing one or two days for regeneration after intense training is the way to go.
Does regeneration help to prevent injuries?
Yes, definitely. My advice is to take your whole lifestyle into account instead of only focussing on your workouts. Athletes are often put under enormous stress by sponsors, coaches and even their families and this can affect their performance. The same can be true for amateur athletes, who often put themselves under huge pressure. They often need to manage not only their own workouts, but their professional work, social life, partners and kids too. So regeneration is vital. Not taking a break can weaken the immune system or with regards to the connective tissue, lead to tendon or muscle injuries such as overexertion, partial or complete tears of the tendon. All in all the danger of injuries increases and that’s why regeneration is important for both the body and the mind.
What to do in case of an injury?
Don’t panic – the body is literary forcing you to take a break. That’s also when a sport physiotherapist can be helpful. By following a personal rehabilitation plan specifically created for the patient, the sport motor skills are trained and in the end the individual’s fitness level might also be improved.
Do stretching exercises or tools like foam rollers help?
Stretching is a good idea, but please don’t stretch immediately after the workout. Remember the miniscule fractures that happen to the muscles while working out? If you immediately stretch after training, those fractures might get bigger, which could make your sore muscles even sorer. Wait for about 40 minutes and the same stretching exercises will have a more beneficial effect. You shouldn’t stretch before your workout. Long and static stretching tends to reduce muscle tone, which prevents the quick application of force. A football player for instance needs to warm up through quick and dynamic repetitive exercises.
If you feel absolutely ready for the upcoming training session or your muscles seem to be the perfect length after sport, you might even be able to go without stretching. In fact, no official medical studies have yet been published on the benefits of stretching, so it might be the best for everyone to listen to their own body first.
Tools like foam rollers are a good idea too as they help to soften hardened and sticky connective tissue. This allows for an increased blood circulation in those areas, which is positive for regeneration too.
Are there any exercises that help boost regeneration?
In a nutshell:
- after an intensive run: easy jogging
- after intensive strength training: going for a walk or easy callisthenic exercises the next day. If these cause too much pain, try cryotherapy, electrotherapy or simply rest.
- after mental strain: massages, breath-work or relaxation technique
- fuel your body with healthy food. Wheat, sugar and trans-fats will slow down regeneration, in the same way alcohol and cigarettes do. These things are definitely better to avoid, particularly after injures, operations, and with regards to tissue repair and wound healing.
- in doubt, contact a sport physiotherapist 😉
- listen to your own intuition. It’s your body so you need to feel good in it.