Welcome to the next article in our series on customizing your recovery! Our previous post featured recovery methods for athletes at the high school or club level. This post addresses the unique recovery needs of collegiate athletes. At the collegiate level, a number of changes to your training make your recovery methods drastically more crucial than in your high school days. The major shift occurs when adding weightlifting to your training regimen. Whereas in high school most habits were part of a generalized approach to recovery (such as sleeping and eating properly), the training in college demands more specific recovery methods. Sleep and nutrition are just as important now, but to repair muscle and rebound quickly from heavy training, let’s discuss the additional recovery tools you’ll need to succeed.
1. Welcome to Foam Rolling
Your first brush with weightlifting freshman year will leave you feeling sore in muscles you didn’t know you had. Even if you have lifted before, your collegiate strength training will be a step up in its intensity. One of your primary methods to combat muscle soreness from strength training will be foam rolling. The rolling motion of your body over a foam cylinder mimics a massage, applying pressure to sore areas in an attempt to release muscle tension and lengthen out tight tissue. Check out my post on foam rolling here. Spending 5-10 minutes each day on a foam roller will help you maintain your full range of motion throughout a heavy week of training.
2. Ice Bath Anyone?
The subject of ice baths continues to draw conversation. Some athletes feel positive effects from taking ice baths immediately post-workout while others say they feel little difference, and some people prefer contrast baths (hot and cold) even more. The research is inconclusive, but my suggestion is to try ice baths and see whether it works for you. The colder temperature is meant to help accelerate lactate clearance from your muscles by taking advantage of how the body’s circulation changes with temperature. For specific details of this mechanism, please check out my post on ice baths here. Generally, cold therapy is helpful in reducing inflammation. If you have a muscle group or joint that needs to be iced, a bath can help you target this region and surrounding musculature. Athletes tend to use this recovery method following heavy resistance workouts—for example, following a heavy lift rather than a high-cardio day in the gym.
Everyone comes to college with different nutritional profiles and preferred foods. The key is to make healthy, reasonable choices in the dining halls that will fuel your body to perform well. Check in with how much protein you are getting on a daily basis, and when you’re eating it. Post-workout, eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein will promote protein synthesis in muscle so that you can maximize your strength gains from that day’s training. Insufficient protein intake, on the other hand, can lead to extended fatigue and an inability to put on muscle or recover from one workout to the next.
Let’s face it. Somehow, in college, you have more free time than ever. Even at the most rigorous of universities, your college schedule allows for things like naps and long meals if you have good time-management (which you do, if you’ve made it to collegiate athletics). Take advantage of the flexible schedule by building in a couple naps into your weekly routine. Your training is more intense now than ever, and you need to make up for that increase in exertion with additional rest in between practices. Try 30-45 minute naps to help replenish your energy without making you feel groggy upon waking up.
These tools are meant to help you take control over and to customize your recovery so you can reap the benefits of all your hard work during training. Every decision you make to take better care of yourself following a workout will put you in a better position to do well in your next one. Collegiate training is not a sprint—it is a marathon, and many sports have very little time off. Attention to detail, such as practicing healthy recovery methods, will help you to be successful in the long run.