What are the three forms of stress most pertinent to athletes, and how should athletes recover from them?
I want this series of blog posts to provide some direction for what people (athletes in particular) can do to improve the quality of their recovery programs. And I think the first thing to do is to clarify what exactly is meant when coaches use the word “recovery,” discuss why it is important, and identify what we are asking our athletes to recover from.
Athletes are recovering from stress, but what kind? The honest answer is: all stress, but there are certain stresses that are most relevant to athletes, and those are what we will be exploring. The reason I say "all stress" is because the systemic response to stress is essentially the same no matter its origin; and each origin- although rectified by different countermeasures- results in essentially the same systemic response. In any case, let’s identify the origins of stress that will be addressed in this series, keeping in mind that they are not the only origins, but are the origins we will be exploring throughout this blog series because of their pertinence to athletes and active people:
Mechanical Stress: This stress is related to the length of our soft tissues, damage to tissues or inflammation (removing wastes and bringing in tools for repair), and edema (excess fluid that is trapped in tissues). Recovery from this requires restoring more optimal resting length to muscle and connective tissue, ensuring efficient movement through the stages of tissue repair, and nutrition & movement variability to keep veins healthy.
Metabolic Stress: This stress is related to the loss of nutrients, cellular damage from oxidation, and the processing of by-products (lactic acid or hydrogen ions, for example). Recovery from this stress involves ingesting enough calories; the replenishment of water, minerals, and anti-oxidants; and the maintenance of a robust aerobic system.
Neurological Stress: Changes in ANS tone (Autonomic Nervous System aka time spent in Parasympathetic states vs Sympathetic states). Recovery from this involves regulating the volume of internal stressors (modifying the volume and intensity of work) and external stressors (removing psychological and emotional stressors from the environment).
The three forms or origins of stress mentioned above are what we will be referring to in this series of blog posts. They affect- first and foremost- sleep quality, which has the greatest impact on our ability to perform physically and cognitively. The cognitive aspect is of particular importance because we must remember that cognition plays a role in agility and other sport-related actions. But even with quality sleep these forms of stress still affect our ability to perform from day to day and can accumulate throughout a season when there aren't enough days to rest between bouts of high-intensity effort (training, practice, and competition).
Amateur and professional sports schedules are long and tough and primarily based on business- not necessarily on what is the best thing for an athlete’s physical longevity. So we want to augment and expedite the recovery process with helpful tools that the research demonstrates will give athletes their best chance to achieve long-term success.
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