We always hear Coach Glassman talk about prioritizing intensity over volume. After all, the more intense your workout, the higher stimulus your body will receive, and the greater physiological adaptation you'll see.
One of the best ways to increase your intensity is to improve your recovery from training. If you haven't recovered from your previous WOD (workout of the day), you won't be able to reach full intensity in your next one. Look at the Games: a major goal of the competitors is how recovered and “fresh” they can be going into the final day of competition. Often, it's this factor that sets the “Fittest on Earth” apart from the crowd.
Now, most of us will never compete in a 4-day-long competition. Some of us won’t ever compete at all. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn’t focus on recovery. Proper recovery will leave you feeling less sore and help prevent injury and overtraining. It's about more than just what you do post-WOD; healthy muscle repair depends on the foundation we lay before a workout! So with this in mind, let's go over some of my favorite methods to properly prepare the body for a training session and my go-to recovery techniques that keep it ready for the next one.
1) Get the blood flowing
Nowadays, many of us have jobs that keep us sitting down or relatively sedentary for most of the day. So, if you're working out straight from the cubical (or your bed), your muscles need to get warm, pliable, and filled with oxygenated-blood.
Jump on the bike or the rower and move at a comfortable, slow pace for 5-10 minutes
If you were judging this pace by heart rate, this would be zone 1. This allows you to get blood flowing through your whole body and warms up the muscles in preparation for your training session.
2) General focused, dynamic movement
I recommend dynamic stretches, i.e. stretching your body with movement. These include:
- Hip and shoulder swings/rotations
- Giant lunge steps with a lateral body twist at the bottom (from the hips up, not below)
- Inch worms (keep your feet still, crawl your hands out to push-up position, then inch your feet toward your hands and repeat)
- Bear crawls (maintain a flat back and solid core while crawling forward on your hands and feet - keeping your shins parallel to the ground helps keep a flat back)
By using dynamic movements, you're stretching your muscles and preparing your body (and nervous system) for a workout. Static stretching can be effective if you hold stretches for at least 1-2 minutes each. But by being still when you stretch, you activate minimal muscle groups, as well as your parasympathetic nervous system, which traditionally tells your muscles to calm down and prepare for rest – the exact opposite of what you want before an intense WOD. But don't worry, we'll revisit those static stretches soon enough.
3) Muscle activation and mobility
Muscle activation helps to narrow your focus and activate crucial muscle groups, depending on the WOD. It can have a tremendous effect on how you feel during training, but it's often overlooked. It can also be key to preventing injuries that arise from muscular imbalances by addressing poor movement patterns before adding heavy weight or a complex skill on top (i.e. the recipe for disaster, a.k.a. injury).
As an athlete and a coach, I like to focus on the two areas that revolve around most movements we perform: hips and shoulders.
Shoulders: check out this Crossover Symmetry Activation protocol
This protocol activates the muscles in back of the shoulders and upper back – the ones that should support weight overhead and prevent unwanted internal shoulder rotation. Using some light 2.5 or 5 pound plates and performing “scap-raises” while lying face down works great too.
Hips: circular elastic band
I like to use the Hip Circle to perform lateral, forward and reverse banded walks to make sure my glutes and hamstrings are activated prior to going below parallel.
4) Workout-specific movements
Great, now you're warmed up properly and your muscles are activated. Time to start warming up the specific movements you will be performing in your training session.
Lifting session: snatches and/or clean and jerks, beginning with a PVC pipe/empty barbell
You can add weight as you warm up. If my metcon (metabolic conditioning) has a barbell movement, I would most likely perform these small circuits while increasing the weight to my working number for the day.
If you're starting with the conditioning piece of the workout, do smaller warm-up circuits of the exact workout.
- Example WOD: 5 rounds of 500 m row, 25 pull ups and 25 wall balls
- Example movement warm-up: 100 m row, 5 pull ups and 10 wall balls, 2-3x (starting slow and eventually reaching WOD pace).
Bringing your heart rate up to WOD level before the clock says “go” can help prepare your body to move with intensity. Otherwise, if you go from 0 to 60 too quickly, it could cause a shock to the system, which can really affect your workout – even in the early minutes.
1) Warm down
This is by far the most neglected recovery method. After a workout, it's tempting to just collapse on the floor, peel yourself back up a few (or ten) minutes later, put your equipment away, hit the shower, and call it a day. By performing a proper cool (warm) down, you'll gradually bring your heart rate back to normal and maintain blood flow. This helps to clear lactic acid and cellular waste products that just built up in your muscles.
Hop on the bike or rower at an easy pace until your heart rate returns back to zone 1.
Speaking from experience, this will also bring noticeable decreases in muscle soreness and tightness in the hours – or even days – after your training session.
2) Workout-specific mobility
Grab a foam roller or work on mobility in specific areas of the body that took a hard hit in your workout.
Like you did during your warm-up muscle activation, focus on the hips (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and lower back) and the shoulders (lats, traps and pecs).
3) Static stretching
As promised, static stretching really belongs after a workout, not before. It goes hand-in-hand with mobility and foam rolling: stretch the same areas.
Spend one or two minutes on each muscle group that may need some attention.
I like to focus on deep and slow breathing here: it allows your body to open up better, and relaxes you after your intense training session, kicking in the parasympathetic nervous system. Programs like ROMWOD or other yin-based yoga methods are great for mind-body recovery after strenuous workouts (and are also really great tools for rest days).
All that, really?
Really. I know, after reading this, you probably think I’m crazy for expecting you to add all this extra time before and after your scheduled class. And you're right, it's a lot to add! Hopefully though, your coaches instruct you through a similar warm-up before you begin your daily programming. It doesn't have to look exactly how I outlined it, so go ahead, play around and develop your own warm-up routine over time.
As for cooling down after a WOD – no excuses! Unless you’re rushing out of class for a very important reason, peel yourself off the floor a bit earlier and bring the small talk with your training partners over to your cool down. Chances are, when your buddies see you properly cooling down after your WOD, they'll join you. Everyone wants the same competitive edge!
By using even a few of these techniques to better prepare your body and help it recover properly, you'll definitely see – and feel – a difference.
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