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Understand the impact of recovery method on performance

This is an excerpt from Recovery for Performance in Sport by Institut National du Sport, de l'Expertise et de la Performance INSEP,Christophe Hausswirth & Iï¿œigo Mujika.

Active Recovery and Repeated Performances

In many sporting activities, because of how competitions are designed, athletes are forced to reproduce performances within a short time frame. In judo and swimming, for example, competitors must often reproduce several maximum performances over the course of a single day, with recovery times that are sometimes less than 30 min. In other disciplines, the organization of tournaments or qualification legs takes place over a longer period, which may extend to several weeks, with competition days and recovery phases interspersed throughout. For example, the winner of a tennis Grand Slam must win 7 matches, which may be played as the best of 5 sets over 2 weeks, while during the football (soccer) World Cup, the best teams play approximately 2 matches per week over a month. Logically, recovery plays an essential role in these sports, all the more so since the most difficult events are generally played toward the end of these competitions. Although active recovery is often used by players after matches and the following day, the results in the scientific literature have not validated its advantages.

Return to Reference Performance Level

Many studies have compared the influence of the recovery method (active or passive) on mean capacity to repeat a maximal performance. The results have generally shown a positive effect of active recovery on performance-level maintenance, but a large number of the protocols used were not in line with the conditions of real sporting practice as part of competitions. Table 4.1 presents the results of recent studies that were correlated better with the real-life context of high-level performance.

As indicated in table 4.1, active recovery generally seems to have a positive effect on maintaining a performance level within a relatively short time frame (10-20 min) (Franchini et al. 2009; Franchini et al. 2003; Greenwood et al. 2008; Heyman et al. 2009; Thiriet et al. 1993), but it does not appear to provide any significant benefit when events are separated by several hours or days (King and Duffield 2009; Lane and Wenger 2004; Tessitore et al. 2007).

Interestingly, Heyman and colleagues (2009) showed that active recovery involving large muscle mass favors the maintenance of performance levels, including for tasks not involving the same muscle groups (e.g., pedaling with lower limbs for climbers, who are mainly faced with problems due to repeated isometric contractions, which lead to temporary ischemia in the forearm muscles). Green and colleagues (2002) showed that pedaling with the lower limbs also induces an increase in local blood flow to the upper limbs. This is particularly interesting for athletic activities involving prolonged holds, such as climbing, judo (through kumi-kata), and windsurfing.

Thus, the results reported in table 4.1 reveal a positive effect of active recovery on exercises involving a significant anaerobic contribution (Franchini et al. 2009; Franchini et al. 2003; Greenwood et al. 2008; Heyman et al. 2009; Thiriet et al. 1993), during which fatigue is associated with metabolite accumulation in the muscles and blood (Knicker et al. 2011). Active recovery used for a short time (10-20 min) between two exercises of this type accelerates the return to homeostasis.

Learn more about Recovery for Performance in Sport.