I'd go as far as say an "lifting" athlete needs a pre-workout meal. I'd lean towards a small amount of protein and fruit. Post-workout we've discussed ad nauseaum.
The above suggestions are good.
Consider the sauna. Here is an old article about using a sauna from the Regeneration Lab website, which is defunct. This article was written by Carl Valle.
One of the time tested modalities for regeneration is the use of heat, specifically saunas and steam rooms. In Gladiator Regeneration I stressed the importanceof how history has discovered simple modalities that athletes can use without high costs. I wish to explore the use of heat in precise detail in order to effectively exploit the benefits of thermotherapy. Therapeutic heat is simple, effective, and most importantly very affordable if one has access to a health club.
Many athletes can benefit from this modality provided they understand some of the details of muscle metabolism, tendon anatomy, and inflammation. I have used therapeutic heat for years to both accelerate the recovery time of injury and maximize regeneration of training with great results. In order to fully utilize therapeutic heat, athletes and coaches need to follow the guidelines of the timing, treatment duration, and specific details of this modality. Therapeutic heat can not be tossed in after some specific training sessions such as heavy speedwork or during various injury periods. In this article we will go over all likely scenarios to ensure athletes know the exact protocol on therapeutic heat.
Perhaps the most basic protocol is heat thermotherapy. Sit down and drink mineral water and after 15 or so minutes and you are done. No special equipment, trained staff, or complicated procedure. Investing into adding heat and cold therapies to programs can reap serious gains to strength and power athletes in addition to the endurance crowd.
The Physiological Response to Heat
The primary goal of heat is to raise the core temperature of the body to increasemetabolism. Faster rates of metabolism speed up biochemical reactions and passively increase blood flow. Contracting muscle fibers can yield similar results but many times athletes lack the energy to do more work and at times are in states of severe muscle trauma. Doing even light exercise too early after intense training can retard regeneration from the fibers contracting too hard from locomotive actions involving one's bodyweight.
Heat, be it from passive thermotherapy or light tempo work can create havoc in the repair process if the negative responses of inflammation are accelerated to the point of slowing down the recovery process.
Heat Room Modalities
The main difference between saunas and steam rooms is of couse the relative humidity of the air. Saunas are dry heat and radiate heat while steam rooms use wet heat from pipes. While the responses to the modality are very similar, the effect can feel much different to athletes depending on their preference. Some athletes use dry heat from saunas religiously while others enjoy the humid environment.
Whirlpools, hot baths and other applications using water in liquid form with heat or cold are hydro-therapies, and receive their effects from the properties of water and it's ability to act as a carrier agent of therapeutic salts and minerals.
Application and Timing of the Protocols
The variables of heat room application are very direct and must be carefully reviewed before one starts using thermotherapy in the form of heat. The first and most important variable is when to apply heat to enhance recovery. Unlike cold, timing heat can decrease or delay the recovery time if done too early in the recovery process. Below are the primary factors athletes must be aware of before jumping into heat rooms.
Prior Stress Type - High intensity training that involves eccentric stress should not do any heat work because the inflammation process is very hard to anticipate how far it will go and it's effects are delayed. Aerobic and anaerobic work of moderate speeds pose little risk. Speed work and alactic work should not include heat post workout (same day) unless the athlete is in a restoration block of sub-maximal velocities. Experiments during the general and special preparation phase can serve as a diagnostic to how an athlete may respond.
Some athletes are very elastic and are able to do speed work without much soreness while others break down often. Trial and error during conservative training periods is suggested. Most athletes should not do heat after high intensity days and a 24-72 hour gap may be needed. Heat rooms can be used between high intensity days and be placed during recovery workouts to enhance the regeneration of muscle fiber and nervous system.
Composition of Soreness- They type of soreness will be a usefull indicator of when or if heat therapy can be used. If no swelling is present and the joints feel sore, such as the lower extremities, then heat may help break the pain/spasm cycle and help with management of connective tissue. Avascular tissue needs heat to maximize any local bloodflow and should be used if there is no DOMS. If DOMS is present then one should wait untill 2/3rds of the of soreness is gone before heat application. Reducing pain and increasing range of motion are two vital parts of the regeneration process. Attacking muscle extension and pain signals with thermotherapy works and can help reduce the use of unecessary medications.
Future Training Stress and Competition- Many times thermotherapy in the form of heat leaves athletes tired and flat. The tone of muscle can relax too far for speed requirements if the application is too soon before competition or the next training bout. Add in the variable of application length and the modality can cause the athlete to loose the alertness and sharpness required for speed and power sports. I suggest limiting the application length and place heat far from competition for athletes involved with speed requirements. Again, experimentation is suggested to fine tune administration. Also research has shown that heat may help elevate melatonin by rapid cooling of the core temperature to enhance sleep, so evening applications are recommended as
well. Cold showers can be used if the gap between multiple sessions is four hours or greater.
(Shaf's note: My last powerlifting meet was disasterous because of an inappropriate use of heat modalities. I peaked well, but my performance was completely messed up by an excessive use of the whirlpool in the hotel I was staying at the morning of the meet.)
Regeneration Lab Protocol: Below is the general outline of heat room
thermotherapy in the form of saunas and hot rooms:
Application Time: 20-40 minutes based on training structure; evening
Contraindications: Inflammation and competitions/speed training.
In closing, heat rooms are often part of many health clubs and training facilities. One treatment or more a week is a frugal way to enhance training with minimal time investment. I suggest all athletes give heat room recovery methods a try and see what works.