Recovery and Performance, Overcoming Doubt

Reading Time: 7 mins

I gravitate toward meta-analyses and systematic reviews. Those researchers are covering far more ground on a topic than I would be able to. Also, the quality of the evidence seems to be relatively high. Position stands and consensus statements are also very valuable, though they can discretely push agendas when the pool of researchers has a common interest. The International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance published a consensus statement on Recovery and Performance in Sport found here.

Let’s establish more clarity with a few terms..

Recovery: multifaceted (eg, physiological, psychological) restorative process relative to time.

Regeneration: the physiological aspect of recovery, ideally follows physical fatigue induced by training or competition.

Recovery / Regeneration Methods:

Passive methods: may include external methods (massage, etc.) or a state of rest characterized by inactivity.

Active methods: physical activities aimed at compensating the metabolic responses of physical fatigue (cooldown, ect..).

Proactive methods: implies a high level of self-determination by choosing activities customized to individual needs and preferences.

Functional Overreaching: short-term decrements in performance without signs of maladaptation as a consequence of intensive training.

Nonfunctional Overreaching: training-specific negative psychological and hormonal alterations and subsequent decreased performance.

Over-training Syndrome: is marked by physical symptoms such as continuous muscle soreness, pain sensations, or clinical and/or endocrinological disturbances.

Performance: determined by the development of specific skills and abilities to adapt to unexpected environmental influences and the continuous and reliable delivery of these skills and abilities in competitive situations.

Assessment of Recovery

Ideally, we would like the assessments of recovery to be specific to the demands of sport. “However, imposing a maximal sport-specific task to test the readiness to perform may be deemed counterproductive.” Instead, we use a battery of tests such as peak power in a CMJ. One or two jumps will not tax an athlete like a competition would, but it would show the inability to reach previously defined power outputs or heights. Such an event would lead a coach to believe an athlete may be under-recovered on that particular day.

“A common method involves monitoring the autonomic nervous system via measures of heart rate and/or heart-rate variability at rest or after exercise.” With this technique, coaches should have variable projected metrics to compare against which would consider the phase of training and time during season. Overreaching can be beneficial if planned in the mid-offseason, but within the first month of the season this would be a red flag.

Other blood markers have shown validity such as creatine kinase in team sport and blood urea in endurance sports. Both of these measures are valid tools to monitor recovery/regeneration, but there are known to be large interindividual fluctuations pre- and post-training.

Subjective psychological tools have shown value such as “…rating of perceived exertion (RPE16), the Profile of Mood States, and the Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes.” The RSQ is nice since it addresses both sport-specific and non-sport specific stressors in an athlete’s life. Newer methods such as the Rating-of-Fatigue Scale, the Acute Recovery and Stress Scale (ARSS), and the Short Recovery and Stress Scale (SRSS) may show promise but more data needs to be collected.

The problem with recovery measures will continue to be the “…multifaceted nature of the recovery-fatigue continuum. Any single physiological or psychological parameter will only highlight an isolated aspect of recovery and fatigue.” Because of this, we choose to rely upon certain parameters which seem to be most applicable to an athlete’s individual characteristics as well as their sport/position.

Training-Recovery-Performance Models

We can begin by viewing the training that may be inducing stress relative to the existing factors that improve or limit regeneration. “While recovery may refer to short-term, midterm, or long-term restoration, a clear categorization based on specific time frames cannot be provided due to the high intraindividual and interindividual variability of the recovery process.”…“Muscle damage, metabolic responses, inflammation, and associated fatigue resulting from intensified training are considered important drivers of adaptation, although chronic use of short-term recovery activities may blunt these effects.” At this point, there seems to be a paradox in recovery. When we apply the short-term recovery measures, such as cold-water immersion (CWI), we can dodge some acute fatigue by accelerating parasympathetic reactivation. Having said that, long-term applications may continue to blunt soreness and fatigue at the expense of optimizing certain neuromuscular adaptations.  “Potential short-term recovery benefits, but undetermined long-term adaptation and performance effects, also apply to other popular recovery interventions (eg, contrast water therapy, stretching, whole-body cryotherapy, compression garments, massage, intermittent pneumatic compression, electrostimulation, sauna, far-infrared therapy).”

“After activities that induce a high level of muscle damage, recovery should be adapted accordingly, resulting in interventions (eg, change of environment, exercise, sleep) to reduce pain, inflammation, and soreness. If amplification of training stress (ie, increased fatigue) is indicated, increased training load and fewer recovery activities might be prescribed during periods when performance capacity is less important (eg, preseason/preparatory training periods). Conversely, lower training loads and targeted recovery activities may be required before competitions to initiate dissipation of training fatigue to facilitate maximum performance.”

The fitness-fatigue model “…describes the relationship between training load, positive (fitness) adaptations, and negative (fatigue) adaptations. According to this model, performance can be estimated from the difference between the fitness and fatigue reactions to training. An athlete’s fitness is thereby operationalized by the positive influence of long-term training, while the negative response is explained by the acute fatigue responses to recent training stimuli. “Once again, accounting for inter- and intraindividual responses may be difficult.

Monitoring Approaches for Training and Recovery

The objective of any monitoring approach should remain two-fold:

  • enhance performance
  • minimize the risk of developing NFO, OTS, illness, and/or injury

The first step may be simply monitoring the external training load. “The external training load defines an objective measure of the work that an athlete completes during training or competition.” Examples include volume-load, or (more specifically) metrics derived from power-output technology and/or time-motion analysis.

“The internal load describes the biological stress imposed by the training session and is characterized by the disturbance in homeostasis of the physiological and metabolic processes during the training session. Internal-load measures encompass the perception of effort, oxygen uptake, heart-rate-derived assessments, blood lactate, training impulse, neuromuscular function, biochemical/hormonal/immunological assessments, questionnaires and diaries, psychomotor speed, and sleep quality and quantity.”

Monitoring tools should be selected first based on “…validity, reliability, accessibility, and acceptance by their athletes, criteria to determine changes in load, performance, or recovery need to be established to build a reliable decision-making process.” There are a variety of tools widely used based on logistics, budget, and other factors that may vary for each institution.

Statistical analyses are centered around matching changes, whether positive or negative, with the current phase of an athlete or team. “Change can be defined as a valid confirmation of an improvement or a deterioration of a measure over a given time span due to interventions. Reliability outlines a key feature in tracking change and reflects the degree to which repeated measures vary for individuals and can be assimilated as measurement error. Several statistical approaches can account for measurement error in the follow-up of athletes, including the smallest worthwhile change or the Z score. Alternatively, if repeated measurements of the respective athlete are available, group-based reference ranges may be developed with Bayesian methods.”

Consequences for Coaches and Athletes

“The establishment of an effective monitoring routine ideally results in meaningful individualized interventions that consider the potpourri of psychophysiological demands placed on athletes in different training and nontraining situations, as well as in competition settings. Factors such as the type of sport and training, the training phase of the year, and the level of participation exemplify situations athletes are confronted with.” Based on these factors, recovery should be programmed as an integral component of training via the implementation of various recovery microcycles and recovery strategies.  Consistent sleep strategies and self-regulation skills can be learned and practiced facilitating efficient regeneration daily. “The ideal recovery routine would consist of a positive perception of recovery while also addressing the appropriate physiological and psychological mechanisms necessary to effectively recover from training.”

“The improvement of performance is not achieved through a high quantity of recovery activities but, rather, through a high-quality, well-matched, and individualized approach to recovery. A cycle to improve recovery might encompass debriefing, smiling (or laughing), restoring, and restarting.”


Planning applied recovery is difficult but can be also be simple in nature. Sufficient backgrounds in physiology, psychology, and sport science are necessary to view the process most broadly.

“Recovery should be prescribed by taking the current period of the season and the nature of the applied training stimulus (eg, muscle damaging vs cognitively fatiguing vs metabolically demanding) into account.”

The most challenging aspect is superlative individualization. This may be better understood by collecting individual data for an extended period both in and out of season. After analyzing data, future tools and evidence-based recovery methods can be manipulated and employed for future programming.

On a less scientific note, puts out so many great articles on personal growth and leadership. This was a five minute read you should make time for: Doubt- What It Is and How to Overcome It.

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to Merriam-Webster:

  • Fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”
  • Doubt is, “to call into question the truth of: to be uncertain.” It is also to demonstrate a lack of confidence.

Fear is emotionally based, whereas doubt is more a questioning of truth. Questioning may be critical and necessary but can also lead to various pitfalls. The Harvard Business Journal said:

“All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls.”

Christina Congleton points out, it’s a matter of emotional agility:

“The first step in developing emotional agility is to notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings. That’s hard to do, but there are certain telltale signs. One is that your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive… Another is that the story your mind is telling seems old, like a rerun of some experience.”

Five ways to confront doubt:

  1. Practice self-awareness on a weekly basis.
  2. Be willing to change course. Especially in the event that what your doing doesn’t align with what it is matters most to you.
  3. Napoleon said it best: “Indecision crystallizes into doubt, the two blend and become fear!”
  4. Build upon your previous wins, generate momentum by having faith in yourself.
  5. Learn from your experiences, and help others avoid your mistakes.

“Know the signs and be willing to fight back by sticking to your values, morals and past records of achievement that drive you toward happiness.”


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