Courage Performance East Head Coach, Andrew Whitener recently took a week to try out a handful of focused recovery practices. Check out his in-depth write up on his experience.
The Set Up
First, the (quick) background – I’ve had two nagging injuries/problem areas since I graduated from college and stopped playing baseball:
1) subluxations (partial dislocations) of my right shoulder
2) athletic pubalgia (sports hernia) in my left groin
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy learning how to manage these issues, but that’s a subject for another time. Also, maybe I just suck at managing them, because…
These hydras both reared their ugly heads in the past two weeks, not so badly that I thought I needed to see an orthopedist, but badly enough that I had to reevaluate how I was approaching them. I realized that three factors were telling me to take some time off: my nagging injuries were nagging, I hadn’t taken a couple of days off of working out in a very long time, and there were a number of recovery techniques/therapies that I’d been wanting to try.
Thus, last week emerged from the Batcave as Recovery Week!
I planned the week in two columns on a very formal and professional pink post-it note. In one column, I wrote a list of therapies that I wanted to incorporate, and in the other I wrote the days of the week. I then looked at my work schedule and inserted the therapies that I thought I could do each day.
I decided to start Recovery Week on Tuesday because I’m a badass nonconformist. I also came up with this idea on Monday night, but that’s neither here nor there. From Tuesday through Friday, I didn’t do anything fitness-related outside of what was on my post-it calendar.
I’m looking forward to describing my experiences with some of these therapies, but before I do, I want to highlight the real reason I’m writing this. As much as I like making jokes when I write, last week I really felt helpless and low. I think about these injuries and their potential to worsenevery single day. Worrying about keeping my body healthy and fit is my single most consistent source of stress. To be sure, other things matter more to me in the world, but this is in my head to some extent all of the time, and I bet I’m not alone. Last week, I simply practiced what I preach – be proactive, look for ways to improve, and don’t let your fears overcome your ability to act.
Once I decided to devote this week to recovery, I felt better already! I was taking control of how I was feeling, instead of simply reacting to it, and that alone probably aided my recovery.
Recovery Walks and Whole-Body Cryotherapy
On Tuesday, I did two things: a recovery walk and Whole-Body Cryotherapy (WBC) at District Cryo(http://www.districtcryo.com/) in Mount Vernon.
I started doing recovery walks a few years ago after pulling a hamstring. By recovery walk, I mean simply taking a walk that lasts anywhere from 15-60 minutes, preferably outside (though I have done them on a treadmill due to inclement weather). I started doing them because they offered me the opportunity to elevate my heart rate and increase blood flow to my whole body without taxing any of my muscles. Since then, this principle (achieve blood flow without placing specific demand on the injured area) has always been the most effective recovery method for me – I feel better when I move.
The cryotherapy was brand new to me. I had seen it on the social media pages of countless athletes and professional sports teams, but never seen it with my own eyes or spoke to someone who used it. I happened to walk by District Cryo a few weeks ago, so newly-adventurous-Andrew poked his head in and asked some questions. Since it was close by my house, a session only takes three minutes, and it sounded cool, I was in! If you want more info, they have a ton of information about the therapies they offer and the science behind them on their website, so I will try to summarize it as quickly as I can here.
In short, they blast you with very cold air to cool your body temperature very fast. You stand in the “cryosauna” (an upright chamber with an opening for your head) wearing underwear, gloves, and thick socks. They start shooting the cold air in and you just stand there and take it. It gets pretty cold, but it’s definitely tolerable, and it’s over quickly, so if you’re intimidated by the therapy itself (I was), don’t be, you’ll be fine. The extreme cold constricts your blood vessels, stops inflammation, and cuts off pain receptors, which ironically are all reasons that I’ve never believed in icing or other cold therapies. What was interesting to me is what they claim happens AFTER you get out of the cryosauna. Your body is trying really hard to reheat itself, so your blood vessels dilate and your heart pumps blood out to the muscles as fast as it can, “allowing a significant increase in flow of that filtered blood to the skin and extremities, enriching cells with healthy oxygen, nutrients and enzymes at a greater capacity than normal.”http://www.districtcryo.com/science
They tell you that you need to do it a number of times to really feel the effects, so I did the same routine (recovery walk plus cryosauna later) on Thursday. To be honest, I didn’t feel like it helped me a ton, but I know that many people out there use and love it. I also probably went in with some preconceived notions about cold therapies, but I really did try to keep an open mind and just evaluate it based on how I felt. Part of it also may be that it costs $65 for a three-minute session, which seems expensive to me. I will say that they offer more treatments in addition to the WBC and they want to expand further, so it’s very possible I’ll be back for something else.
On Wednesday I did some yoga on my own. I’d have loved to go to a class, but it was my busiest workday and I just didn’t have the time. I wrote a list of poses that I knew and liked and did them in the peace and tranquility of the office at the gym. Sure, some of the athletes were blaring aggressively loud mumble rap downstairs as they took some swings after their lift, but lemons, lemonade, yada, yada, yada.
I’ve always enjoyed doing yoga, but I would certainly classify myself as a beginner. I’ve dropped in to a couple of yoga studios in the past, followed along with some YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene), and looked up new poses to try on my own. As I mentioned before, moving has always made me feel better than resting, so I focused on moving between poses and increasing blood flow at the beginning, utilizing more muscularly demanding poses, then settled into some mobility focused poses at the end. I focused on my breathing throughout and tried to incorporate some longer timed breaths, counting to ten during the inhalation and exhalation. I’ve always found that this combo (poses plus breathing focus) works great for relaxing my mind and body, and I always feel good when I’m done. I’ve also found that when I finish with savasana (corpse pose), it leads to an unrivaled feeling of relaxation.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks, Electric Muscle Stimulation, and Takeaways
Sensory Deprivation Tank
On Friday, I ventured the furthest out of my comfort zone and hit up Hope Floats in Bethesda, MD (https://www.hopefloatsusa.com/) for a sixty-minute flotation therapy session in a sensory deprivation tank (SDT). More than anything, this type of therapy is a practice in relaxation. The idea is that you effortlessly float on top of 10 inches of water inside a tank, and you do so while shutting off some of the sensory inputs that come at you normally in life. You float on top of the water because it has a lot of dissolved salt in it (think Dead Sea), and the tank itself does the job of cutting off some of your senses – once you close the door it’s absolutely pitch black and very quiet – more on this later.
Hope Floats did a great job of putting me at ease. The décor is very inviting and the whole environment makes you feel as if you’re entering someone’s home. The staff was welcoming, and CJ (my guide of sorts) showed me around the whole place after I checked in before showing me to my room. In addition to the float tanks, they also have an infrared sauna, which is going to be on the list for my next recovery week. Once you’ve seen it all, they show you to your room for your float and give you some guidance as to the best way to approach it. You can ask questions, and then once you close the door to your room, you’ve got the place to yourself.
You start by taking a short shower (there’s a nice showerstall with everything you need in the corner of the room) just to rinse off your body, and then you’re ready to get in the tank. The tank itself looks like a one-person submarine, with a hatch that sits open so you can see where you’ll be floating when you walk into the room. Inside is about ten inches of water, so it doesn’t feel like you’re taking a plunge into a deep pool. I put in some earplugs (which they provided), got into the tank completely naked, and sat down in the water. When you’re sitting, you don’t float, you just sit on the bottom, so I sat there for a second before closing the hatch. Once it was closed, there’s absolutely no light, so even with your eyes wide open it’s pitch black. I tried to lie back into the posture they told me to use (lying flat on your back, arms at your sides or over your head), with your ears under the water, but eyes above it. If the salt water gets into your eyes it can be irritating, but they’ve thought of everything and leave a water bottle with a spray top and a small towel right outside the hatch if you need it.
As soon as I lay back and started floating, I felt a little claustrophobic, which I never have before in my life. I wasuncomfortable and started worrying that this feeling wouldn’t pass and I wouldn’t be able to finish the experience. I sat up, opened the hatch to let some light in, and just sat there. After a minute or two, I closed the hatch, but remained sitting up, and just started to move around in the tub. I held myself up by my hands in an L-sit hold of sorts, did some stretching, and just moved around in an effort to get comfortable in this strange environment. Later, when I had finished my hour and was talking with CJ about this reaction, I was told that it isn’t abnormal for first timers as the deprivation of certain senses heightens others, which can cause some feelings of discomfort. Luckily, once I had moved around for a little while, I started to feel more relaxed.
When CJ was telling me how to approach my first float, he told me that they would play whale sounds and relaxation music at the beginning of my float, then the music would stop during the sensory deprivation period, and at the end they would play chimes to let me know it’s time to come out. As I was sitting there trying to get comfortable, I realized I couldn’t hear any music and thought that was odd. As soon as I lay my head down and my ears went under the water, however, I could hear it clearly! This is the one and only thing that sensory deprivation tanks have in common with rappers’ pools on MTV Cribs – definitely a cool addition. From there I just let my mind wander. I spent time focusing on my breathing, moving my body into different positions to see what they would feel like, thinking about serious aspects of my life, thinking about the Nationals’ trade prospects, thinking about nothing at all, etc. The beauty of it is that it’s your own experience and you can make whatever you want of it. Once the whale sounds turned off and it was quiet, there was no way to tell how fast time was passing, but by the time the chimes kicked it and my float was done, I was ready to get out. I opened the hatch, looked around for the recovery crew from the aircraft carrier, thankfully saw no one, and got out. CJ told me to take a full shower after the float, for which they provided soap, shampoo, conditioner, and towels, and once I got out of the shower I felt incredible. I was completely relaxed, my body felt good (including my problem areas), and I was simply at peace. I spent a couple of minutes talking to CJ on my way out, and I can’t recommend this place enough! What an awesome way to spend an hour.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
The final therapy I tried last week was electric muscle stimulation. This is a common method that has been used by physical therapists, athletic trainers, and everyone in between for a long time. Given my curiosity about using it on myself, plus the potential to use it with clients, I thought it would be a worthwhile purchase to get one. I did some research and decided to buy a Compex Sport Elite muscle stimulator (https://www.compexusa.com/muscle-stimulators), which I’ve used a couple of times since.
The stimulator itself is only a little bigger than your hand. You connect up to four leads (wires) to the stimulator, and attach the leads to self-sticking electrodes. You stick the electrodes to the muscles that you want to apply the electric stimulation to, pick a program on the stimulator (e.g. Strength, Active Recovery, Massage, etc.), and let it run! Compex has a lot of information on their website (https://www.compexusa.com/muscle-stimulation), but the general idea is that the stimulation sends electric pulses to your nerve fibers, which causes involuntary muscle contractions. The theory is that these muscle contractions are different from the regular ones you generate to move your body every day, and thus they engage more muscle fibers of every type than you’re able to otherwise.
So far I’ve only used stim for the purpose of recovery, and I haven’t yet explored the programs that revolve around improving performance yet. That said, it certainly feels good when it’s on, and I think it has sped up my recovery significantly.
First, I want to reiterate that these thoughts represent nothing more than my own subjective opinions. If I was designing my recovery week as a scientific experiment, it would be a poor one, because I’ve thrown together multiple therapies at once which makes it very difficult to discern which one is responsible for which outcome.
I’ve learned/reinforced two things throughout this process:
1) Find what works for you and do it.
2) To figure out what works for you, try new stuff!
I’m certainly guilty of being stuck in a rut at times. I don’t like change, I gravitate toward the things that make me comfortable, and this tendency can prevent me from discovering awesome new things. The best thing about this week for me was that I front-kicked my comfort zone into a bottomless pit, which was both liberating and very educational. I honed my beliefs on what helps me to recover the best and I discovered some new things that I’ll implement on a regular basis.
So far, my recovery is going well. I’m back in the gym getting after it and my body feels good, but I’m also working on my list for my next recovery week! So far I’ve got: infrared sauna, hot tub, massage, dry needling, and cupping. Some of these freak me out, but a guy’s gottarecover! If anyone is interested in anything I tried and wants to discuss it further, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Good luck, and happy healing!
Andrew Whitener, Head Coach at Courage Performance East
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