Recover like a Pro

Recovery is just as important, if not more important, than training. In fact, it can be said that recovery is the fourth leg in triathlon – swim, bike, run … recover! Optimising recovery and looking after your body allows success and longevity in the sport. On the other hand, neglecting recovery often results in excessive fatigue, illness and injury. In the worst-case scenario, neglecting recovery will land you on the sidelines. These days your recovery options are more than simply your foam roller, a massage, an ice bath or a protein shake. The recovery industry is growing rapidly, and with new research comes new-and-improved recovery tools and gadgets. The best bit is they are accessible to all athletes. Now everyone can recover like a Pro. In this article we explore the latest recovery tools on the market.

1. Norma Tec PULSE recovery systems 

What is it and how does it work?

No time for a regular massage in-between all the swimming, biking and running? Recovery systems like NormaTec PULSE could be your answer.

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NormaTec PULSE recovery systems are dynamic compression devices designed for recovery and rehab. The systems use NormaTec’s patented PULSE technology and come with a control unit and three attachments – for legs (e.g. NormaTec boots), hips and arms.

The systems use compressed air to massage your limbs, mobilise fluid and speed up recovery using the patented NormaTec PULSE Massage Pattern.

When you use the NormaTec PULSE recovery systems, you experience a pre-inflate cycle, which is when the connected attachments mould to your exact body shape. The session begins by compressing your feet, hands, or upper quad (depending on which attachment you are using). Similar to a massage, each segment of the attachment will first compress in a pulsing manner – to more effectively mimic leg and arm muscle pumps, greatly enhancing the movement of fluid and metabolites out the of the limbs after intense training – and then release. This will repeat for each section as the compression pattern works its way up your limb.

Why would you do it?

The benefits of NormaTec compression are said to be:

  • Faster recovery time
  • Reduced muscle soreness
  • Provides a massage
  • Mimics the natural muscle pump, so it helps to drain fluid and assists with lymphatic drainage

When would you do it?

Aim for 30-minute to 60-minute sessions after training and competition.

KOA Recovery founder and director Shaun Button says, “The NormaTec is entirely dependent on the intensity of training and competition. NormaTec is designed to give the athlete fresh legs as fast as possible to allow them to back up a good training session or competition if their legs are fatigued. Therefore, we recommend 30 to 60 minutes use after a competition and in between training sessions, to allow the athlete to back up [training] in the following days, without having the limitations of sore legs.”

Where can you try it/Can you buy it? 

To purchase your own set of NormaTec PULSE, visit www.normatecrecovery.com. Prices for NormaTec PULSE range from US$1595 for the PULSE leg recovery system, to US$2749 for the PULSE full body recovery system.

N.B.: As of 1 April 2017, NormaTec will be lowering the price of their leg recovery system from US$1595 down to US$1495. 

While NormaTec PULSE (particularly the boots) is probably the better-known recovery systems brand among triathletes, there are, in fact, several brands on the market. For example Recovery Pump, which, similar to NormaTec, offers attachments for arms, legs and core, and a recovery pants and jacket. Prices of the Recovery Pump systems range from around $400-2000 depending on the attachment you’re after. For more information, visit www.clubwarehouse.com.au. Alternatively, if you’re in Sydney, visit the recovery lounge at KOA Recovery to try the NormaTec PULSE leg recovery system (the boots). Cost for a NormaTec session is $30 for 30minutes and $50 for 60minutes.

For more information, visit www.koarecovery.com.au. 

What do athletes say?  

“I first trialled the NormaTec boots when I raced Kona in 2015. A friend had a pair and told me she was using them after all her sessions with great results. I came close to buying a pair at the expo, but both my husband and I didn’t feel we could justify the cost. How wrong we were! I then strained my calf in the lead up to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2016 and another friend lent me his boots every day. It seemed to work, and saved a lot of time and money I could have spent seeing a physiotherapist. So we took the plunge and bought a pair in Kona last year. We couldn’t be happier. We get in them for at least 15 minutes every day, and up to an hour on weekends after long sessions. What we both noticed was that we didn’t feel like our legs had the same build up of tightness and fatigue during big training weeks, and when we do go for a massage our legs are in excellent condition. They aren’t cheap, but we both consider they were one of the best investments we’ve made for some time. The best thing about the newer model is that it is light and compact enough to fit in a backpack as carry-on luggage. As I write this I am sitting in them in New Zealand, getting my last massage in before my Ironman.”  Jo Coombe, long-course triathlete, Melbourne.

2. Float Therapy

What is it and how does it work? 

Float Therapy involves lying in a soundproof and lightproof pod that contains a highly concentrated Epsom salt solution (magnesium sulphate). It creates buoyancy, enabling you to float effortlessly. The water is heated to skin temperature, which creates a feeling of weightlessness – a sensation of your body dissolving into the water.

“Floating after a major event, like an Ironman, is also recommended as it helps with fluid, fatigue and soreness.”            — KOA Recovery

The purpose of the pod being sound and light proof is to give your brain the chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. This, in turn, enhances your ability to be mindful and introspective. It can help you to visualise your performance, sporting technique and upcoming competition. For example, you can visualise your transitions or how you’re going to swim, ride or run, while in the pod.

The Epsom salt contains essential minerals to leave you feeling deeply relaxed and vibrant. Tension vanishes and you are left feeling energised.

Why would you do it? 

Benefits of Float Therapy are said to be:

  • Improve athletic performance
  • Decreased cortisol and adrenaline levelsdream pod
  • Relieve muscle tension, pain and inflammation
  • Prevent injury
  • Eliminate fatigue
  • Speed up rehabilitation and recovery post training session or injury
  • Improve sleep and manage insomnia
  • Boost immune function
  • Assist with chronic pain management, including arthritis, fibromyalgia and gout
  • Reduce blood pressure, pulse and heart rate
  • Help regulate blood sugar levels

When would you do it? 

Floating up to twice a week or fortnightly is recommended to gain the most benefit. For triathletes, adding an hour of floating to your weekly routine during your recovery or taper weeks will help with physical and mental performance. Floating after a major event, like an Ironman, is also recommended as it helps with fluid, fatigue and soreness.

KOA Recovery founder and director Shaun Button, says, “You can’t float too much. Regular float sessions are suggested to maintain ongoing benefits. However, the actual frequency depends on the athletes programming. Ideally, we would recommend one to two sessions per week when in race season.”

Where can you try it?  

The cost for a 60minute float therapy session ranges from $70-$80.

What do athletes say? 

In researching this article, I tried Float Therapy firsthand.

I’ll admit I was a little sceptical. The idea of lying in a dark pod for an hour made me a little uncomfortable and even claustrophobic. But from the moment I walked through the doors at Gravity Floatation Centre in Armadale (Melbourne), it was one of the most comfortable and relaxing experiences I’ve had.

Before getting into the pod I was instructed to shower, including washing my hair, and to use earplugs. I was also told to avoid touching my eyes in the pod, as the “600kg worth of Epsom salt would sting” – there was a spray bottle with fresh water within reach in case of mishaps. To alleviate any claustrophobic feelings, I was shown where the emergency and light buttons were – all within reach – and just how easy it is to open the lid. Excellent – I can escape if need be! Then it was time to get in.

Float Therapy is like lying in salt water on crack! In the privacy and darkness of the pod, you float, completely nude. It was strange at first but I quickly relaxed and got used to the experience – I let my body completely “sink” into the water. It was almost like sinking into a beanbag – I felt completely weightless.

Soon I was drifting in and out of sleep and, in the darkness and silence, I was oblivious to what was going on in the outside world. Although, there were moments, about halfway through my hour, where my brain just would not switch off. But for the most part, this was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had – I didn’t feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic at all. Another great thing was my skin felt amazing, and my post-training sore, tight muscles felt much better. I would highly recommend Float Therapy to all athletes. I’ll be going back.

3. Alter G Treadmill

What is it and how does it work? 

Tired of pounding on the pavement? Try an Alter G Treadmill.

Developed by NASA, the Alter G Treadmill is a revolutionary medical rehab treadmill that provides accurate, safe and comfortable partial weight-bearing therapy, while promoting normal gait patterns. This state-of-the-art treadmill uses “unweighting” at anywhere between 20-100% of your body weight to allow you to walk or run. This technology allows your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to specifically select the amount of your body weight you will run or walk with. It can be used to provide both strength and conditioning without impacting joints.

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Who can benefit from using the Alter G Treadmill? 

  • Athletes
  • General population
  • Can assist with rehab post injury or surgery
  • Perfect for those with lower extremity injury e.g. ACL reconstruction, hip or foot and ankle injury
  • Non-injured athletes can also benefit – athletes have found ways to utilise the Alter-G before and after endurance events e.g. runners might consider it to log a few extra km’s without the impact on joints before a marathon. Runners have also been known to use it as active recovery (without joint impact) post event

Why would you use it? 

  • Build confidence and achieve quick and full recovery
  • Maintain and develop cardiovascular fitness during rehab
  • Prolong a career by giving athletes a way to build and maintain endurance and leg strength without the usual pounding and impact
  • Reduce the risk of developing bad habits and maintain normal gait pattern during rehab
  • Run longer and recover faster with less pain
  • Gradually progress and easily adjust the intensity of workouts
  • Work on technique in a safe environment

When would you do it? 

  • As needed
  • Sessions range from 15-60minute sessions

Where can you do it? 

The cost for a 60minute Alter G Treadmill session ranges from $50-$100.

4. Whole Body Cryotherapy

What is it and how does it work? 

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Cryo-what? Developed in Japan by Dr Toshima Yamaguchi in 1978, Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a cold treatment that stimulates the body to heal. WBC is a dry process to enable much colder temperatures than would otherwise be possible.

WBC involves exposing the entire body to sub-zero temperatures by either standing in a tank where you are sprayed with freezing air using an advanced spray nozzle system, or by standing in an industrial freezer-like room where you are coated with freezing air for up to three minutes. The chamber or room includes a purpose-built, integrated software and monitoring system to ensure your safety.

It is said to be more effective than traditional ice-baths. Traditional ice-baths cause the body to warm blood in its core, ready for transport to dilated blood vessels in the outer tissues. This forces the body to overexert itself. In WBC cold air is used instead of cold water. This causes the body to respond, triggering cold sensors in the skin’s surface instead of the deeply penetrating cold of an ice-bath. During WBC your body is ‘tricked’ into applying the healing mechanisms without the penetrating cold, resulting in more comfortable healing.

Why would you do it? 

  • The benefits of WBC for triathletes are said to be:
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased range of motion and flexibility
  • Muscle and joint repair
  • Faster soft tissue repair
  • Pain relief
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Improves quality of sleep
  • Said to increase metabolism and thereby assist with weight loss

When would you do it? 

Multiple consecutive sessions provide the greatest benefits for WBC as it has a cumulative effect.

Typically, seven to 10 sessions are suggested initially, then one to two sessions per week for overall health. For sports recovery, 10-15 sessions are recommended initially, and then after this, it’s recommended to have treatment following intense exercise or training – so basically using WBC in place of a post-training ice-bath.

Cryotherapy can be used before competitions, to optimise performance once people are familiar with the treatment.

Where can you do it? 

The cost for a Cryotherapy session ranges from $75-$80.

What do athletes say? 

I tried Cryotherapy at Gravity Floatation Centre in South Yarra (Melbourne).

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had experienced ice-baths after hard training sessions, so I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t realise just how cold it would be. I also thought three minutes would be a piece of cake to get through.

With my therapist watching on – she was there to monitor the session in case something went wrong – gloves, earmuffs, face mask, woollen socks and shoes on, I was ready to step into the first “industrial freezer”. This first room was set at a temperature slightly warmer than the next room and was intended to help me acclimatise to the cold. After about 30 seconds in the first room, I was instructed to move into the main room.

Wow! I have never been so cold in my life. I couldn’t catch my breath, and after a few moments, my skin started to sting and burn – like frostbite I imagine. It was intense. I had to concentrate to stay calm and not panic. At one point I looked over at my therapist and motioned for the time. I was just over a minute in and was ready to get out. I’m so glad the whole experience lasted only three minutes – any longer and I would have tapped out. After the session and once I warmed up, I did feel refreshed and energised, so it was awesome.

I was told that for athletes, Cryotherapy is used in place of ice-baths. I have to say, I handle ice-baths better – although, apparently after a few sessions, I would get used to Cryotherapy.

5. Compex Muscle Stimulators – Awaken Your Potential 

What is it and how does it work? 

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Muscle stimulators, such as Compex (a Swiss brand), use electrostimulation (EMS) – electrical impulses – that are generated by the system’s stimulators, to achieve muscle contraction. The electrical impulses are provided to the muscle through conductive electrodes placed on the body. The impulses are perfectly biphasic and symmetric, with the duration of each contraction depending on the muscle fibre type being stimulated – fast, slow, intermediate.

Compex muscle stimulators include Muscle Intelligence (MI), which means that the system adapts to each of your muscles to provide the most effective muscle stimulation possible – it allows the system to adapt to the physiology of the user – while offering greater comfort and better performance.

The main aim of muscle stimulators is to speed recovery, optimise strength and endurance while helping to avoid injury and treat pain. While the sporting applications include strength and power training, increasing endurance, muscle hypertrophy, faster recovery and more.

Compex muscle stimulator products include the sports and fitness ranges.

The Sports Range

The models available in the sports collection range from the older model, Compex SP 2.0, to the latest version, Compex SP 8.0.

The main difference between the older models and the latest offering, Compex SP 8.0 is that the newest version is wireless – it is said to be the top of the range from wireless EMS. It features four separate stimulation modules and includes the MI-Autorange feature that enables your Compex module to automatically determine the most appropriate level of stimulation.

Compex SP 8.0 comes with 40 pre-set training programs, four stimulation channels, a two-hour battery time and a three-year warranty.

Categories and programs include: 

  • Conditioning – endurance, resistance, strength, core stabilisation, hypertrophy, warm-up and more
  • Recovery/Massage – training and competition recovery, massage, reduces soreness, revives tired muscles
  • Pain management – pain management TENS, reduces muscle tension, prevents cramps and more
  • Rehabilitation – muscle atrophy, reinforcement
  • Fitness – firm and tone your stomach, arms, shoulders, thighs, buttocks and abs

The Fitness Range

  • The models available in the fitness collection range from the older model, Compex FIT 1.0, to the latest version, Compex FIT 5.0.
  • The fitness range is also designed for people who workouts daily and, just like in the sports range; the latest product in
    the fitness range includes Compex wireless technology.
  • Categories and programs included in Compex FIT 5.0 are:
    • Fitness – firm and tone your arms, thighs, biceps, shoulders, abs, buttocks, and more
    • Recovery/Massage – training recovery, relaxing or reviving massage, reduce muscle soreness
    • Pain management – pain management TENS, reduce muscle tension and pain, reduce neck and back pain, cramp prevention, and more
    • Rehabilitation – muscle atrophy, reinforcement

Why would you do it? 

  • Compex can be used to enhance recovery, athletic performance and assist with pain management without causing nervous fatigue and by protecting your joints with no side effects.

When would you do it? 

  • For triathletes – as needed after training and competition to assist with recovery.

Where can you do it/Can you buy it? 

  • To purchase your own Compex muscle stimulator, visit – www.au.compexstore.com 
  • Cost ranges from $349 to $1725 depending on the range and model you are after
  • Alternatively, if you’re in Sydney, you can book in for a 60minute Compex recovery session at KOA Recovery for $50
    Visit www.koarecovery.com.au for more information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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