As with warm-up strategies (which were covered in the last two blogs), post exercise recovery strategies are widely discussed and debated. Not only is recovery important for athletes who have multiple events in one week (or even one day), but they have been encouraged to enhance the recovery of damaged muscle tissue. There are several methods of recovery that are promoted which have conflicting information about which is most effect… So, what does the research tell us?!






Self-release using foam roller or spikey ball 30-60s per muscle for 20 minutes. Improved joint range of movement, reduced effects of post exercise muscle soreness. Short term improvements in joint range of movement, reduced perceived pain post exercise. Prior to exercise it can be beneficial to increase joint range of movement.

Post-exercise it may be beneficial to reduce muscle soreness but this varies person to person.

Cold Water Immersion Whole or partial body immersion in cold water (10-15°C) for 10-20 minutes Reduced muscle soreness post exercise, improved muscle performance in following sessions. Most effective is whole body immersion due to compressive nature of the water.

Average performance improvements were 2-3% and this was deemed a worthwhile enhancement in runners. Improvements to strength and jump height were small.

It can be beneficial in muscle recovery; however, best results are seen with full body immersion for 10-20 minutes in water 12-15°C.

Most significant changes were seen in runners, so, again it varies between sports and individuals.

Cooling packs, vests or cryogenic chambers Varied between studies, approximately 10-20 minutes As with cold water immersion, the use of cooling packs, vests or cryogenic chambers is thought to reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery. In one study, negative effects were found of performance for the first 72hours post exposure to cooling, but at 96hours some positive changes were seen.

Greater effect for endurance rather than strength events.

The research isn’t favourable. It seems to have positive effects from cooling the whole body needs to be cooled to reduce core body temperature. With that said, many athletes report improved performance following cooling small areas. Again, it is up to the individual and the sport.
Compression garments Varied but application of compression to areas that have been exerted during exercise. Enhanced venous return, reduced cell trauma and swelling, reduced circulating creatine kinase. Small reductions in recovery for strength-related performance ie. after plyometric exercise.

No likely benefits post running.

Mild changes following non-weight bearing exercise (ie. cycling)

Possibly. The changes are minimal and again up to the individual and if they feel positive changes.
Stretching 30-60s per muscle to exerted muscles Historically recommended as a recovery method to reduce muscle soreness. No significant change has been noted in recovery when comparing stretching and non-stretching groups. The research isn’t favourable, however, there are perceived benefits by athletes when surveyed.


While the level of research surrounding each recovery strategy is poor, there are still benefits to utilizing some of these techniques. Choosing which recovery technique will depend on the type of sport/load, the individual, and accessibility to the appropriate tools or equipment. Unfortunately, there are too many factors that contribute to muscle recovery that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to recovery. We are all different in the way that we load and stress tissues, which means the way these tissues recover will also vary person to person.


Currently, the highest level of evidence behind recovery strategies is in nutrition and sleep. Having appropriate, well timed nutrition (and hydration) is vital to replenish the body of the nutrients that were utilized during exercise. Sleep is also a critical component of recovery and is often overlooked. Athletes (on average) have less sleep (6.5-7.2hours) than the non-athletic population and it is thought increasing sleep to 8hours or more per night can significantly improve performance.  



There is some emerging evidence that discusses mental fatigue in sport and the importance of mental recovery. When we look at sports performance, decision making, response to opposition, skill execution, motivation and mood are some of the factors that can easily be linked to performance. So, when we look at recovery, how much emphasis should be placed on recovery from mental fatigue?

The answer is not simple, nor is it one that has been heavily explored. Mental fatigue can be characterized by a change in psychophysiological state, caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive activity. This change is gradual, cumulative and can bring on changes of mood, feelings of tiredness and lack of energy. Mental fatigue has been shown to reduce time to exhaustion in high-intensity cycling, reduced average running speed during a 5km time trial and increased perception of effort during a prolonged muscle contraction.

It is thought setting time to participate in recovery strategies can be just as important for mental recovery as it is for tissue recovery. In fact, the time spent completing cold water immersions, for example, can be enough time to allow mental recovery and improve mental performance.



There are many different recovery strategies available with varying levels effectiveness (or perceived effectiveness). It is important that each recovery strategy used is done so purposefully and is tailored to the individual with their level of activity/experience taken into consideration. For example, there are many ways to use a foam roller. It is important to be effective with how, when and where you use it.


If you have further questions about recovery strategies you have been using, or are thinking about using, please do not hesitate to call (03) 5229 3911 or email for more information.

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