As Football coaches, we all know that one of the biggest keys to a successful season is keeping your team HEALTHY. Ours is a game of attrition. The teams that stay healthy, and keep their athletes as close to peak performance as possible, are the ones that win games down the stretch.

Often, though, coaches are a bit at a loss for what to do following a grueling game on Friday night. How do you help your athletes feel ready to get back to work in just a couple of days?

Here are our 3 Keys to Improving Recovery.

Sleep:

Your athletes’ single greatest ally right now is the all-powerful strength of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is when both the body and the brain repair themselves. Research shows that the correlation between lack of sleep and injury is undeniable, and many athletes need 8+ hours a night just to get back to neutral each day. Encourage athletes to skip the post-game celebration and get home and into bed. In fact, good sleep habits throughout the season can help stave off injury and improve performance day in and day out.

Hydration & Nutrition:

We all remember what it feels like, win or lose, following a battle on friday night. You’re wiped – soaked in sweat, body shaky, and completely exhausted.

It’s no surprise an athlete feels this way. The body and brain are dehydrated and literally starving. A 200lb football player can burn upwards of 2500 calories on game night. And sweat, while a necessary tool for cooling the body, also evaporates key nutrients. We have deprived our body of the things it needs to function.

What your body needs most is to replenish everything it has lost – and what you choose counts. Ideally, you consume a mix of protein, unsaturated fats, and non-starchy carbs. Avoid the sugars and processed foods, opting for whole food options. Combine with a steady intake of water to restore hydration levels. If you fuel your body properly, it will respond the right way.

Active Recovery Workout:

Possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of health and recovery is what to do physically in the days following the game. Our goal is to get athletes back to neutral as quickly as possible so they can spend the following week in intense preparation for the next game. Many coaches, though, make one of 2 mistakes. Either they get back after it in the weight room the very next morning, or they assume that ice, ibuprofen, and complete rest are the answer. As it often does, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

When it comes to soft tissue damage (overuse soreness, DOMS, non-joint contact injuries, etc), we actually need to be proactive when it comes to recovery. We need to induce increased blood flow to all of our damaged muscle tissue. Oxygen-rich blood is your body’s healing potion, it cleans out dead tissue, removes stress hormones, and increases the rate of repair and regeneration. At the same time, though, we need to limit joint impact and keep overall intensity to a bare minimum.

This is where “Active Recovery” comes into play. We combine light aerobic activity with mobility, passive stretching, and self-myofascial release to create a low-stress “workout” that will actually jump-start our athlete’s physical recovery. The following is a generic example of a 30-45 minute Saturday morning recovery session:

Assess: First you need to determine which athletes have true injuries as opposed to soft tissue damage. Cramp-sore muscles, bruises, and overall fatigue are one thing. Joint issues are another. Make sure those athletes see a trainer for proper diagnosis and rehab. They can also avoid stressing the injury by opting for cardio activity that leaves the area in question stable and without stress (the elliptical or bike for an ankle or calf injury, for example).

Example:

  • Run/Bike/Row/Swim for 12 consecutive minutes. We’re looking for a casual “conservation” pace – something you could continue without stopping while talking to someone next to you. A pool session is ideal given its lack of impact on any joint while stimulating cardiovascular activity and providing resistance for every range of motion.

  • Full Body, Active Mobility Progression (1 Minute Each). For example:

    • Alternating Spiderman & Reach

    • Alt Pigeon Stretch & Air Squats

    • Wall Calf & Achilles Stretches

    • Child’s Pose

    • Twisted Cross

  • Full body foam roll session. Like a massage, the pressure will promote blood flow and healing of damaged tissue.

  • Band or Partner Stretch. Gently spend a good 30 seconds in each hold, breathe through the stretch.

Remember, we want to keep our athletes healthy and performing at optimal levels. This means that after a game, we need to encourage good sleep habits, proper nutrition & hydration, and we need to enforce some kind of official active recovery. If we do so, come Monday, your athletes should be ready to attack a team lift, practice, and the rest of the week!