- Speeds up recovery
- Reduces overall body inflammation
- Reduces muscle discomfort and fatigue
- Improves immunity and helps eliminate illness (e.g. a cold ironically)
- Improves physical and mental performance
When: After a hard workout it is said that the treatment can aid recovery 50% faster than usual. Cost: An introductory session at FYBO Cryotherapy (which we trialed) is £35 . This is three minutes exposure at -180°C. Further treatments are more expensive unless bought as part of a larger package. Upon comparison this was one of the better value clinics in London with most being double this. Verdict As an experience, it’s definitely worth it. In a slightly masochistic way getting dropped to -180°C is quite something. The plunging temperature produces a fight or flight response in the body meaning you get a massive endorphin hit when you’re done. Unfortunately, no specific performance gains were felt immediately or over the next 24 hours, so whilst it definitely contributes to alertness, we were not sure the feeling was much different to had we decided to go for a dip in the North Sea. Apparently, if you look at the top five paid athletes in the world, all use cryotherapy on a regular basis, and yes maybe if there was cash to burn we would be doing the same.
- Increased tissue permeability
- Breaks down scar tissue
- Improves muscle elasticity
- Opens micro-circulation
When: Used to recover after tough training sessions or between events. A lot of athletes use it when there is a quick turnaround needed between competitions. Cost: 30 min sports massage is £45 (Six Physio). Verdict: Painful — yes, effective- yes, no pain — no gain and all that. A sports massage is great, particularly when you are just feeling a little slow and nothing is specifically tight — we all know the feeling. The team from Six Physio who we saw see a lot of athletes and weekend warriors using massage to mirror increased training and mileage and also for a quick loosener when things get a bit tight. We agree that it’s great to use as a compliment to training when the mileage is starting to creep up. Further, having someone qualified to give their opinion is always beneficial. 100% worth the investment, even if it is just once a month.
- Relaxes Muscles
- Increases blood flow
- Relieves pain and tightness
- Improves range of motion
- Speeds up recovery
When: Post exercise where there is specific tightness. It is recommended that after the treatment there should be a period of 24 hours without exercise in which the subject should concentrate on hydration. Cost: 30 min session is £45 (Six Physio). Verdict: Having needles stuck in and wiggled around your body isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea and of course you’ve got to head over to a clinic and find someone qualified to do so (it can’t be done from the comfort of your own home). However, for instant relief we found the experience outstanding. Specific trigger points which are tight can be targeted with laser accuracy meaning that a point or tight band can be immediately released. It was as if someone had just released a bowstring in the hammy! In terms of general benefits, it is similar overall to sports massage, what really differentiates it is the ability to get deeper and target specific tight spots. We are big fans.
- Faster recovery
- Reduction of muscle and tissue damage
- Improved muscle function
- Reduction in inflammation and pain
- Helps Central Nervous System through aiding sleep
When: The sooner you get in an ice bath after a workout or competition, the more effective the treatment is. Cost: If you’ve got a bath at home it’s free. However, it’s not quite as simple as running the cold tap and jumping in… the temperature of an ice bath should be approximately 10–15° so it’s worth getting a thermometer to check. The time is also important — limit your time to 10 to 15 minutes. There are also various spas which offer the treatment in a controlled setting. Verdict: If your legs are feeling a little abused getting in a cold bath gives a shock and reduces the inflammation big time. If you wack on a podcast and have a cuppa on the side the experience can even be enjoyable. However, there is mixed opinion about the science because the process is effectively reducing the inflammation which comes from training stress (inflammation isn’t necessarily a bad thing). In order to get the most from the adaptation that comes from training stress it’s actually suggested to limit ice bathing and to only use them when the body is really feeling the strain and your training quality risks suffering as a result. Either way it’s a useful tool to have in the recovery arsenal when the body is feeling the strain.
- Improves blood circulation
- Assists removal of lactic acid and other toxins
- Increases elasticity of collagen fibres which improves joint range of motion
- Improved mood
- Assists sleep
When: Not straight after — despite how good it may feel! A hot bath promotes blood flow to the muscles by dilating blood vessels — this is not what you want immediately after exercise. Ideally it is recommended to have a hot bath at least 24 hours after exercising when you might be feeling stiff. Cost: As with the ice bath, this ones pretty good value, but again be wary of getting it right — for medical benefits baths should be around 36°C and used for 10–20 minutes. Verdict The epitome of the hard-core, no-pain-no-gain approach to training is the post session ice bath, where, after pushing your muscles to their absolute limits, you soak them in eye-wateringly cold water to speed their recovery before the next savage workout, so the idea that there is a gentler, more soothing path to greatness will be music to many ears! From a trial it’s bang on, tight muscles are relieved and it is much more enjoyable than a cold one! No more excuses then to not take advantage of a bath or hot tub session to help your mind and body relax and to stimulate the healing and recovery process.
- Increases recovery speed
- Improves circulation
- Reduces muscle fatigue
- Reduces chance of cramp
- Increased power
When: You can benefit from wearing compression immediately or as soon as possible after exercise, and for as long as is comfortable. A study from the Australian Institute of Sport showed benefits from wearing compression tights for recovery from just 30 minuites of wear on elite cyclists. Do note however, that when used for prolonged periods the body will adapts to the presence meaning that there will be diminishing returns. I.e. take those leggings off sometimes! Cost: This all depends on the brand — Nike, UnderArmour, SKINs and 2XU all seem to be safe bets with leggings ranging from £45- 120. Seem expensive for a pair of tights? Yea maybe, but for unlimited use (within reason) we think that it’s a goodie. Verdict There is mixed scientific research on the proven benefits of compression gear. However, even if they do not reduce muscle fatigue, compression tights may provide another benefit… a placebo! Not only does the clothing provide an important aspect of comfort, but runners have reported simply feeling faster — and that matters. Any mental tool when training hard and running long distances can be beneficial. We think they are a pretty great addition to the maintenance toolkit and if you can bear putting them on under your jeans then it’s an easy win as you can just put them on when the legs are a bit achy. They are also perfect for those long plane journeys on your way to an international race, such as an Ultra X, to ensure your circulation stays on point.
- Improved blood flow
- Improved flexibility
- Decreases tension
- Increases range of motion
- Release of deep tissue
When: There is no specific time frame post exercise recommended to use cupping, but do note that it is recommended to avoid showering, swimming, intense exercise, steams rooms or saunas, or any other exposure to the extreme cold or heat for 12–24 hours after a session. Cost: 15 min treatment (it’s quick) is £15 (Treatwell). Verdict: We all saw the curious purple circles on Michael Phelps at the Rio Olympics, and now we know where they came from. There’s certainly some evidence that cupping can be effective tool in managing musculoskeletal conditions, however, research also indicates that there are limitations. Ideally, we need more studies to explore the use of cupping for athletes. We tried dry cupping (N.b. there is also something called wet cupping involving both suction and controlled medicinal bleeding after) and, whilst the experience of having hot glass cups placed on your legs with a pop is bizarrely therepeutic, we felt no different following the treatment.
- Increases blood flow
- Helps prevents injury
- Breaks up scar tissue
- Improves mobility and flexibility
- Removes Lactic Acid to aid recovery
When: Foam rolling is a great way to stretch out your tired muscles after a run, but pre-run it can help you warm up by increasing blood flow to active muscles- just ensure to compliment this with some dynamic also. If you’re short on time before or after your run, try and incorporate just a few minutes of foam rolling into your bedtime routine. Cost: Available from £10 and they travel well. They’re a great option and are a must have item for the everyday runner’s wardrobe. Verdict Probably the most widely and best known of runners’ recovery tools, love it or hate it, it’s something worth having at home. What’s important to stress is that you need to do it right- common mistakes are foam rolling directly on an injured area, rolling too quickly, staying on one spot for too long and using bad posture. So rather than seeing it as a magic cure, take the same approach to that you would for a training session and focus. A lot of runners will only roll when they are told to, which is often when they are already injured! By planning and rolling from day 1 you help mitigate the risk of injury in the first place. Conclusion: A lot of these treatments do similar things but the key difference is how you feel approaching and using them. The only right method for you will be the method that is sustainable. It should be said that spending time and money on these alone is not going to get you to the finish line. Injury prevention should focus initially on load, strength training and movement work before considering some of the methods outlined above. Nutrition, sleep and load management (not considered in this piece) are the starting blocks and without getting these right first, spending time and money on methods of recovery is not best practice! That said when the body is feeling those miles, a little TLC can do wonders and make those training sessions just that bit easier to complete, whilst reducing the risk of injury through stressing overly tight muscles. Furthermore, the emotional value of therapy for individuals is something which should not be discounted! Any of the above treatments are completely worthwhile investments for anyone who can afford it and “feels better” after, regardless of the medical case. A huge thank you to E-Pulsive, Six Physio, FYBOCryo, JustOneBody, Treatwell who supported this article by offering their treatment and advice (N.B. this is not an ad). Disclaimer: Ultra X are not qualified physiotherapists and any significant change to one’s rehabilitation methods should be considered on an individual basis and after consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. This was purely our experience of each method.