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“Coach calls time and tells you to finish up, you looked slow, you looked

fatigued, you know it and he knows it. You wanted to be there, you felt

ready, but you were lagging, nothing was sticking, your training partner

could have punched you 5 times before you finally threw that kick.

Today just wasn’t your day. You leave the gym disappointed, you go

over and over your diet, yet nothing has changed, you arrived at training

early and warmed up well like you always do, you used your compression therapy last night, you gave yourself a once over with the massage gun. Then you remember that guy talking about his ice baths, and you google ’cold therapy’ and go book your ice bath in, thinking that will aid in your performance tomorrow”

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MMA Athletes Need to Recover!

All the time I hear my clients talking about their recovery toolbox, what

else they want to add, and every week I receive questions about

massage guns, compression therapy, foam rollers, ice, heat etc etc,

there’s a new product out all the time trying to convince you they are

going to “enhance your performance and recovery” as an athlete, yet

when I turn around and ask my clients the simple question of how their

sleep is, or if they’ve had enough time to down regulate, their eyes

usually drop to the floor and respond comically with “what’s rest?” which

is usually followed up by the ever popular “I’ll sleep when I die” or “yeah I

get a few good hours in”. I’ll be the first to admit this was me a few

years ago, until I up-skilled and educated myself, skimming the surface of

the complexity of the human body and all its glory.

There is a hierarchy to recovery, a systematic approach that is needed

for your body to be able to function at its peak and holding itself at the

top of that pillar is quality sleep and rest. Sleep and rest are the low

hanging fruit of recovery, followed closely by diet/hydration.

However, the sleep routine and the importance given to prioritising rest

is on you and you need to take control of that before you go looking for

passive therapies and tools to help you recover from your training load.

Sleep and rest aren’t sexy, they aren’t worth posting on your socials

about, they take the onus off the hustle, the grind, the workhorse stigma

but what they are is vital to performance, to longevity in the sport and

they are imperative for turning the cogs and allowing the adaptations of

training to take hold, physically and mentally. When I talk recovery with my clients I bring their attention to the Nervous System and more directly the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which helps appropriately power all our internal organs based on the

information it receives about the body & its state and the external environment surrounding it. Some of the body's functions the ANS controls include:

 Blood pressure

 Heart and Breathing Rate

 Digestion/metabolism

 Body Temperature

 Balance of Water and electrolytes

The ANS has two main divisions: the sympathetic nervous system and

the parasympathetic nervous system. The Sympathetic Nervous

System responds by stimulating many of the above functions to prepare

the body for stressful or emergency situations by performing actions

such as:

 Increasing heart rate

 Dilating airways and pupils

 Increasing sweat

 Releasing stored energy

 Slowing process like digestion and urination

This is why our sympathetic nervous system is often called our "fight-or-

flight" system. The Parasympathetic Nervous System, on the other

hand, is known as our "rest-and-digest"; system. It is responsible for

down-regulating those functions to bring the body back to homeostasis.

Examples include:

 Slowing heart rate

 Decreasing blood pressure

 Stimulating digestion

 Relaxing muscles and increasing energy storage

To maximise training adaptations, you need to take advantage of the

effects of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system,

knowing when to excite and when to inhibit. But you need to remember

that knowing isn’t enough as the ANS regulates itself unconsciously

hence the need for ‘retraining’ these responses.

The parasympathetic nervous system is most beneficial to us because it

is the state we ideally want to be in the vast majority of time. This is the

state our body recovers in most efficiently due to the relaxed state and

increased absorption/digestion of nutrients.

Remedial Massage, UFC, MMA, XFC, Recovery after fighting, how to recover
Athletes Need Recovery to Continue Performing


These two are vastly different yet most people fall into the category of

being Sympathetic dominant given the nature of our busy lifestyles. For

a Combat Athlete that fight or flight response is engrained in you, your

sympathetic dominant state is over stimulated, as you train it so well

each day you begin to lose the ability to naturally move into the

parasympathetic state. Although it feels great to train, relying on your

SNS all the time can lead to burnout. Think about it; you start your day

with training, straight into peak hour traffic to work, to stress of life, bills,

family, back to more training, go home, eat, engage with your family,

answer emails and scroll socials. You fall into a heap exhausted yet

struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep. Yes, your body is fatigued, yes

you are tired, but your nervous system is still heightened, you’re still

tense, you haven’t given yourself a chance to down regulate, slow down

your thoughts or your breathing. Your psychological stressors are still an

aggravating contributor; your body can’t differentiate between physical

and mental stress, past or present, it sees it all as a threat or something

to excite you. Your sleep quality is poor because you are still so

heightened. You may not wake up rested, yet you get up to do it all over

again. The chronic physical and mental stressors may overtax your

body’s ability to adapt and maintain homeostasis; a stable equilibrium

between internal, physical and chemical conditions.

Now I’m not saying this is everyone of course, but in my years as a

therapist I’ve found it far more common than you would believe and as a

high percentage of my clients are combat athletes this conversation is

one I’m having regularly. The dominance of the sympathetic state may

have also begun from past trauma, all the way back to childhood trauma,

PTSD or the likes are a common denominator, your body has learnt to

protect itself to survive but hasn’t yet learnt how to down regulate itself

now that those past stressors are gone.

Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, I believe should be

more in the forefront of an athlete’s recovery routine, and once you

begin to retrain that your body will learn to naturally take on a more

parasympathetic state, thus allowing you to reduce stress, anger,

chronic tension and inflammation.

Some examples of these are:

 Diaphragmatic breathing – LEARN HOW TO BREATHE

BETTER. Who would have thought one may not be breathing

effectively, yet this is so common and one of the simplest and

most convenient ways to stimulate the relaxation response of your

parasympathetic nervous system. Particularly during cool-downs

after training, as this can shift your body immediately into a

recovery state. 

 Meditation or finding a cognitive anchor - Now this isn’t all

about the buddha sitting on a mountain edge legs crossed,

humming, it can be simply about being mindful and present in the

moment. Finding something that allows you to down regulate and

escape from the current reality. Reading, music, drawing,

shower/bath, sitting in front of a fire, are all examples of this.

There are now many apps available to download to help you learn

meditative and breathing techniques.

Massage – speaks for itself, just be mindful of allowing yourself to

actually breathe and take in the treatment. If you constantly feel

like you’re “on the go” your body is always on tension, and loses

its ability to relax, this is often described as Neurological tone,

which may lead to chronic pain and inflammation.

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Remedial Massage Brisbane

 Napping – taking naps and falling asleep quickly are hallmarks or

disengaging your sympathetic state. Lay down for 15min if you fall

asleep your body needed it, if you don’t you still managed some

rest. It’s a win win.

 Disengage from your fitness self – As Arnold Schwarzenegger

said:” Having a good time is not so damaging as people think.”

Enhancing performance is about balancing stress and recovery.

When you don’t incorporate the act of recovery into your regular

lifestyle/training routine you will eventually burn out. Think of your

body like a car full of petrol, if you stay “on” and keep idling, you

may not wear out the physical appearance, but you will eventually

run out of petrol.


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