How to optimise your rugby pre-season
An effective rugby pre-season requires careful planning, an understanding of the desired outputs and how to utilise valuable tools, like Blood Flow Restriction, to optimise recovery.
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Recovering faster leads to training better and sooner, which in turn leads to gaining that edge, breaking that personal best and beating the competition. Recovery BFR supports athletes to recover quicker and is easy to implement.
Recovery BFR can be done anytime and anywhere. By simply strapping in, you put into motion a whole series of physiological changes in your body that speed up recovery. You don’t even need to exercise. You can literally sit on the sofa and watch TV while your body gets to work. Strapping in for just a few minutes is enough time for the body to produce recovery hormones, remove waste products and inflammation, and increase the uptake of nutrient-rich blood.
Elite athletes know the faster they can recover after a training session or a match, the sooner they can effectively train again. The sooner they can effectively train again, the better they will perform. In other words, faster recovery can deliver the edge that wins matches and competitions. It’s not surprising that more and more professional athletes use BFR Training protocols to accelerate recovery.
The scientific literature tells us that Recovery BFR accelerates the recovery of muscular and neurological function, and reduces post-exercise muscle soreness.1-3 Research with athletes has shown significant improvements in exercise performance immediately post, 24-h post, and 48-h post Recovery BFR (vs control), illustrating the impact opportunities associated with this recovery method.1-3
All athletes will benefit from the use of Recovery BFR. It’s already being used by the world’s top professional athletes. It’s not surprising that it’s gaining traction among amateurs, gym goers, weekend warriors and just about everyone who exercises or plays sport actively.
When BFR is applied to the limbs, the return blood flow to the body is restricted, causing the limbs to swell with blood. Oxygen levels quickly deplete causing stress in the muscles, triggering reactions in the body as it tries to adapt to this stressful condition. The body adapts by releasing recovery hormones and up-regulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the regulatory pathway essential for muscle repair and recovery. Now that the limbs are brimming with recovery hormones, by releasing the BFR straps, blood flow is restored, and hormone-rich blood floods the entire body systemically. Every muscle and structure in the body supplied by blood will benefit from this process.
Not only are recovery hormones important in this process, but a second and equally important mechanical process also occurs. Once the BFR straps are removed, the pressure difference between the restricted limbs and the body forcefully flushes the blood out of the limbs, through the muscles and over the joints. This dramatic internal flush is sufficient to remove waste materials, metabolic products, and inflammation, creating a much ‘cleaner’ internal environment for recovery to begin.
Finally, a process called re-perfusion occurs whereby fresh nutrient-rich blood is driven into the muscles and joint structures (tendons and ligaments), further supporting recovery.
Two types of recovery protocols are commonly used – active1,2 and passive.1,3 Active Recovery BFR is performed while engaging in low-intensity exercise, typically cardiovascular, though light resistance exercise also works. Passive Recovery BFR involves simply resting while engaging with BFR, or while going about normal daily activities. Both work very effectively, providing options based on preference.
Recovery BFR can be performed with either the lower or upper body since the hormonal build-up from either will impact the whole body systemically. Flushing, however, works best in the restricted muscles. For example, if you have trained legs, or a lower body dominant sport, performing Recovery BFR with the lower body is recommended. The same principle applies to the upper body.
For Active Recovery BFR, strap in your legs or arms, never both, applying the straps nice and tight, a notch or two below maximum tightness. Then select your preferred cardio exercise. You can perform this either indoors (upper and lower body – rower, cross trainer; legs only – Wattbike, treadmill), or outdoor (legs only – walking). Any type of cardio exercise will work so long as performed at low intensity (20% of usual intensity when not strapped in with BFR). Once strapped in, perform 3 intervals of 5 minutes each. Between intervals, unstrap and rest for 2 minutes.
For Passive Recovery BFR, strap in your legs or arms, never both, applying the straps even tighter than with Active Recovery BFR, just below maximum tightness. Leave the straps applied for up to 3 intervals of 5 minutes each. Between intervals, unstrap for 2 minutes. When strapped in, you can either rest (read a book, watch television, catch up on social media) or just go about your normal daily activities (other than engaging in intentional exercise).
According to the latest scientific research, for both active and passive BFR, 3 intervals produce optimal results. This is because unstrapping following each interval produces a powerful flushing event, the science showing 3 to be optimal for recovery. If you are short on time, however, the science also tells us that one or two intervals will still deliver considerable benefits. We also know that Recovery BFR is best performed immediately after a training session (or a match or competition). Performing Recovery BFR within 24 hours of exercise however will still trigger a strong physiological response.
Active Recovery BFR can be performed up to 4 times per week, while Passive Recovery BFR can be performed as often as you wish without limitation. It can be performed literally anywhere – club facilities, changing room, gym, outdoors, hotel room, at home.
The science is compelling, and the benefits are considerable. Recovery BFR is safe, effective, and easy to do. Everyone who trains or competes seriously cannot ignore the importance of faster recovery. BFR is a tool that delivers what you seek.
Dr Warren Bradley, the founder of Hytro, joined Max Solomon of the Science for Sport Podcast to discuss the use of Blood Flow Restriction in elite sport. Dr Warren talks all about BFR, the science behind it and more.
After sustaining a back injury, professional rugby league player Charlie Willett was ruled out of the 2020/21 season. This year she has had to learn how to shift her mindset and practices to recover effectively with BFR and perform at her best.
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