Written by: Kevin Cann
As many of you know, and some that may not, I have been working with Russian strength coach Boris Sheiko. Boris Sheiko is infamously known for high volume training. As a novice powerlifter I have been averaging over 700 competitive lifts in a 4 week cycle. This does not include all of my accessory work that goes along with it. You can read my articles about the Sheiko methods here, part 1 and part 2.
I have seen an increase in strength and technique in all 3 of my lifts. This has not come without a cost. This amount of volume makes you SORE. I was pretty much feeling like I have been hit by a truck on a day to day basis. The pain is 100% muscular as my joints do not hurt. I learned quickly that I needed to figure out a way to get ahead of this with myself as well as my clients that are running similar high volume programs.
Every training session began with 5-10 minutes of foam rolling and the same dynamic warmup that was a spinoff of Mike Boyle’s Joint by Joint Approach. This warmup is great for the group setting and for the average person hitting a workout in the gym. This was just not cutting it for a high volume powerlifting program.
I decided to drop the foam rolling and do some more intense tissue work to troubled areas. I had specific tissue work for each lift that was followed by banded distractions for each lift as well. This worked much better, as my muscle soreness decreased and I felt much more fluid in my earlier sets. On squat day the focus on tissue work centered on the quads, and glutes. For the bench, tissue work was done on the pecs, rotator cuff, and lats. Tissue work for the deadlift hit the adductors, QL, and high hamstring. Instead of using a foam roller I used a barbell, lacrosse balls, and even a log used in strongman with 150lbs. These tissue mobilizations were followed by specific banded distractions for each movement. Kelly Starrett has some awesome examples in his book The Supple Leopard. I have tweaked this a bit since to improve it further.
Mobility is what it is on a given day. I assess what lifts I am doing as well as how I feel. If something feels tight, I mobilize it to attempt to stay on top of things. Currently this is working wonders, as I feel great and training is going really well. A change in my pretraining mobility is not the only thing we changed.
I have heard in the past that the sauna can be an incredibly useful tool in aiding in recovery. I encouraged some of my clients, as well as the girls on our Total Performance Sports powerlifting team, to give it a try. We added it in for 15-20 minutes post-workout and all of them feel as if it definitely helps their recovery.
This may be due to the increased blood to muscles. Studies have shown that heat acclimation leads to a higher resting plasma volume in endurance runners when compared to groups not being heat acclimated (1). More blood equals more oxygen and nutrients into the muscle to aid in the rebuilding process. Some theories around trigger points believe that trigger points block blood flow, and by breaking up the trigger point we get more blood flow to the muscle. This leads to the muscle increasing its movement capabilities.
The sauna at TPS is located in the women’s room and I do not have access to it. Instead I wake up in the morning and walk with my soon to be wife to work. This is roughly 2.5 miles and takes about 45 minutes. Low intensity exercise gets a bad rap in the media and definitely has its place, even in a sport such as powerlifting.
Low intensity exercise can speed up recovery and decrease the effects of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). High intensity bouts of exercise increases blood lactate concentrations. Performing low intensity cardio turns on our type I muscle fibers that actually utilize lactate as fuel. This allows the lactate to be removed from our blood more quickly.
The sauna and low intensity cardio have a bit in common, they both can increase your endurance. One study looked at 6 male endurance athletes. They performed 15 minute runs on the treadmill to exhaustion. 3 weeks they performed this test without the aid of the sauna and another 3 weeks they sat in the sauna for 30 minutes post training.
When they compared the numbers, the sauna increased performance by 1.9% and plasma volume and red blood cell count increased by 7% (2). The researchers in the study chalked up the increases in performance to the increase in blood. This would make sense as blood doping is a popular PED in endurance sports.
What does this all tell us? It tells me that increasing blood flow to skeletal muscle is the key to maintaining and even improving tissue quality and decreasing the negative effects of DOMS. Muscle overuse and direct trauma can lead to the formation of trigger points. These trigger points can hinder blood flow to the rest of the muscle and leave us feeling tight and immobile, and even increase our injury risk (3). Trigger points being formed by muscle overuse is more than likely due to the increase in lactate production.
Increasing blood flow can help our bodies remove this lactate, allowing us to recover faster from training session to training session. Ways that increase blood flow are low intensity cardio and sauna baths. Not only do they help with blood flow, but they help you relax and even sleep better. We all know how important sleep is for recovery. The sauna may even have positive effects on the central nervous system that we don’t even know of (4).
Lastly, make sure to spend some quality time before your training session targeting troubled areas. A good coach can assess you and help give you the mobilization tools you need to maximize performance and decrease injury risk. If you are in the Boston area it is a service we offer, http://totalperformancesports.com/training-services/mobility-recovery/movement-assesment/ . If not, Starrett’s book the Supple Leopard is an easy to read resource with some valuable information