EPC Tips - The Inflammation Response

Mar. 20, 2015

In our previous post I discussed the importance of managing stress to maximize your athletic potential. In the article, V. STRESS MANAGEMENT, I divided stress up into two categories: physical stress (the training you do) and emotional stress (your daily life stress). I gave examples of how to manage both kinds of stress that will hopefully allow you to lower your emotional stress levels as well as help you recover from your physical stress. I also discussed the concept of the long-term emotional and physical stress combination, identified as "chronic stress," that is influenced and managed primarily through a well-designed training program specific to your abilities and lifestyle; as well as the more immediate physical stress, identified as "acute stress" that is related to your most recent training sessions and how you are able to recover from them. This week I'd like to extend the discussion on the topic of inflammation and provide some insight on some strategies to manage it effectively.

Let's begin by first addressing your training sessions themselves.

Appropriate training sessions should provide just the 'right' amount of stress. The goal is to generate a training response that creates just enough inflammation that requires your body's repair mechanisms to get to work, but not so much so that you can't recover from it before your next training session. The key to endurance sport training lies in training consistency. You need to be able to train (apply physical stress) day in and day out as frequently as possible (this amount differs for everyone based on their age, experience level, and the total amount of stress in their lives) to create the stimulus for improvement over the long term. Performing a 'killer training session' one day and then needing to recover for three days after because you are so smashed leads to training inconsistencies, wasted training time, and lack of long term improvement. Individual training sessions should consist of the right amount of training stress that requires some recovery but not so much that you are laid out for days.

The 'right' amount of stress for typical training sessions should require little in the need for special 'recovery techniques' other than refilling your glycogen stores and hydration levels as needed (see IV. Diet & Nutrition). If you find that your training sessions require frequent cryotherapy (icing/ice baths), compression therapy (clothing/boots), NSAIDs (ibuprofen/aspirin), or other 'recovery techniques,' then maybe you need to re-evalute your training program as you may be training too hard or above your current fitness level. Tough training sessions are indeed key for preparing for your priority events, but the majority of endurance sports training, the day to day sessions, should be very manageable and not require extensive recovery.  On another note, practicing 'recovery techniques' (as mentioned previously) following your typical training sessions has recently been argued by scientists to potentially blunt the training effect you are looking for! By icing after your 'weekly long-run' for example, you may be dampening the stress you are desiring to create by doing the training in the first place, and thus decreasing the effect of the work you just did.

Perhaps the marketing appeal created in recent years from manufacturers of "recovery products" has lead athletes to be potentially "overly recovered" and has them essentially "undoing" some of the stress they are intending to create for a training effect?

Inflammation often carries a negative connotation in today's world. However, in regards to training, low to moderate levels of inflammation following training sessions is a positive response to an athlete's training efforts. While minimizing the inflammation through methods such as ice or immediate compression may actually blunt your desired training effect, whereas practicing recovery techniques that increase blood flow to damaged or 'inflamed' areas after the response inflammation has occurred can be a helpful tactic. Training breaks down muscle tissue and this 'damage' to the soft tissue is what most scientists agree upon that leave muscles sore, stiff and/or tight after strenuous training. Perhaps one of the most effective ways to assist muscles in the repair process is to increase blood flow to the specific area. Blood carries the materials our muscles need for repair as well as provides a transport system to remove the byproducts of muscle damage. Soft tissue therapy in the form of professional massage and at-home 'self-massage' is one of the best methods for increasing blood flow to areas in need of repair. While professional massage is a wonderful thing, and something I highly recommend on at least a monthly basis if not more frequently, it is also another costly expense to add to your training budget. Self-massage on the other hand is something that everyone can afford and should implement into their training program on a regular basis. There are some simple, low-cost 'tools' you can purchase (or make) to add to your at-home therapy tool kit, as well as well some effective techniques to get the job done.

The following 4 tools are among our favorites for self-massage to assist with soft tissue maintenance to include your training program:


Foam rollers have gained enormous popularity over the past years and for good reason: they work! Foam rollers are great for working large surface areas such as your back and various areas of the legs. The pressure provided by your body weight combined with the back and forth rolling movement massages your bigger muscles and increases blood flow to the area and can help relieve 'sticky' adhesions below the skin's surface.


Massage balls (like a lacrosse ball, the ORB, or ... ) are smaller than foam rollers and are better at pinpointing smaller target areas such as the piriformis, psoas, or any other 'trouble' spot that needs more precise attention. The smaller diameter the ball the more pressure that can be applied and tighter area of focus. These are great for all the small muscles around the hips in particular. Some of the larger balls work great for larger leg muscles in the calves, quads and hamstrings as well.


Perhaps the smallest of 'massage balls' (and most dense), a golf ball is perfect for the arch of the foot and all the small soft tissue connections involved in the healthy movement of the foot.


The hook-like ergonomics of the Thera-Cane is perfect for those hard to reach spots on your back and shoulders.

* A note on vasoconstriction recovery techniques (ice/compression), these methods can be helpful in two cases. The first is following a scheduled 'big' workout, planned over-reaching training block, or post-race when physical trauma is at its highest. In these cases, blunting of the training effect is not a concern because you have reached well beyond your regular training tolerance. The second is in the week or two leading into a priority race (taper). During this phase of training you are not attempting to increase your fitness, but rather fully recover and sharpen up the fitness you have. The focus is to get your race preparation training in and then minimize the stress/inflammation to the fullest extent possible.

Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Endurance Performance Coaching. Looking for help with your training for 2015? Check out EPC’s Personal CoachingGroup Coaching, and Custom Training Plan options created to fit your needs and budget.  Don’t forget to ‘LIKE’ our EPC Facebook Page and follow Cody on Instagram!


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