Soccer Recovery: Train Hard, Recover Harder
Rest is an important exercise. Recovering faster means you can train harder, while maintaining peak performance, and staying injury free.
No, I’m not trying to get philosophical on you – although this concept will help you heal.
Specifically, I’m talking about a type of rest that will help your body heal in ways that it won’t when you spend your off day doing as little as possible.
But don’t worry, this “active rest,” which we’ll refer to as an active recovery, isn’t just another workout.
In fact, an active recovery workout will leave you feeling energized, loose, and ready for another week of soccer training, instead of stiff and unable to move on toward your Goals.
Read on to find out why.
Benefits of an Active Recovery Workout
While becoming a vegetable on your couch on your “off” days might seem like the best thing for your achy body, research suggests otherwise (sigh … I know).
In fact, if you’re experiencing intense soreness from a week of workouts, the best thing you can do to ease the soreness is to keep moving.
This is because being active has been shown to help our body clear out lactic acid – a byproduct of energy production – from our muscles.
Lactic acid is essentially produced as an alternative energy source during intense exercise when the muscles have run low on glucose and oxygen. It’s the reason you get a burning sensation at the end of a set during a workout.
When this lactic acid hangs around, you’re usually sore for 1 to 2 days after a workout. That’s why anything that helps clear it out (like active recovery) will help with post-workout pain.
In addition, active recovery days also increase the circulation of lymph and blood through your body, shuttling much-needed oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells to promote faster and better recovery.
They also help keep your joints lubricated and improve mobility, especially when you add in foam rolling and other stretching exercises, which we’ll get into below.
How to Do an Active Recovery Workout
So what exactly is a recovery workout, and how is it different than a regular bodyweight or interval workout?
Foam Rolling/Self-Myofascial Release
Self-myofascial release (SMFR) and foam rolling are hugely beneficial in helping you get rid of stiffness and soreness.
In essence, foam rolling targets connective tissues between muscles and ligaments called fascia, which become tight when your muscles tighten up. If you’ve ever felt tense little knots deep in your shoulders, you know what I mean.
Loosening and breaking up these knots helps increase mobility and flexibility, improve performance, improve circulation, speed up recovery, and ease soreness.
Stretching is obviously a big component of any active recovery workout. Both static (long hold) stretches and dynamic stretches help decrease soreness and improve range of motion and flexibility.
You can switch up stretches you perform during active workouts depending on how stiff you’re feeling in certain areas, or you can focus on your personal “trouble” areas, like tight hip flexors or glutes.
Bodyweight Exercises and Light Cardio
Bodyweight exercises and light cardio get our blood circulating during our active recovery workout – shuttling much-needed nutrients to sore muscles.
Light cardio also warms up our muscles enough to allow for deep static and dynamic stretches. In a typical active recovery workout, this type of cardio is kept at around 40 percent to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Remember, the Goal here isn’t to push, but to lightly get things moving in the spirit of regeneration.
The Off Day Vs. The Recovery Day
You might be wondering if you truly need an active recovery day or not. While the final answer largely depends both upon your body and training regime, there are a couple guidelines you can follow.
If you’re an avid strength trainer regularly lifting heavy throughout the week (and you’re used to can’t-get-out-of-bed soreness), an active recovery is probably your best bet to continually see strength and metabolic gains.
However, if you’re an endurance athlete going heavy on the cardio, your off day should literally mean off from activity. This will allow your body to regenerate fuel stores and maintain hormonal balance – a must to keep yourself from burnout or adrenal fatigue.
The Best Active Recovery Workout Routine
This active recovery workout combines dynamic stretches with foam rolling and light cardio to get your blood pumping and your muscles nice and refreshed. Be sure to get in a 5-minute dynamic warm up of light bodyweight stretches like lunges and leg swings before getting started.
Step 1: Dynamic Warm Up – 5 minutes
Step 2: Total-body foam roll (if you have time) or high-priority foam roll (sore areas or large muscle groups only) – 2 minutes on each muscle group
Step 3: Exercise & Stretch
Exercise 1: Jog in place – 1 minute
Stretch 1: Low lunge – 1 minute hold on each side (picture below)
Exercise 2: Mountain climbers – 1 minute
Stretch 2: Shoulder and triceps stretch – 2 minutes (1 minute each) (picture below)
Exercise 3: Skater hops – 1 minute
Stretch 3: Seated hamstring stretch – 1 to 2 minutes each leg (picture below)
Exercise 4: Burpees – 1 minute
Stretch 4: Quadriceps-psoas stretch – 1 to 2 minutes each leg (picture below)
Exercise 5: Bodyweight lateral lunges – 1 minute
Stretch 5: Goblet squat hold – 2 minutes (picture below)
Short Active Recovery Workout
If you don’t have much time but still want to squeeze in an active recovery workout, this routine will get the job done. It’s not as thorough as the workout above, but it will hit all your major muscles and leave you feeling refreshed and limber.
Step 1: Dynamic Warm Up – 5 minutes
Step 2: Exercise & Stretch
Exercise 1: Run in place – 1 minute
Stretch 1: Low lunge – 2 minutes (hold 1 minute each leg)
Exercise 2: Mountain climbers – 1 minute
Stretch 2: Seated hamstring stretch – 2 minutes
Exercise 3: Jumping jacks – 1 minute
Stretch 3: Standing hip stretch -1 minute each side. (picture below)
Exercise 4: Skater hops – 1 minute
Stretch 4: Quadriceps-psoas stretch – 2 minutes
Exercise 5: High knees – 1 minute
Stretch 5: Seated groin stretch – 2 minutes
Active Recovery Workouts At Home
Keep in mind that even if you can’t get in a full active recovery workout, just power walking with a few stops in between to dynamically stretch can be considered “active” recovery.
Another great way to speed up your body recovery and alleviate soreness after rigorous matches and dry-land workouts is swimming and deep water running for about 30 minutes after each soccer match. This will not only help loosen your muscles but also increase your core strength and maximize your balance and overall stability.
Aerobic conditioning is crucial for soccer players, and swimming places less stress on joints and muscles than running.
By reducing the friction on joints and the hard impact of running on the ground, deep water running allows players like yourself to train at maximum intensity and avoid further stress on the body.
You can also mix and match exercises and stretches that can be done anywhere, such as running in place/jumping jacks followed by a low lunge stretch.
Follow these up with some self-myofascial release using your hands, as in the video below:
The key is to get your blood pumping and loosen up intense stiffness so that regeneration can occur, so whatever activity does that for you, by all means go for it!
When To Perform Recovery Workouts
If you’re working out 5 to 6 times a week, try making one of those days an active recovery workout day, especially if you’re feeling a lot of soreness.
Once you start moving on your rest days, you’ll start to notice improvements in how quickly your body recovers from soreness. Plus, you’ll probably also feel much more energized for the week than if you had spent your off day lying in bed.
Give one of these active workouts a try – after all, a healthy body in motion is just steps away from reaching your Goals!
Recovery is not just limited to the physical demands on the body, but also includes your mental state of mind.
Bouncing back from a poor performance or handling negative emotions is something that comes from having your head on right, not just practicing drills up and down the field. If you want to get ahead of the game, you should spend as much time training your mind as you do your body.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”-Pele
Life as a soccer player can be filled with technical meetings, treatment, team practice, etc. To assure you are prepared for each match, taking a couple of minutes daily practicing visualization of what you are going to see, feel, and do at the upcoming match will help with a smoother performance.
One of the most powerful things you can do is visualize what it is that you want to manifest, and then make it happen.
The power of the mind is astonishing and, when coupled with mindfulness-based practices you can increase your ability to make leaps and bounds toward creating the life you truly desire.
"Visualize, Execute, Goal!"
The practice of deep breathing exercises is a form of meditation to clear the mind and is a great way to reduce cognitive and somatic anxiety.
Through meditation, you develop the ability stay locked into your Goals - and when you do, you open the possibility for the quantum field to respond, resonate, and supply all those elements you need for the fulfillment of those Goals.
If practiced regularly, you will be amazed by how you can condition your brain. Make sure you are in a quiet place that is comfortable for you. Once you are ready, try using the meditation video below for some motivation and guidance:
Understand the Requirement of Roles
Every single player on and off the soccer field has a specific role to perform and execute during the match. Coaching staff has a meticulous plan for the match, which should provide you and your teammates with how to successfully execute your roles. Once the requirement of role is communicated by the coaching staff, it will be the team's responsibility to understand and study your specific roles.
Conduct Video Analysis
Seeing the opponent’s playing style and technical techniques will provide you with visualization of what you will see in the upcoming match. Video analysis could be conducted with your coaching staff to identify specific details presented by the video analysis to aid your preparation.
Individual Sessions with Coaching Staff
Meeting with your coaching staff will help you better understand detailed role requirements for successful performance, your strengths, areas you need work on; it can also be a great approach to conducted guided imagery, concentration, and activity.
Practice Effective Routines
Soccer players all have a pre-match routine and it is key for you to be fully aware on how the routines can be implemented into the demand of playing soccer at the highest level. Your coaches, a mentor, or teammate will be able to provide guidance on how to best execute pre-match routines.
Recovery Steps After Training and Games
So now that I’ve hopefully motivated you (or scared you, whatever works to get recovery as a top priority), into realizing the implications of not recovering properly, lets take a look at the basic recovery steps of keeping your body in top notch shape after each game and training session.
Here is just one option for you that is easy and affordable. There are many other recovery drinks you can try whether its various NFS approved protein powders, amino acids, coconut water, etc and of course Water!
I will leave that for you to decide, depending on each individual player's preference, just remember; do your research.
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk. Yes Chocolate Milk!! Sometimes we can overthink sports nutrition when it comes to muscle recovery.
Chocolate milk tastes delicious and according to evidence-based research is better post workout than a carbohydrate replacement drink.
It fuels your body, chocolate milk contains an excellent combination of protein and carbohydrates. It also provides fluids and electrolytes to keep the body hydrated and in cellular balance.
Putting our best into our training sessions can feel like a challenge without restoring our glycogen (sugar). We can literally hit the wall and not want to continue when our nutritional tank is on empty. Chocolate milk is shown to be an effective way to restore our glycogen levels (energy) during exhaustive workouts and matches.
Hard workouts tear down our muscles. Proper nutrition and protein intake are important to repair and rebuild the damage. Did you know chocolate milk has 8 grams of high-quality protein per 8-ounce serving?
Chocolate milk is indeed an effective recovery aid. Give it a try within 30 minutes after your workout and again 1 hour before bed.
Again, don't forget about Water!
The classic ice bath. The scientific term is vasoconstriction. If you have ever taken one, then you know the definition of a love-hate relationship.
The idea is to decrease the opportunity of swelling throughout the legs, so they regenerate more quickly. When you’re running around, your circulatory system increases dramatically. And when you stop running and you cool down, between knocks in the game, you want to slow down the blood and make vasoconstriction occur by taking an ice bath. It decreases swelling of the musculature of your body. Many professional soccer players feel that it really helps in their recuperation process.
If you don’t have access to a lot of ice or a cold tub, you can always go with a Scottish Shower, which is where you start with warm water and then switch it to cold for about 10 minutes (if you can last). The contrast of hot to cold actually improves the effects of the cold water immersion.
Someone who is famous for taking ice baths after games or training is Carli Lloyd, as shown in the video below:
Compression gear has been getting a lot of attention these last couple of years, and for good reason. In a recent meta-analysis, compression gear proved to improve recovery form exercise-induced muscle damage.
While we may not want to put on full body suites, there are special compression socks that you can get that go up your knee, underneath your socks and shin guards. This can help improve recovery focused on your calves, which are a problem spot for some players.
Recovery options after the game need to include carbohydrates to replace depleted energy stores and protein to rebuild weary muscles. Again, this is all based on each player's individual preference, so do your research and do what works best for you and your body.
I would recommend eating trail mix, an apple, cheese sticks or a chicken dinner with brown rice and vegetables. Have your first snack within the first half-hour after the game and then continue every two hours for the next four to six hours.
While this may remind you of your mother telling you to eat your vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli and sprouts all contain the compound sulforaphane, and molecular scientists at the University of Bonn discovered that deactivates the muscle growth inhibitor myostatin. This means that eating these vegetables will help your muscles recover faster and grow bigger. Win-win right?
Remember, it’s important that your meal has a balance of lean protein (grilled or baked fish or grilled chicken), carbs (rice, pasta), and fat (dairy products).
For further tips and ideas on what to eat, check out our previous blog "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: What Should a Soccer Player Eat?"