Recovery in Football – Part 2: Compression Garments
Another commercially available tool we could be using are compression garments, skin-tight clothes often worn during gym sessions (presumably for their aesthetic appeal). These garments create a pressure gradient – higher pressure at the ankles decreasing up the leg - to aid the return of blood to act as a flush of the muscles. The compression on the legs can also give the perception of ongoing recovery (nothing wrong with a placebo effect).
The research on these is inconclusive, however one study by Hill (2013) has shown some very positive evidence advocating their use. Many studies have shown positive effects on DOMS; Hill’s meta-analysis of the current literature has now also backed this up by suggesting there could be a physiological aid to the recovery process. They noted that the use of compression garments post-exercise can lead to:
- Reduced DOMS – feelings of soreness were significantly reduced
- Quicker restoration of muscle function – Muscular strength and power levels recovered at a faster rate
- Markers of muscle damage were reduced – Concentrations of Creatine Kinase (a common indicator of muscle damage) were significantly less. Possibly due to enhanced repair of damaged muscle or increased clearance of metabolites.
These effects were noted in at least 2/3 studies pooled in the meta-analysis. A key take home message that pretty much all studies have shown - NO NEGATIVE EFFECTS.
The types of compression garments available varies from leggings to socks to calf sleeves and there are plenty of brands out there. Common sense would suggest that leggings would offer the biggest contribution to recovery given the greater muscle volume affected. Evidence would suggest they are a worthy investment and in my experience, a good pair will last a good while (mine get some regular and much needed use) and you often get what you pay for.
- A worthwhile tool to aid recovery after exercise
- Opt for leggings over socks or sleeves to get biggest “bang for your buck”
- Wear for as long as is comfortable after exercise – overnight whilst sleeping is a sensible idea
Hill, J., Howatson, G., Van Someren, K., Leeder, J. and Pedlar, C., 2013. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, pp.bjsports-2013.
In the professional game, recovery is a key process for optimal performance during a rigorous season schedule. From reducing fatigue and soreness after training and matches to optimising adaptation, recovery is a foundation principle in all professional training plans. However, this is very often overlooked in amateur football, where players likely shoot off to the pub for a few pints after the game. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that can be utilised in the amateur game which might just stop you feeling like the tin man walking into work on Monday morning.
Nutrition (Article Here) and sleep are the big two when it comes to recovery protocols, so we will avoid them for now and focus on the following:
- Part 1: Foam Rolling
- Part 2: Compression garments
- Part 3: Cold Water Therapy/Ice Baths
Part 1: Foam Rolling
Foam rolling consists of rolling on top of a piece of tubing covered in some patterned foam, using your bodyweight to create pressure. More scientifically, this is also known as “Self-Myofascial Release”, a manipulation of the local muscle tissue and the connective tissue which surrounds them. Strenuous exercise such as football matches causes damage to muscle fibres which leads to feelings tightness and soreness in the coming days, known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS peaks at 24-72 hours and is the focus of foam rolling.
From the moderate body of research on the topic, the key outcome is that foam rolling can reduce these feelings of soreness and tightness in our muscles, potentially bringing the peak of DOMS forwards to the 24-hour end of the timeframe post-exercise. For instance, in 2014 MacDonald et al investigated the effects of foam rolling on the soreness associated with Exercise Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD). They had subjects carry out 10 sets of 10 repetitions of a back squat, with emphasis on a slow eccentric phase to cause significant EIMD. The subjects were split into two groups; A Foam Rolling group and a Control group:
- Foam Rolling group: 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately after the squat protocol, as well as at 24 and 48 hours post-squatting.
- Control group: No recovery protocol.
A key outcome measure of the study was perceived muscle soreness, tested at 0hrs, 24hrs, 48hrs and 72hrs post-exercise. The results of this study showed that muscle soreness in the Foam Rolling group peaked at 24 hours after EIMD was caused, compared with 48 hours in the Control group. These results highlight that a short bout of foam rolling can significantly reduce DOMS associated with muscle damage caused by strenuous exercise, also causing soreness to peak earlier and, in turn, the body to recover quicker.
So how do we do it? Well, it’s fairly straightforward but we can take some advice from the current research.
- Spend 30-60s on each muscle group working slowly through the tissue. 2/3 sets on each muscle group is a sensible routine.
- Focus on any tender spots and give them a little extra attention.
- Alter your body position to change the degree of pressure (One leg on top of the other vs opposite leg on the floor).
- Carry out as soon after exercise as you can; however, it will have benefit any time in the 0-72hr period post exercise (Whilst watching the X Factor perhaps?).
There will likely be some discomfort during this given you have just undertaken intense exercise. However, you do not have to tolerate significant pain – listen to your body.
- Foam rolling is a cheap and effective tool which can be easily utilised by footballers at any level
- Carry out 0-72hrs post session to reduce DOMS
- Work through each muscle group thoroughly in turn – 30-60s per muscle group, 2/3 sets
MacDonald, G.Z., Button, D.C., Drinkwater, E.J. and Behm, D.G., 2014. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 46(1), pp.131-142.
Before working for a professional football club, I had the time on a Saturday afternoon to play football for my local team and train two evenings a week. Upon arriving at training on a cold evening, I would often get the footballs out before training, take shots and free kicks, hit long passes and maybe try and nutmeg a teammate while he's standing there with his legs split and arms folded. Training would then start with a warm-up of a few laps around the pitch, static stretching and then straight into football drills. At the time I thought that was fine and probably what most professional teams did. However, since beginning my career as a Sport Scientist in professional football, the warm-ups I deliver pre-training are very different to a few laps around and pitch and a handful of static stretches I used to do. The basic structure of a warm-up can easily be applied to the amateur setting to try and maximise physical performance and minimise the risk of injury.
Structuring a warm-up using RAMP
Why do we warm-up? The goal of the warm-up is to prepare the footballer both physically and mentally for training and competition and can be structured in a way to achieve this. As the name suggests, the basic structure of a warm-up should be seen as a RAMP, starting at a low intensity and progressing to a higher intensity as the warm-up goes on. Typically, the warm-up lasts up to 15 minutes and can be broken down into three, 5-minute sections.
1. Raise (5 minutes): raising aims to elevate body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate using low-intensity activities. Typically, this is the "few laps around the pitch" part, but it can be monotonous. Football isn’t played by running around the outside of the pitch, it involves multi-directional movement, stopping and starting, turning and jumping amongst many other actions. Therefore, the raise activity should mimic this. Why not try a light-hearted game of handball for 5 minutes?
2. Activate and Mobilise (5 minutes): long-gone are the days of the notion of static stretching before exercise. Yes, there is a place for static stretching and its discussion warrants an article alone, however immediately pre-exercise dynamic stretching is arguably more appropriate. The major muscle groups; glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves need to be activated and mobilised. For example, rather than a static hamstring stretch for 30 seconds, an alternative could be a ten forward straight leg kicks to dynamically activate and mobilise the hamstring. This form of stretching can be applied to all major muscle groups
3. Potentiation (5 minutes): potentiation can simply mean high-intensity activities such as sprinting, agility and jumping to prime the players for the football drills they’re about to go into. During this phase of the warm-up, all activities should be performed at maximal intensity, and competition should be encouraged at all times. For example, a simple straight 20m race, three times between players in the same position is a good way to end the warm-up and spark some smiles on faces.
To conclude the RAMP protocol offers a very basic framework for structuring a warm-up, prepares the footballers to go into high-intensity football drills ready and potentially lowers risk of sustaining an injury. So, rather than spending time jogging around the pitch and half-heartedly static stretching, try and incorporate the RAMP warm-up to prepare yourself physically and mentally for training, and if high-intensity potentiation drills are carried out frequently at the end of each warm-up, you may even find yourself getting quicker and more agile.
Football of course is a team sport made up of 11 unique individuals. To create a winning and successful team, it is essential that Social factors are identified, addressed and improved. Within social factors that can impact on performance, there are two sub components which are Group Dynamics and Cultural/Societal Issues. We can look deeper at each and the role they play in developing a strong team spirit.
Group Dynamics include cooperating with team mates, contributing towards the team objectives, working in isolation, relationships with team mates, staff and how you fit in as an individual to the over team dynamics. Being a good team player requires you to fully understand your role and that of others. A phrase used by many is ‘a hard working team is difficult to beat’ which of course requires more than hard work but it undoubtedly gives a solid foundation to build team success upon.
More and more important nowadays is the importance of addressing Cultural/Societal Issues which should be the cornerstone of our game. They are basic values which give us rules and parameters to play within. Without these, there would be no structure and discipline. Whilst we always want to strive to win, we must do so by playing in the correct sporting manner. It is important when playing to always adhere to the basic ROOTS of the game.
Rules – play hard but fair and always within the rules of the game. Don’t cheat to simply win a game as it will ultimately devalue the success. Be honest and truthful at all times which will result in gaining more decisions, good luck in the future.
Opposition – respect your opponents and always treat with respect. The better the opponent, the harder you should try allowing you to continually make improvements to your game.
Officials – without match officials there would be no organised games and we must always bear that in mind. The officials always try their best and honest mistakes will happen similar to that of players so we must be mindful and respectful at all times. Shake hands before and at the end and don’t be afraid to ask them their real name, it is not often REF!!
Team mates – show respect and encouragement to your team mates at all times. Whilst you may not always agree with a choice of pass or shot, you will always need them to help and assist during the game and a supportive team mate is a good team mate.
Self – never let yourself down by making rash decisions or acts of ill discipline. You owe it to yourself to play hard but fair and push yourself to be the best that you can be.
- Role models – identify a player that you admire (preferably in your position) and watch as much of them on and off the pitch. Watch how they get off the team bus, how they enter the field, how they warm up, how they deal with immediate setbacks and try to replicate. Also, be aware that you can also be a role model for others (even if you don’t like it!) be it a younger sibling, youth team player etc so always aspire to inspire!
- Building Team Dynamics – organise and fully participate in team building events such as go-karting, paint balling etc. These really help to shift the focus from football for a while and can often lead to increased levels of team morale and leadership
It can often be read or heard in the mainstream media that ‘they don’t quite have the mental strength to play at this level’ which then often raises the question ‘well what does it take and how do you get it?’ If we look more closely at the hugely important mental factors that can influence and impact performance, we should consider the following areas;
- level of arousal (under and over)
- decision making
- problem solving
- mental toughness
- processing information
- cue recognition
Looking at levels of arousal and I am sure we can all think of a player who is super charged for a game and rarely controls himself and equally a player who plays without a care in the world. Whilst neither is right or wrong, it is however important to understand them and strike the correct balance that works for you. I often wonder what motivates the modern day elite level football player given the amount of money that is being earned through salaries and sponsorship. Are they motivated to make personal improvements each day, do they want to be recognised as the best player in the world or do they want to win trophies, earn a new contract and make even more money. At the very top level of the game where players and generally all at peak fitness with similar skill levels, decision making can often be the difference between the excellent and world class players. Knowing when to pass or dribble or drop off or press is a mental skill that can be trained through experience, knowledge and repetition and one that can make a huge difference between you and your competitors. With current society not being conducive to players playing in the street or public park for that matter anymore, it has often been said that the regular organised coaching culture which has been created for all youth players nowadays has reduced the ability for players to make decisions on the pitch for themselves and I have to agree. Players should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions (which alongside this will come mistakes) and then develop this mental factor making them more accountable on the pitch. This then links to problem solving and the ability to have the awareness and knowledge to spot something on the pitch which is either a strength or weakness of the opposition and making an educated problem solving decision to combat it.
- Visualisation – close your eyes and picture yourself scoring that last minute winner of saving the decisive penalty in a shoot out. Play the scene over in your head and have an understanding of how it feels and what is required
- Positive Self Talk – have a short script prepared and ready to use should you be feeling down and lack of motivation in a game such as ‘I am a good player, I am going to impose myself on this game’ this can help flush out negative thoughts and focus on the positives
Whenever you are evaluating your own personal or team performance, or watching Match of the Day on a Saturday evening, more often than not, it will be physical factors that impacted on a player or team performance that is discussed by the pundits. Given that the game is built around physical components it is natural that this is what we are immediately drawn to however, it is hugely important to understand the other factors that can have both a positive and negative impact on not only football but most sports which are mental, social and emotional. We will discuss these key factors in later articles but for now, let’s focus on analysing physical factors, how we can evaluate our performance and what methods of approach can we adopt to make significant improvements.
One key physical factor which can often separate the good players from great, are technical skills. These include; timing and execution of a pass/shot, consistency of the skill, imagination in possession of the ball, how capable and able the player is to play with flair and freedom. In youth football, the freedom to express and be creative is slowly diminishing and should always be encouraged in the right areas of the pitch at the right time.
The second key physical factor that can often win or lose a game to consider is tactical. We currently live in a society where online tactical analysis is readily available with some being of a very high standard. Some basic means of tactical awareness can include; what are my strengths and weaknesses for a specific match/role, what are the opposition strengths and weaknesses and how can we exploit them as a team, what is the current time in the game resulting in a greater intensity or a more controlled manner, who are we playing and what type of match should we expect, what are the external factors that may play a part such as surface, referee, weather conditions, opposition support etc. It is essential to carefully analyse these factors before each match and prepare effectively to combat as many factors as possible. In situ analysis can be difficult yet extremely effective. You may have planned for A but the opposition are doing B, how do you react? Once the game is finished, it is essential to spend quality time to reflect on your tactical performance and what areas worked well and what requires improvement.
The final physical factor which can have an impact on your performance is of course fitness. Areas of personal consideration should include; aerobic, strength, speed and power. Physical training should always be made specific to the individual strengths and weaknesses and consideration should also be made to the position in which you play. The levels of strength required for a centre back will be greater to that of a winger who in turn requires excellent speed to effectively execute his role within the team driving past opposition full backs offensively and tracking back defensively.
- Repetition drills – identify the skill you want to improve which is specific to your position and practice, practice and practice some more! Grove the move until you can do it automatically!
- Unopposed and opposed practice – practice the skill in a controlled environment with no opposition then add limited pressure before making it game realistic with defenders working at 100%.
- Modified games/situations – take the skill you want to improve and develop it in a game like situation such as 2v1 for full back and wingers working in partnership
- Walk/run through – using the ball, walk through the movements required for each phase of play and ensure you fully understand your role in and out of possession
- Conditioning drills – identify the key physical factors that are appropriate to your position and work on drills which address them
- Specificity – make all conditioning work specific to your position and actions such as crossing followed by a recovery run for a full back