Years ago during one Gasshuku (weekend camp) I asked every single yudansha (“black belt”) what they’d do differently if time were turned back and they were beginners again. The most common answer was, “I wouldn’t abuse my body like I did.”
During my first karate journey when I was a teenager, I didn’t know anything about recovery. Before the days of the Internet the most readily available source of information on that topic would have been buried deep within books about jogging and running marathons. Besides, when I was a teenager I could bounce back quite readily. I didn’t have a concept of a recovery day.
Now that I’m, ahem, over half a century old… I don’t just bounce back. When I started my second karate journey at age 44 I still had no concept of recovery. But over time I’ve accumulated some knowledge here and there. Disclaimer: this blog post is about what works for me. I hope it’ll give you some ideas, but it’s not meant to be a scientific paper. I’m not a sports professional. I’m just a slightly lumpy middle-aged matron with, as blogger Jackie Bradbury puts it, “a strange little hobby of acquiring bruises for funsies.” I have to say this – talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.
Training in karate is hard. It’s meant to be. Go to a McDojo and shell out the dough if you want an easy black belt. Sometimes karate training is harder than usual. Maybe you sparred with eight people in less than an hour for a tournament, for a belt test, or for fun/learning/practice. Perhaps you had multiple training sessions over the course of a weekend. You could be ramping up for a tournament or belt test. Or, like I did, you’re stepping on the mats for the first time in 27 years. Honestly, age doesn’t make a difference in whether or not you need recovery time. It’s just that you feel the need more acutely when you’re older.
Here’s what I like to do for recovery days following a harder-than-usual event. Again, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada.
For me, recovery begins before the event. I usually have a recovery day (no athletic activity) once per week. It’s usually the same day each week, but I sometimes shift it to two or three days before the special event and one or two days after. Hydration is always crucial, but I keep an extra-close eye on my water intake before, during, and after. Ditto for nutrition and stretching.
I’ve started to see the value of stretching after each workout, especially after something that’s harder than usual. For multiple training sessions over a weekend, I suggest saving stretching for after the last seminar of each day. This is anecdotal, and it’s just me, but I’ve found that stretching after a harder-than-usual thing cuts my post-event-feeling-like-crap days way down – we’re talking from about a week cut down to maybe three days. During those feeling-like-crap days I sometimes let go of my own practice/workout times and only go to class. I try to take a complete recovery day immediately after a hard event. Sometimes that doesn’t work because I have class the next day (my dojo meets only 2x per week). When that happens I simply take the next day off.
When I get home, I refuel. A little product endorsement here… What I really like at the end of any workout (1x per day max) is Ultima Replenisher (https://www.ultimareplenisher.com/ ). If it’s not mealtime, I have a snack. Bananas are packed with nutrition. I often throw in a source of protein such as cheese, nuts, or pea-protein snacks. Before bed after any workout, I take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement. Muscles use calcium to relax, and magnesium helps prevent “Charlie horses” (cramps) in the middle of the night. Talk to your doctor, nutritionist, whatever, yada yada. There are other ways of getting your muscles to relax.
Dealing with tense muscles is easy. I can’t say enough good things about a good long soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed. I love it when I don’t have to set a timer and can just soak until the water gets too cool. This is best done right after a tough workout, but if you don’t have access to a tub or the time to just soak, get ‘er done as soon as you can. It’s bliss. If you can afford it, massage is wonderful. If you can’t afford a massage therapist, wait for a sale (Black Friday is coming up!) and get a handheld massager, a foam roller (I like the one with bumps), or both. I don’t use these as often as I should, but believe me, they provide a lot of relief.
I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven or not, but I believe in “a hair o’ the dog what bit you” when I’m sore the next day. If you’re not familiar with that expression, it means that drinking a little bit of whatever alcoholic beverage you got drunk on will supposedly cure your hangover. When it comes to exercise, it’s more than just an old wives’ tale for me. If I’m sore from holding a stance, I’ll hold that stance for a few seconds the next day. If it’s crunches that made me sore, I do a maximum of 4 reps. It seems to help. Again, you’re recovering, so don’t do a workout – rest, even sleep, is crucial.
I once saw a meme that read something along the lines of, “Naps, I’m sorry I treated you so badly when I was a child.” If you can find a way to work a nap into your recovery day, do it. I’m refreshed even after 15 minutes, although I prefer 30 to 90 minutes. Set an alarm if you need to.
As you can see, recovery is an art in and of itself. For us, ahem, older athletes it’s vital. I would argue recovery is vital for young whippersnappers too, it’s just that us old folks run into a brick wall if we neglect it. Building healthy habits now, no matter what your age, will contribute to your longevity in the art of karate.