Tactical Strength Challenge: Recovery Basics

When we start training for the Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC), it’s likely that there are increases in overall volume of training – sessions take longer, weight gets heavier, reps go up, etc. This is especially true for those first-time competitors or those just starting to explore the world of kettlebell training. With this increase, we often forget what else has to increase – our recovery.

If we’re not recovering and are constantly breaking the body down during training, we’re not going to see progress toward a heavier deadlift, more snatches or pull-ups, or a longer flexed arm hang time. At the end of the day, we only get better from what we recover from.

Stay healthy!

At the most foundational level, we want to make sure we’re staying healthy. Some of this can be helped with avoiding injury and what I will talk about later in this article, but other lifestyle factors do play a role. Making sure that we’re washing our hands, avoiding touching our face unnecessarily, staying away from those who are sick, etc. is all great to make sure we’re staying healthy!

To the body, stress is stress. If we’re sick, or just barely over an illness, the body doesn’t realize if the stress from a workout is stress from that illness or the workout itself. Being sick may mean a couple days off workouts and training, which is okay if it happens, but we do want to avoid it if we can!

Don’t neglect your sleep.

Sleep is some of the best recovery work we can do! We want to make sure we’re prioritizing sleep quality and quantity throughout the challenge. Regarding quantity, we want to make sure that we’re getting 6-9 hours of sleep, aiming toward that higher end of the range! While we sleep, it’s like the ultimate reset button for the body. We repair from the work done the day prior, restore hormone levels, etc. However, it’s not all about quantity.

We want to make sure that the sleep we’re getting is QUALITY. As well.  Three big rocks that we can focus on for quality sleep:

  1. Sleep in complete darkness. Invest in blackout curtains, make sure the clocks are on the darkest setting or facing away from you, etc. You can even go as far taping over indicator lights on other appliances you may have.
  2. The room should be cool temperature. Between 60-67 degrees is optimal, according to the research that’s been done. The cooler temps help your body produce more melatonin, decrease insomnia, and are linked to deeper, higher quality sleep overall.
  3. Limit your screen time, especially blue light, before bed. Blue light suppresses our melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that causes us to feel sleepy; it typically should be highest at the end of the day, as we’re going to bed. Most devices have a setting now, but TV’s still usually don’t. Make sure you’re winding down screen-less or limit screens the 90 minutes to hour before bedtime.

Food is Fuel.

Food is fuel. It serves many important functions throughout the body and for training! We have to make sure that we’re eating enough to recover and fuel the body for what’s to come. Though weight loss may happen over the course of the challenge, now is not the time to tie a weight loss to your performance goal. Restricting the calories too low can also lead to a decrease in performance over the course of the challenge. It’s best to allow food to fuel the body.

Eating according to the general guidelines for healthy eating is the best way to go. If you’ve competed before, you know what works best for you. If you haven’t working with a coach is a great way to help find out what may best for you individually.

There are some guidelines we can use to fuel for training, regardless of who you are:  Prioritizing carbohydrates around training, to make sure the body is fueled and ready to go for the workout ahead, is almost guaranteed to aid in performing. Ensuring that we’re eating adequate protein on all days is also going to be key to build muscle and get stronger over the course of the training program.

We can’t forget about hydration! Drinking enough water ensures that nutrient delivery to the cells, digestion is optimal, among a host of other benefits. Aim for ½-1x bodyweight in ounces per day. You can even add a pinch of Himalayan Sea Salt to your first glass/bottle of the day if you’re feeling dehydrated to help with water retention.

Fast and Loose Recovery Work

We want to make sure we’re taking care of our body on a daily basis. Adding foam rolling, mobility, stability, and movement prep work daily is going to make sure we’re addressing any movement limitations or imbalances as much as possible. This helps protect against injury as well. To steal a tagline from Functional Movement Systems (FMS), we have to move well before we can move often.

Me, performing a kettlebell arm bar
The kettlebell arm bar is a must-have for me as I’m working on shoulder stability and t-spine mobility.

By addressing current imbalances, muscular weaknesses, and other areas of concern, we’re giving them the most attention possible. If it took years to acquire, it will likely take quite a bit of time to alleviate. Just like a weight loss journey, we can’t expect an overnight transformation.

Breath work is another great way for the body to relax, destress, and recover. Working through deep, belly breaths allows the body to move into the rest and digest state. Similarly, to how we want to balance tension with fast and loss, we want to allow the body to balance “fight or flight” with “rest and digest”.

Don’t let your calluses build up.

One of the most talked about topics when we ramp up kettlebell training is hand care. Master Instructor Whoo-chae Yoon said it best during my SFG1 Certification when he told us: If you’re ripping calluses and tearing up your hands, you’re making a mistake. It’s not a badge of honor to have your hands torn up.

Chalking the hands before a kettlebell snatch can help prevent calluses and allow the bell to move smoothly.
Chalking the hands before a kettlebell snatch can help prevent calluses and allow the bell to move smoothly.

However, there is an art to hand care. For strength exercises, such as the pull-up and deadlift, we have a different grip than our ballistic snatches. We can’t neglect our calluses and let them build up. When I was first reading about how to care for calluses, I found numerous different methods. The one that works best for me is:

Using a callus shaver or pumice stone to shave down the calluses while your hands are dry. I’ll usually do this before a shower at night especially. That way, I know I’ll be able to let them relax instead of loading weights while I’m coaching during the day. The water from the shower and the moisture also feels great on them, once they’re shaven down. Then I’ll moisturize with a thicker moisturizer, such as the Coconut Body Butter from Trader Joe’s, and let it soak in

During the day, when I’m coaching or have to use my hands a lot, I’ll also use Corn Huskers Lotion to moisturize and maintain them. I’ve found that it’s best to have callus there, but we want it to be tough, yet smooth.

Just like anything else, hand care is some trial-and-error. I know a lot of people recommend soaking the hands first or shaving down calluses after they shower. But for me, I’ve found that having my hands wet causes me to shave them down too far, so they’re raw the next day. Check out this article by Mandy Haugstad, Pn1, SFG1 on the importance of hand care as we increase training volume and intensity!

Preventative Tune Ups w/ Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, etc.

The best way to avoid serious injury is to stay ahead of it! By visiting Physical Therapist or Chiropractor when the injury small, or perhaps not even an injury yet at all, we can make sure our body is feeling good throughout the process. If something is bugging you, or you feel a knot that you can’t seem to release on your own, addressing it when it’s small is likely a better route than to let it get to something big.

It’s All Individual

Take time to get to know your body – there may be some trial and error within the first few weeks. For example, to use myself, I HATE training with food in my stomach. While eating pre-training is typically optimal for performance, it’s not for me. Instead, I opt to train fasted and make sure that I have a good meal ready for me immediately after training to help in recovery as soon as possible.

You may have some trial and error similar to this – What time of day is best? What foods digest the best? Do you need to do a PT/Chiropractic tune up more often? The first few weeks are the best time to get this trial and error out of the way. Then, as we get closer to competition, we fine tune everything, ensuring we have optimal training as well as recovery!

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