"Ice bath for three days"

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Especially when the end of a football season gets closer, the body of most players are drained, and the topic of recovery is becoming increasingly important. In our training blog, we explain what’s important when it comes to regeneration in soccer and why ice baths are so famous.

It’s the 2014 World Cup - After a draining 2:1 against Algeria in the round of 16 a visibly exhausted Per Mertesacker stands in front of the cameras. It’s about to become one of the more memorable interviews of the German defender. In addition to obvious incomprehension for the questions of the news reporter, Mertesacker also announces that he will "take an ice bath for three days straight". And yes, he actually means a tub filled with ice. But why would he do it voluntarily?

The reason for Mertesacker's announcement is quite simple. The ice bath is not a test of courage, but one of many recovery methods. The so-called cold water application is aiming at supporting the body's own regeneration processes and helps the player to recover as quickly as possible. And that’s exactly what the central defender of the German national team needs after a round-of-16 game, that lasted more than 120 minutes in the Brazilian heat.

Performance increase through regeneration

Although most coaches know about the importance of regeneration, guided exercises rarely find their way into training sessions. In addition to too little practice time on an amateur level, it is often due to a lack of knowledge of those responsible. Regeneration phases are fundamental for the short-term and long-term performance of the team, since, contrary to the actual intention, practice initially weakens and does not strengthen a player. The most well-known example of this effect are micro injuries of the musculature caused by high loads, which become noticeable on the day after an intense training session and are often referred to as muscle soreness. The consequences are quickly noticeable - Reduced mobility and activation of the affected muscles, as well as inflammatory reactions in the destroyed structure which ultimately lead to lower performance in the days after the training session.

A subsequent recovery phase allows the body to initiate processes of adaptation. These lead to the restoration of the previous performance level, and even beyond, which prevents the body from weakening to the same extent again. This model of supercompensation, which is widely used in sports, explains and illustrates the relationship between training load and recovery. But it's not as simple as it sounds.

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The model of supercompensation can only be partially applied to all functions of the body. In addition, the adaptation period of the various processes differs considerably in some cases. The body, for example, only takes 20-30 minutes to break down the lactate formed, but between 6-24 hours to replenish the fluid balance with sufficient intake. Enzymes and hormones that indicate destroyed muscle cells and inflammation can be detected even up to 96 hours after the training session. The replenishment of energy storage in the stressed musculature takes place over the same period.

Regeneration in Soccer

Scientific studies on the recovery time of ball sports athletes show that the athletes' physical performance is already restored before most of the adaption processes are completed. Especially with soccer and rugby players, inflammation markers in the blood can still be detected over a longer period of time than with other ball sports athletes. In addition to the high total playing time, this is mainly due to the physical demands of modern soccer. The increasing frequency of injuries and ever-increasing schedules of teams further underline the importance of regeneration in soccer.

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The UEFA Injury Report 2017 shows that the top international clubs are playing up to 5.5 games per month, which makes a full recovery between matches virtually impossible. Only the level of performance built up over years and a direct medical and therapeutic support allows the players to endure season after season. To enable a quick recovery from stress, coaches and medical staff rely on various active and passive regeneration methods. In addition to nutrition and psychological relaxation methods, the active measures include, of course, training periods such as Cool-Down, stretching or the increasingly popular self-massage with foam rollers. Besides massages performed by therapists or heating and cooling applications, the often-underestimated sleep should be mentioned as one of the more important passive regeneration measures. In the best case, these measures should be adjusted to individual needs, since not every athlete responds equally. One distinguishes between responders and non-responders.

The effects and applications of the most popular regeneration methods will be explained in our next blog.

Your Team

[1] Schurr, S. (2016). Regeneration für Sportler.
[2] Doeven, S. H. (2018). Postmatch recovery of physical performance and biochemical markers in team ball sports: a systematic review.
[3] Ekstrand, J. (2017). Uefa Elite Club Injury Study.

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