Being an Olympic athlete is essentially training to be a superhuman. Their athleticism is a cut above the rest—and for a good reason, seeing as they are competing to be the best in the world. They must push their bodies beyond unthinkable limits daily to achieve that.
With that in mind, it can be easy to forget that, like regular athletes, their bodies need time to recuperate as well. Just like the strenuous practices they put themselves through to achieve their Olympic talents, their therapy and aftercare are just as intense (and unconventional).
Sure, the practice laps that you may do for your school’s track team may not require the same recovery as gold medalist Allyson Felix’s intense Olympic training regimen. Still, these aftercare tips are another way to beat the pain and enhance your performance. While the scientific integrity of these methods needs to be further examined, here are some unconventional treatments Olympians use to recoup:
For the Price Conscious: Cupping
Being an athlete, let alone an Olympian, is not cheap. Their aftercare methods are no exception. However, cupping is a more cost-effective way to promote natural healing in your body. Cupping is a form of therapy that acts as a sort of acupuncture. Flammable liquid is placed in a cup made from glass or bamboo. It is then placed on sore muscles for a few minutes. The cup sucks in the skin, thereby increasing blood flow and muscle activity while also reducing soreness. The process itself is not pretty: the treatment can leave noticeable bruising on the treated areas, but it ultimately relaxes tight muscles, and it leaves your range of motion unrestricted. Swimmer Michael Phelps was seen sporting some after-bruising from this therapy during the 2016 Olympics.
A Spike in Performance: Dry Needling
Most people are familiar with or have at least seen acupuncture. It is the practice of sticking extremely narrow, fine stainless needles into one’s skin. The placing of these needles is strategic: they are placed on “trigger points” that are supposed to relieve tension in the surrounding muscles. Dry needling is the same thing in practice, with a couple of crucial differences. Dry needling uses no liquids in its needles, hence the operative word being “dry”. Dry needling also only stimulates muscles as a means of reducing irritation. As a result, dry needling tends to be quicker because the needles will not be in the skin for long. Acupuncture has uses beyond easing pain, such as reducing headaches and nausea, as well as helping with someone’s energy and emotional state. While either one can help an athlete reached their goal of recovery, dry needling is the faster and more straightforward method if you only want to reduce your pain.
Elite Solutions: Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is a fancy term for “cold therapy”, and that’s what it is. You exposed your body to sub-zero temperatures for a few minutes in an enclosed chamber that covers you head to toe. The health benefits include reducing inflamed nerves, relaxing sore muscles, and alleviating skin conditions. Using it sporadically has its benefits, but you can achieve the best results through consistent use. Some Olympians use this treatment up to two times a day. While this method does have its supporters, the FDA is still trying to investigate evidence of its merits, so proceed with caution.
Bend It Like Beckham: Kinesiology Tape
An Olympic athlete David Beckham is not, but he sure has been taking cues from the many Olympic stars seen wearing these colorful tapes in the 2016 games. According to the Kinesio brand’s website, the tapes are supposed to reduce discomfort and promote increased flexibility by microscopically lifting your skin. They act as band support while you are working out or competing, so your muscles won’t be as sore later. It’s like the aftercare before the actual aftercare. This has also come under a bit of fire (not particularly the actual method, but the brand itself). Due to the fact Kinesio touts the fact that they are “superior to minimal intervention to pain relief”, the jury is still out whether they are any different than other types. Whichever way that coin falls, if it reduces any amount of pain, you should count yourself in.