Highlights of the episode:

  • Periodizing recovery
  • Recovery methods for pre season
  • How much time to dedicate to recovery post-game
  • Transition from recovery to preparation to next game

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Interview Transcript

Jack: Next on the show we have Ben Frith, the high performance manager at St Kilda Football Club. He’ll be discussing how to periodize your recovery. Thanks for jumping on, Ben. 

Ben: Thanks for having me, mate. Thanks for the opportunity to speak. 

Jack: It’s good to have you back on. We’ll dive straight into it. What does it mean to periodize your recovery, for those that haven’t heard that?

Ben: Well, I guess, it’s the same as periodizing your training. So, if we think about what periodization is, it’s dividing training into training intersections, where you’re manipulating your training variables to improve your performance. Periodizing your recovery is very much the same thing.

In the preseason, when we’re trying to push physical adaptation, maybe recovery takes a bit of a backseat. Certainly, what I try and tell to our players, when you get to in-season, when you know the priorities we’re recovering from, from a game, to get ready for the next week, it certainly becomes more of a focus.

I think that gets lost a little bit sometimes that the preseason is about pushing physical development. Yes, fatigue and so on are a part of that, but they aren’t the end of the world. Oftentimes they are results of hard training, but we shouldn’t necessarily shy away from them all the time.

And if you’ve got a well-structured training week, you would hope that your sessions are far enough apart that you don’t need to be going into anything other than good sleep, good nutrition, good rehydration to prepare for your next session. So, it’s just prioritizing your recovery for the appropriate part of the year.

Jack: Awesome, mate. That’s a good segue for is there any recovery methods that can pay detriment to that physical development in preseason?

Ben: Yeah, the big one is cold water immersion for strength and power. If you’ve got your main low body gym session for the week, and then you’re immediately jumping in a cold water bath, or you’re going down to the beach when it’s pretty cold, spending 10–15 minutes in 10 to 12 degree water, there’s pretty good research to show that you’re going to blunt that strength and power adaptation. So, it can be detrimental.

The the hard bit comes from more of a cultural point of view. From a professional standard point of view, a lot of coaches love to push that stuff. And recovery often falls into that. It can just take a bit of education to the playing group around, when to do some things and when to just continue to use the big rocks of sleep, nutrition and rehydration.

Jack: Awesome. So, it’s specific to the phase that you’re in. It’s not like you’re not recovering when you’re in preseason. It’s just understanding that you shouldn’t be jumping into the ice bath after a game and you might hold off on the ice bath, just to maximize your development in the work you’re doing in the gym.

Ben: Yes, but it’s not to say that I won’t tell the girls, ‘Don’t do any recovery. Don’t do any cold water bath throughout the preseason.’ There might be one week in the block that I’ll say to the girls, ‘Hey, look, this is going to be a really hard week. We’ve got two really big sessions to book in the week. One at the start, one at the end. Do everything in your power to recover from those sessions.’

But then we’ll go into a day load. And, hopefully, they’ll feel pretty fresh again. And they will build again for another three or four weeks. And then again, in that fourth week, we’re saying, ‘Hey, girls, it’s going to be a pretty hard week. Make sure you’re on top of all your big rocks and then throw anything else that you feel that works for you to get yourselves up and ready for those training sessions.’

Jack: And from a routine point of view, let’s say, for in-season for the footballers that are currently playing, will you be having a set routine, like each day there’s a theme of the type of recovery that an athlete does, because they liked that theme? Or is it good to have variation? Should it depend on the game that you played and the dynamics of that game? Take us through for S&Cs prescribing recovery. 

Ben: That’s a good question. It’s personable. If I think there should be a routine, that just takes the decision-making out of it. Post-game you need to replace one and a half times of body weight lost fluid, you need to get 30 grams of protein, you need to get, I think, it’s 1.5 grams per body weight of carbs. Obviously, sleep’s usually important. It’s good to see that that’s coming vogue over the last 5 to 10 years.

And then outside of that, cold water immersion and those NormaTec boots and all that sort of stuff that gets talked about a lot. But 80% of the benefits of recovery are going to come from those big rocks. And I would certainly encourage our girls to use cold water immersion, or go to the beach or just get into some water and move around. I think moving gets a bit lost at times in the recovery space.

And probably the other big one is mentally recovering from the game, and that’s going to look different for everyone. Some people love to go walk their dog, grab a coffee, or go spend time with their friends or family, or read a book, or get out in nature, or video games, or whatever it may be to the individual. But I think that’s a hugely important piece that often gets missed.

Professional sport or semi-professional sport can get pretty demanding at times. It can get pretty stressful. As I feel that was becoming more and more professional, it’s getting more and more media coverage. It’s a good and a bad thing.

So, I think it’s usually important that as our seasons grow and as the preseasons get longer and harder, that you take time and that clubs in general try and plan four day breaks. I know men have four day breaks scheduled into their preseason and they’re mandated in. And I think it’s really important to give that more than anything, particularly with the rumors around.

Our next pre-season is starting in about a month. It’s pretty important that the girls come back mentally fresh, probably more so than physically fresh. That’ll look pretty different for every individual. And you need to figure out what works best for you throughout your career. I would say it’s probably pretty similar outside of the big rocks as well.

I’ve had some athletes in my time here that just hate cold water immersion, just absolutely detest it. So is it really worth the fight to get them to go into the beach for 10 minutes when it’s going to stress them out even more? Or do we find something that better works for them, whether it’d be some compression garments or massage or something else? If they really hate it that much, is it really worth the fight to getting them to do it, when it’ll help, but probably not as much as if you do the other three things right?

Jack: Yeah, that’s awesome. Particularly if they’re not bought into it, how effective is it really going to be? And that’s the psychological side.

Ben: That’s a great point. Like all the extra stuff, it’s placebo. Well, it’s not just placebo, but it plays a big role. If you’re adamant that ice baths work great for you and they make you feel a million bucks, or sauna makes you feel better, or NormaTec boots, or you’ve just got something that works for you, keep doing that. It’s important that the player believes in what’s in that recovery method than what necessarily evidence suggests.

The big rocks are the big rocks. That’s where you get the most bang for your buck, that’s where you’re best spending all your time or the vast majority of your time. Outside of that, play around, experiment with some things. The preseason is a great time to try some different things after some pretty hard sessions to see what helps you bounce back.

Jack: Probably that’s a hard one to answer, but for the girls and boys listening, just for an idea of what the St Kilda girls would do, how much time would they dedicate to recovery post a game, do you think, roughly speaking? 

Ben: Post-game it can often be pretty challenging. We don’t play in the best venues all the time. So, the options can be pretty limited. Which, I guess, if there’s young players listening, they’re not going to be playing at the MCG with last pass available and all that stuff as well. Often we have to tell the girls, ‘Look, you know you need to go get your own stuff done.’

It’s great if we’re playing at home. We’ve got two or three recovery baths, so they can go and do hot-colds. That’s great if we’re at home. If we’re traveling or played a game, this year at Blacktown, midweek game, it was a middle game of three games in eight days. Thanks, COVID. And we had to jump straight on a bus, like we had to be to the airport, I think, it was an hour. Yeah, I think it was 90 minutes post-game and it’s like a 45-minute bus trip. So, there’s not much you can do there. It’s just get some food in, try and relax.

And then when you get home, or not even when we got home, because it was about midnight, but the next day that’s when we go to the pool, try and get moving, go to an icy, do hot-cold. It’s often not perfect. In terms of time, it’s at least half an hour by the time it all wraps up, you include weighing in and out of the game. By the time they get their food and their rehydrate, they go and do their ice bath, it’d be at least half an hour.

And then often the girls would go to another ice bath, or go walk down the beach or go do something the next day. But after 24 hours, 36 hours post-game. It’s time to start reloading again for the weekend, shift the focus from recovering from the game and just going into getting some good loading into the week coming.

Jack: And then for the coaches listening in that haven’t prescribed recovery sessions before, or facilitated them, what would be some of your advice, actionable, practical advice for when a team has had a pretty hard loss? You mentioned the psychology effect of recovery too. So, they’ve had a bit of a hard loss. It’s an emotional game and you’ve got to run a recovery session. What sort of vibe and how does that influence your prescription in those circumstances? 

Ben: Probably the first thing is you’ve got to try and shift the focus from what’s just happened to what’s coming. Speaking about that GWS game we had, we lost to a pretty contentious free kick that resulted in a goal kicked after the siren to win. So, it was very quickly, ‘Right, that’s done. Let’s shift our focus to the next game.’ It was probably a good thing in that instance, we were playing again in four days, because we just had to move on. We couldn’t dwell.

Probably the biggest thing is just a bit of education. It’s not always a football coaches responsibility to educate their players on physical development and recovery and nutrition, all those things. But a little bit of education can go a long way and just placing some emphasis on it.

In terms of what to do, again, I’ll go back to the big rocks. And probably if you’re at lower levels of a footy trial, limit your alcohol consumption post-games. Pretty good one. It dehydrates you. It’s not great for tissue repair. Eight plus hours of sleep. Again, 30 plus grams of protein, plenty of carbs, rehydrate 1.5 times your body weight lost.

And then, as I said, encourage players to experiment from there. Do they like cold water immersions? Do they find it helps? Experiment with hot-colds. If you’ve got access to the NormaTec boots, have a go at those. Otherwise you can actually use compression garments, they’re pretty good. There’s some pretty good evidence to show that they do have a benefit.

And then also experiment with, as I was saying before, that mental side. Find out what helps. Is it going for a round of golf? Is it walking your dog to get a coffee in the morning? Or seeing your mates the night of the game or the afternoon after the game? Something like that. Just with that more peripheral stuff, experiment. See what works for you. 

Jack: And we’ve spent a fair bit on post-game and you’ve thoroughly provided a lot of information for athletes and coaches, which is great. Thanks, mate. What about for day one post and day two, where do you start to see as a high performance manager where the recovery starts to shift towards more performance preparation to the next game? 

Ben: If you use a typical Saturday-to-Saturday schedule, often you play your game on Saturday. Sundays, obviously, we’re not going to be in the club, but that’s big recovery day. Monday we might do like a light flash run. It might be 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off real slow. We might play some really low level games, a bit of a mobility circuit in the gym. If some girls are really struggling, they’ll get a massage or they might even go do another ice bath if they find that it helps them.

And then it’s really Tuesday that we look to start loading them up again. We won’t hit top speed, but we’ll probably do an excel-based session in the warmup. And then Tuesdays, normally our traditional, prime, low body gym session for the week. It’s where we get all our heavy loading. We do all our acentric hamulating in there.

And then on from there. We normally are Tuesday-Thursday-structured week. Thursday’s normally our main on-field session and it’s our priming session in the gym. And then we don’t do a capsules run, but I know a lot of clubs do it. We’ll do our capsules run on Friday and then we roll into game day again. 

Jack: Awesome. On Tuesday it’s not like you’re getting nothing out of it from a physical point of view, you’re getting good recovery, but you’re also working hard in the gym. So, for athletes out there the mindset is just transferring from that on-field work to in the gym. You want to get that hard session early in the week away from your game. How important is that?

Ben: It’s huge. I guess it’s something that, what I was saying before, that when we move in season, the focus shifts more to the recovery side of things. But that doesn’t mean that you completely neglect getting some good loading in both on field and in the gym when the opportunity presents itself.

Like, if you’ve got an eight- or nine-day break, if you’re playing or have been playing on Friday night, or you’re playing Saturday and the next game’s on Sunday, it’s a good chance for you to get some good loading in that week. Good chance you’ll get two good footy sessions in that week. You can get two good gym sessions in at the very least.

It’s just really in the first 24 to, certainly 24, but 48 to 72 hours post game that you just need to be on top of your recovery stuff. But once you get past that, you can really start to get some good load into yourself or into your players.

Jack: Fantastic. Awesome. Well, that wraps it up nicely. Thanks for your time, mate, and sharing all your experience and knowledge with us. For those that want to get in contact, whether it’d be for some work experience, like Jordy had mentioned, which was nice of him, or just to pick your brain some more, where’s the best place to get in contact with you?

Ben: I am on Instagram. I don’t reckon I’ve posted in about a year. I’ve sort of dropped the ball a bit there. Hang on, let me get it. I’m pretty sure it’s @benfrith.s.c. I am on LinkedIn, but I don’t really look at LinkedIn much. Twitter or Instagram is the best place to get me.

Jack: Twitter and Instagram, we’ll add it in the show notes. And then where’s the best place in Australia to go mountain bike riding? 

Ben: Oh, definitely Danny Tezi. If you ever get a chance to go to Danny Tezi, go to Maydena, it is unreal. Just don’t break your back hitting a tree.

Jack: Okay. Awesome.


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