During competition and training, an athlete needs to recover from bouts of fatigue-induced from intense training or competing. The length of time required is dependent on the type and level of the activity and the training status of the athlete. There are three types of recovery; (Bishop, Jones and Woods, 2008).
Immediate, the recovery between muscle contractions or movements.
Short term, the recovery between bouts of exercise.
Training recovery, recovery period between training sessions.
This has resulted in an increase in the recovery market products;
Ice baths and contrast therapy
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation
We are going to look at Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES). These have grown in use and popularity with products like Compex and Power Dot being used more and more by not only athletes but the everyday gym-goer. But how much of the science do we know about these products? Or do we just use them because we see athletes or people, we admire using them?
There have been many studies on the use of NMES for increasing strength, particularly during injury, rehab after a serious injury or recovering from a condition that affects muscular function, like a stroke. In comparison, there have been fewer studies looking at the use of NMES for recovery. This could be down to the different types of recovery and how the NMES is used, for example, it might be used to induce visible muscle contractions to increase blood flow and remove muscle metabolites or it could be used for providing a solution to muscular pain. These both require the NMEs machines to be used in different ways. (Babault, Cometti, Maffiuletti and Deley, 2011).
Remember when reading studies, they are not all equal. We look for studies with strong evidence, where the findings are consistent in multiple high-quality studies, or with moderate evidence, where there are consistent findings in at least one high quality and 1 or more medium quality studies.
NMES and blood lactate removal
Let’s look at NMES compared to passive recovery and active recovery for removing blood lactate. Readings in most studies were taken at 15, 20, 25 and 30 minutes. When compared with passive recovery, the data favoured NMEs at the 10 minutes, 15minute and 20minute readings.
(Babault, Cometti, Maffiuletti and Deley, 2011) (Warren, Brown, Landers and Stahura, 2011).
When compared to active recovery the NMES didn’t fare as well with the readings taken at 15, 20, 25 and 30minutes. The reading at 15 minutes favoured active recovery but not statistically significant, although the readings that were taken at the other times, significantly favoured active recovery over NMES for the removal of blood lactate. (Malone et al., 2011) (Neric, Beam, Brown and Wiersma, 2009) (Seo et al., 2011).
NMES and performance parameters
When looking at studies on NMEs and performance parameters compared to passive recovery there were 7 high-quality studies, 3 medium and 10 low quality. They all showed that NMES, had no significant differences on performance when compared to passive recovery. Therefore, there is no significant evidence that NMES helps performance parameters when used for recovery. (Cortis et al., 2010) (HEYMAN, DE GEUS, MERTENS and MEEUSEN, 2009) (Maffiuletti, Minetto, Farina and Bottinelli, 2011)
NMES and pain perceptions of pain and exertion
When compared to passive recovery NMEs had a significant positive effect on the rating of pain and perceptions of pain. However, when compared to active recovery, there was no evidence to say NMES was in anyway more effective than active recovery either during or after the recovery period. (Mika, Mika, Fernhall and Unnithan, 2007) (Tessitore et al., 2008) (Warren, Brown, Landers and Stahura, 2011).
There is evidence that neuromuscular electrical stimulation is better than passive recovery for blood lactate removal and pain perception & exertion but has no significant difference in performance parameters. There is, however, evidence that NMES is no better and in most cases inferior to active recovery strategies. There is still room for more studies to be performed as there are few studies, I came across that showed NMES was better than active recovery across all the above tests. (Taylor et al., 2015), although they did use the NMES equipment for 8hrs.
So, when looking for recovery tools for yourself as an athlete, or as a coach for your athletes, then save yourself a few hundred pounds and stick with some active recovery!
For more references or information, drop me an email or comment on this blog post.
Babault, N., Cometti, C., Maffiuletti, N. and Deley, G., 2011. Does electrical stimulation enhance post-exercise performance recovery? European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(10), pp.2501-2507.
Bishop, P., Jones, E. and Woods, A., 2008. Recovery from Training: A Brief Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), pp.1015-1024.
Cortis, C., Tessitore, A., D’Artibale, E., Meeusen, R. and Capranica, L., 2010. Effects of Post-Exercise Recovery Interventions on Physiological, Psychological, and Performance Parameters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31(05), pp.327-335.
HEYMAN, E., DE GEUS, B., MERTENS, I. and MEEUSEN, R., 2009. Effects of Four Recovery Methods on Repeated Maximal Rock-Climbing Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(6), pp.1303-1310.
Maffiuletti, N., Minetto, M., Farina, D. and Bottinelli, R., 2011. Electrical stimulation for neuromuscular testing and training: state-of-the art and unresolved issues. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(10), pp.2391-2397.
Malone, J., Coughlan, G., Crowe, L., Gissane, G. and Caulfield, B., 2011. The physiological effects of low-intensity neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) on short-term recovery from supra-maximal exercise bouts in male triathletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(7), pp.2421-2432.
Mika, A., Mika, P., Fernhall, B. and Unnithan, V., 2007. Comparison of Recovery Strategies on Muscle Performance After Fatiguing Exercise. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 86(6), pp.474-481.
Neric, F., Beam, W., Brown, L. and Wiersma, L., 2009. Comparison of Swim Recovery and Muscle Stimulation on Lactate Removal After Sprint Swimming. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(9), pp.2560-2567.
Seo, B., Kim, D., Choi, D., Kwon, C. and Shin, H., 2011. The Effect of Electrical Stimulation on Blood Lactate after Anaerobic Muscle Fatigue Induced in Taekwondo Athletes. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 23(2), pp.271-275.
Taylor, T., West, D., Howatson, G., Jones, C., Bracken, R., Love, T., Cook, C., Swift, E., Baker, J. and Kilduff, L., 2015. The impact of neuromuscular electrical stimulation on recovery after intensive, muscle damaging, maximal speed training in professional team sports players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 18(3), pp.328-332.
Tessitore, A., Meeusen, R., Pagano, R., Benvenuti, C., Tiberi, M. and Capranica, L., 2008. Effectiveness of Active Versus Passive Recovery Strategies After Futsal Games. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(5), pp.1402-1412.
Warren, C., Brown, L., Landers, M. and Stahura, K., 2011. Effect of Three Different Between-Inning Recovery Methods on Baseball Pitching Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(3), pp.683-688.