2 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Sports Recovery Right Away - New School BJJ Brixton | London , UK

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2 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Sports Recovery Right Away

New gadgets, treatments and supplements are always coming onto the market to help with sports recovery, but there are 2 simple things you can start implementing right away to train your body for efficient recovery. 

First, a fundamental principle about recovery: the state of our nervous system determines how we recover.

A stressed nervous system is focused on allowing you to mobilise: sugars and stress hormones are released into the blood stream, your heart and lungs work faster and your muscles are primed for action. Obviously, we want this state when we’re training, but we are using energy to facilitate this mobilisation, and we’re breaking down and spending our resources to do so. We’re designed to switch from this (catabolic) stress response into the (anabolic) rest and repair response. 

It’s in the ‘rest and repair’ state of our nervous system that our resources go towards healing, digesting and recovering. If we get stuck in go-mode, we don’t give our body the chance to heal the micro-damage (and sometimes not so micro in full-contact sports!) caused by exercise, and we are likely to experience a fatigued nervous system. 

So, the question is then: how can we spend more time in ‘rest and repair’ mode?

2 simple practices have been shown to shift the nervous system into recovery: 

  1. Calming breathwork 
  2. Gentle stretching & mobilising


Our breathing is the easiest way to manipulate our nervous system; we can’t command our heart to slow down or our blood chemistry to change, but we can voluntarily change the way we’re breathing. Our nervous system works on a feedback loop, meaning our brain tells our body what’s happening, but our body can also tell our brain information it is picking up. Calm breathing tells our nervous system we’re safe, which initiates the shift into a relaxed state.

The way you breathe is crucial; taking a huge breath in, up to your chest, has the opposite effect. 


  1. Exhales are more calming for the nervous system. Lengthening your exhales (especially with sound from your lips or throat) can help down-regulate your nervous system. We know this from biofeedback devices that show heart rate increases on inhales and decreases on exhales (this is also why balancing out inhales and exhales can help improve heart rate variability)
  2. Slow breaths are calming. Our lungs have stretch receptors that detect the speed of our breathing. Activation of slow stretch receptors sends feedback to the brain that we are safe and can shift into rest and repair.
  3. Breathing into the bottom of your lungs is calming. When we breathe up into our chest, we’re sending the feedback that we are physically exerting ourselves and therefore must require energy for mobilisation. Studies have shown that breathing lower down helps elicit the relaxation response. 

So, a few minutes of slow breaths, inhaling as far down into your body as possible and then extending your exhales can help shift your state to optimise recovery. Doing this practice after exercise would be ideal, as well as before bed or whenever you’re feeling stressed throughout the day. Even one mindful breath can help shift gears, but of course regular practice is what will ingrain this pattern into your nervous system.


Stretching and mobility work for improved range of motion is different to what we would recommend for recovery. Stretching is a strain on your tissues, so stretching too aggressively when you’re trying to recover can be counterproductive; not only are you stressing out already stressed muscles, but you’re also stressing out your nervous system. You know this is happening if you’re starting to sweat, hold your breath or wince (if you’re screaming you’ve definitely gone too far!).

Stretching for recovery is all about encouraging blood and lymph flow and reducing tension. 

Encouraging blood and lymph flow

In order to heal we need fresh blood supply, and we need waste products to be taken away. Gentle mobilisation and massage can help flush your tissues. Our lymphatic system is designed to get rid of toxins and byproducts of energy production, but it doesn’t have a pump, so movement is essential to help with this process. 

Reducing tension

When we’ve been exercising, we’re holding more tension because we’ve needed muscular contraction. It’s important to normalise this tension so you don’t leave the gym still braced and tense. This is a different intention compared to when we’re trying to gain more flexibility; you don’t need to push the stretch to your edge. This kind of stretching should be fairly gentle, with an emphasis on allowing breath to move freely with the above down-regulating patterns. 

Research has also shown that holding a passive stretch for 90 seconds or more shifts the nervous system into rest and repair. Mobility coaches will tell you that passive stretching is unhelpful for mobility because you’re not building strength in that range of motion — and this is true. But again, we’re not using these stretches to gain strength through range; the passivity of these stretches is intended to send calming feedback to your nervous system.


You can definitely use these principles to start your own recovery practice, but of course there’s so much more detail and variation to learn. If you’re keen to maximise your recovery, join our Embodiment classes and workshops to train your mind and body to spend more time in rest and repair.

By Eleanor Forder