Hindsight is a wonderful thing

There’s an old Russian proverb that says ‘life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards’. In other words, although we try to make the best decisions we can based on the best information we have at the time, the passage of time often reveals that our decisions were made on false or incomplete assumptions – ie we got it wrong!

Nowhere is this truer than in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Although we tend to think of scientific knowledge as something that (once accepted by scientists) is fixed and immutable, it’s not. As new evidence comes to light, many scientific theories have to be modified or discarded completely if they don’t fit that evidence. As Richard Feynman, one of the world’s greatest physicists once said: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If your theory doesn’t agree with the evidence, it’s wrong!”

Getting it wrong

In the 15 years I’ve been working for Peak Performance, there have been numerous examples of where previously well-accepted theories and practices have had to be discarded – or at least highly modified – because new evidence had demonstrated that scientists had got it wrong. A classic example is pre-exercise stretching. Exercise professionals once considered pre-activity stretching de rigour as part of any warm up. But recent evidence has shown not only does it not protect against injury or boost performance – pre-exercise stretching actually harms performance!

Another good example PP that has reported on is the use of certain antioxidant supplements. Once thought to help exercise performance by killing off ‘nasty’ and damaging free radicals, it now turns out that your muscles actually need a bit of free-radical damage, which helps kick start the process of training adaptation – the process by which the cells remodel themselves to process higher levels of oxygen resulting in higher fitness levels. Taking high-dose antioxidant supplements might actually impair this adaptation process.

Ice, ice baby

Now it seems we have another theory to rethink – recovery ice baths. Research shows that immersing yourself in very cold (or even just cool) water after exercise can help accelerate your recovery by reducing inflammation, and this no doubt explains the growing popularity of so-called ice baths post exercise. But as we report in Peak Performance, if you’re already using this practice after hard training sessions, it might be time to think again. That’s because if you’re training to achieve maximum and fitness gains, artificially speeding up recovery has significant downsides and is not automatically desirable.

Why should this be the case and how can you determine which recovery strategy is best to use, and when? All of these questions are answered by our resident US contributor Rick Lovett. Rick not only looks at the recent evidence and explains what it means for athletes, he’s also managed to bend the ear of David McHenry on this topic. McHenry worked with top athletes in the run up to Rio 2016, including Britain’s Mo Farrah, and offers some extremely insightful advice for anyone who is considering taking the plunge!

Andrew Hamilton, Peak Performance editor

You can read Rick’s article in full here

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