• Elliott Richardson

Recovery positions from cardio - we've been doing it wrong?

Maybe the way we've done it, has always been wrong? As part of my goals for 2019, reading a journal article per week has bee one of them. A recent one I thought would make for a good post to bring attention that could help both immediately improve performance, but also shed light on the notion that there's a lot of stuff we've been doing wrong for years.

If you've ever taken part in a conditioning drill, or a hard practice, or even just seen one happen, you've no doubt had a coach yell "hands on your head", "stand tall", "open up your lungs" to encourage you to recover from an all out effort. Potentially as likely, you've probably been told that by bending over, you're showing weakness to the other team... Although as an athlete I was quick to adopt the stand tall and recover posture, I've recently begun to question it, for a few reasons. For one, I remember that it sucked standing tall, and I couldn't catch my breath. I remember when I would do conditioning drills on my own, I would bend over and it felt much easier to breathe and recover. The second, is that in a state of stress, the body often resorts itself to positions and that it allows for best rate of survival. As much as we think we know, years of evolution and fight or flight response will always trump us in experience.

This is why I found it interesting when a new journal article popped up on my twitter feed that scientifically looked at two recovery postures during high intensity interval training. The study was quite simple and looked at two conventional recovery positions. The first was hands on head (HH), and the second was hands on knees (HK). The researches had the groups run some really tough high intensity intervals and then had to recover in one of the two positions, depending on which group they were assigned. The groups themselves were Division 2 soccer players, which are assumed to be pretty fit to begin with.

The researchers discovered that the group who put their hands on their knees recovered 53 beats per minute in the first minute compared to only 31 beats per minute for the poor suckers that had to keep their hands on their heads. That's a difference of 22 beats per minute in pretty well trained athletes. And this is instantaneous, meaning you don't need to run them through a training program just to get the benefits of that recovery. This could be the difference between winning and losing, or at the very least, the difference between giving another all out effort during conditioning and not being able to.

The main reason for the difference has to do with posture and how it impacts the bodies ability to work. By extending the spine, it puts the diaphragm (one of primary breathing muscles) in a sub-optimal position, therefore limiting its ability to function and do its job of recycling oxygen and carbon dioxide. By decreasing the efficiency of breathing, the people with hands on their heads couldn't lower their heart rate as possible.

So, what can we do with this information. Well, I think for most athletes, they're already effectively recovering between bouts of high intensity efforts in their own sport. If you look at sports like Volleyball between points, Basketball at the free throw line (or even just being in athletic position), Tennis, or Hockey players on the bench, they're adopting a bent over, flexed posture. Where we can be better implement this is during conditioning periods in sport. This is where you'll hear the strength coach or sport coach tell athletes to stand tall. It goes to show, that sometimes, if we just let the athlete's body do what it naturally wants to do, will adopt the most optimal position for recovery. After all, our body has spent 1000's of years trying to recover in far more stressful situations then a conditioning drill.

Don't worry about how you look, worry about the result....


V Michaelson, Joana & R Brilla, Lorrie & Suprak, David & L Mclaughlin, Wren & Dahlquist, Dylan. (2019). Effects of Two Different Recovery Postures during High-Intensity Interval Training. 4. 23-27.

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