Interview with Athletic Trainer, John Zirkelbach

John Zirkelbach started at University of Kansas in 2002 and serves as head athletic trainer for women's soccer and softball, while also serving as aquatic rehabilitation center supervisor and sports medicine IT coordinator.

What methods do you use and recommend for athlete recovery?

Cryotherapy is a recovery method I personally recommend after hard training session and can be performed nearly every day (in the form of morning and evening cold showers, and many, many cold soaks in the bathtub or ice batch). The benefits of all these forms of “cryotherapy” include enhanced immune system, increased cell longevity, decreased level of inflammatory molecules such interleukin-6 which all help with increase exercise tolerance and promotes quicker recovery.
Deloading/taper week is just a fancy word for an easy recovery week to absorbed the hard training weeks. A deloading week doesn’t mean you cease all activity and take things into bon-bon eating or couch-lounge mode. In most cases, I recommend continued use of mobility work, yoga, easy “injury prevention” style workouts, skills and drills to work on efficiency and economy or learning new exercises and movements. Do this along with a general reduction in weights, sets, and reps, and a few aerobic, calorie deprived workouts. You should do one deloading week every 3-7 weeks of training.
Vibration foam rolling has been shown to not only increase strength, power and speed before workouts, but to also result in a hormonal, immune system and anti-inflammatory response that can speed recovery after and between training sessions.

Additional Reading: It's Time to Start Using a Foam Roller

Compression gear during a hard workout can help “aid” your performance in subsequent workouts, because the increased blood flow from compression helps to restore muscle glycogen levels and to clear metabolic waste. When you wear compression, there may also be less muscle damage from tissue “bouncing up and down” while you exercise. Wearing it when you sleep, rest or travel. Wearing compression gear, you’ll find that the improved support and blood flow leaves you less stiff and sore.  If you have a couple thousand dollars to spare or like to own nice things, the “GameReady“ unit, can achieve a similar level of compression with icy cold water, but gives the added benefit of a pumping action similar to Normatec boots.
Stretching/Yoga after deep-tissue and mobility work with a foam roller (or lacrosse ball, tennis ball, golf ball, etc.) will actually encourage release of the muscle knots. This means your ideal workout recovery order should be: foam rolling to exercise, back to foam rolling, and finishing with stretching to aid with injury prevention and recovery.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) devices such as the Compex Sport Elite, can be effectively used to build strength and can also be used to keep a muscle fit when you are rehabbing from an injury – such as doing an electrostimulation strength set for your quads if you’ve injured your feet and can’t do lower body exercise or for your pecs if you’ve injured your shoulders and can’t press or do push-ups.  EMS increases blood flow to the area of damaged muscle tissue. You simply place the electrodes over the area that needs enhanced blood flow and the electrical current causes a muscle contraction that results in heat and blood flow.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), also know as cold laser. This is a medical treatment that uses lasers or light-emitting diodes to reduce pain related to inflammation. It has been proven to be effective for tendinitis, arthritis, and both acute and chronic pain, and it can lower levels of pain producing chemicals such as prostaglandins and interleukin while decreasing oxidative stress from free radicals, bruises, swelling, and bleeding. 

What do you recommend for recovery nutrition?

Anti-inflammatory diet: foods with very high IF ratings include garlic, peppers, parsley, dark leafy greens, onions, salmon, avocado, ginger,  pineapple, berries/cherries, and apple cider vinegar. Vitamin C and D, Magnesium,  Amino acids, Omega-3 fatty acids and Iron/ferritin from whole food sources all help w/ decreased inflammatory response and aid in recovery.

How much sleep do you recommend?

Sleep 8-9 hours each night w/ 45-60 min nap every day during heavy training sessions.

Are there things that you do differently during the season compared to off season?

It’s the same. Take care of your body. Listen to it and take care of little issues before they become a bigger issue.

What advice do you have for other athletic trainers from your many years of experience?

Pre-screen for injury risks.

Educate, educate, educate your athletes and educate yourself with an open mind.

How would you sum up your experience with soccer preseasons and the very important role that you play?

My role is and always will be the first line of injury prevention through research, trial and error and education. You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes you need to shove it’s head under the water to make it drink. Basically, I try anything first and hope to get the athletes to buy in and at least try it for two weeks to see if it can help.

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