They Recover as Intensely as They Play
Getting off the plane after every away game, Steve Smith, 36, makes sure to call his wife — not just to say hello, but to remind her to prepare his favorite recovery tool, his Game Ready. Hugely popular among pros, the $2,500 device is a compression sleeve for arms or legs, which is filled with ice water that circulates in variable levels of compression. The cold and compression reduce inflammation, which helps reduce muscle soreness, repair micro-traumas, and lower the chance of injury. Most athletes wear the device for 30- or 60-minute sessions. "I do acupuncture, too," says Smith, "and I have a steam shower at home, and an H-Wave machine that helps stimulate and put blood flow to the muscle without physically activating it."
Any trainer will tell you that the biggest challenge for older athletes is bouncing back from workouts and games. That's why Jed Hartigan, Steve Smith's longtime trainer at Velocity Sports Performance, in Charlotte, North Carolina, makes clients budget an hour of recuperative work, like yoga or soft-tissue therapy, for every hour of training. It's also why San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich famously benches Tim Duncan in noncritical games, part of a growing trend toward preserving older stars for when they can do the most good. Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, no longer plays five days in a row during his preseason while training with Abunassar. "The biggest change over the years with Kevin has been monitoring his overall weight," Abunassar says, "making sure it's not excessive, and ramping him up for the season at exactly the right time — not too early, not too late."
At the most extreme end of recovery are $50,000 cryotherapy chambers that increasingly are showing up at elite gyms. "You sit in it naked, with your head sticking out," says Arnold, of Plex. "It cools down to negative 280 degrees, and you stay in about three minutes. I don't want to say it's like blood doping, but your body freaks out and starts circulating blood faster and producing more red blood cells, which helps with recovery and removes a lot of toxins. It's like an internal oil change to the blood."