Recovery from training and competition: have you heard of leg drains?

Leg drains, also known as the inversion therapy technique in physical therapy, is a highly practical and low risk recovery tool available to all athletes at no associated cost. As represented in the images below, this method involves the person lying in a supine position and extending the legs against a wall, keeping the buttocks in contact with the lower portion of the wall, the posterior hip and lower back on the floor and the arms out to the sides. This means of recovery has been highly promoted by physical therapists and yoga practitioners partly due to its circulatory benefits and its ability to reduce lower back pain in adults. However, today it is commonly used by athletes, particularly during long competitions with a high frequency of games (that is, with few days of recovery between games), as well as during pre-season and training camps with high volumes of physical work.

In addition to its high practicality, there are many benefits (physiological, mechanical, and psychological) associated with leg drains, which is why certain specialists recommend athletes to use the technique on a daily basis. A series of these are presented in the table below.

Practical guidelines

Specialists working with elite basketball players and others in the general population have suggested the effective dose of leg drains to be somewhere between 8 to 20 minutes post-exercise in order to gain a significant benefit. However, as with most things, it is likely that small doses in consistency may trump large doses with no consistency. It is also likely that depending on the individual’s context they may be able to devote more or less time to this recovery strategy.

From this, a general recommendation would be to use this tool 3 to 5 times per week for a duration of 10 to 15 minutes (not necessarily an upper limit) during periods of high physical demands such as pre-season or in-season months for basketball players. Only one set is sufficient. Given that sleep is the most restorative form of recovery in terms of physiology, psychology and neuromuscular anatomy, it is possibly a good idea to perform leg drains prior to sleep as the recovery effects of both means may sum up further.


Further resources

Bird, S. P. (2011). Implementation of recovery strategies: 100-point weekly recovery checklist. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 16(2), 16-19.



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