Rest & Recovery for Bassists

A few months ago I wrote an article for Bass Guitar Magazine covering some principles of rest and recovery for bassists to help reduce risk of injury, as the issue has passed and I own the copyright I can now release it online here, enjoy.

Getting enough rest and recovery can be a significant challenge for the professional or amateur bassist, with gigs potentially going on long into the night and then finding somewhere to stay which isn’t always in the most optimal sleeping conditions. This on top of having to juggle multiple rehearsals, workshops and a personal life can make getting enough R&R almost impossible. Even more worrying is that situations like this can also lead to an increased injury risk, but with some clever organisation the risk can be reduced without you having to lift a finger.

Sleep

We all feel pretty rubbish if we haven’t got enough sleep, not only does that affect your performance and mood, but your injury risk as well. There is a plethora of medical research showing that good sleep quality can help the body sufficiently recover and reduce the risk of future injury, compared to those with reduced quality of sleep who can often suffer with pain for longer (ref). That information is all well and good, but getting the time to sleep can be a challenge at the best of times for any performing artist. Hence napping when able, although not as ideal as one long deep sleep, can at least help fill in the gaps so that the system has time to rest and recover to avoid burnout.

Recovery

Now to get more specific in regards to practice and recovery, some may recognise the graph below.

The principle of the graph above is that after a tissue is placed through a significant stress it will go into a period of fatigue, the length of the fatigue is determined by the size of the stress applied. After this period, providing no significant tissue damage has occurred, through the magic of human physiology the tissue will go into a compensated state where it will adapt to be able to tolerate that increased level of stress for a period of time before going back to the previous capacity level.

Many coaches and scientists (in and outside of sport) will use this principle to lead to long term tissue adaption and performance improvement by applying the same tissue stress at the point where the body has compensated as shown below to lead to subsequent gains in tissue capacity and ability. However if the same stress is applied whilst the tissue is still in a fatigued or recovering state it will not be able to handle the stress as well, resulting in potential reduced tissue capacity and ability, reduced performance and increased risk of tissue injury.

For the bassist this means that after an intense or long performance/rehearsal certain tissues (usually in the upper body) which have been worked quite hard will initially go into a fatigued state. For example the arms may feel tired, heavy or sore. As above if another intense or long performance/rehearsal takes place before the tissue has fully recovered, it would not only increase injury risk but also potentially reduce performance ability as well.

How long the fatigue and recovery stages last is very variable to the individual and amount of stress applied, for muscles that have been placed through a workout or equivalent activity the rough average time before going into compensation is 24 hours. But this is variable and certainly unknown for musicians currently.

Unexplained Underperformance

Continuous lack of rest, sleep and recovery in athletes can lead to “Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome” (previously known as overtraining syndrome), this is where a lack of rest and recovery combined with other factors as such as stress, anxiety and depression can lead to add to a prolonged drop in performance as well as increased amounts of injury and illness. There is no cure, only prolonged rest and gradual slow return to activities, and it has been known to end careers (ref).

Although performing arts medicine research has yet to catch up to this, a similar issue can easily happen in performing bassists, potentially ending careers and reducing quality of life. But it’s not all doom and gloom, if you’re going to plan your practice and performance time, then plan your rest time as well. So that just by sleeping and resting enough to allow your body to recover, future injury risk will stay low.

Have a nice day,

Ben.