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RECOVER: Exploring How To Rest And Recover Well. Part 1: Traditional Techniques.

Most athletes know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, but many still over train and feel guilty when they take a day off. The body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts, and continuous training can actually weaken the strongest athletes. Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals. In the worst-case scenario, too few rest and recovery days can lead to over training syndrome - a difficult condition to recover from.

In this two part post we explore the more traditional methods of recovery from sleep, nutrition and massage to the newer and more controversial techniques like cryotherapy, cupping and pulse recover systems. it seems the importance of recovery is not in question but revolves around finding the technique which best suits you.

What happens during recovery?

Building recovery time into any training program is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Exercise or any other physical work causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen) as well as fluid loss. Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of over training often occur from a lack of recovery time. Signs of over training include a feeling of general malaise, staleness, depression, decreased sports performance and increased risk of injury, among others.

Short and long term recovery

Keep in mind that there are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be built into a year- round training schedule. Both are important for optimal sports performance. Short-term recovery, sometimes called active recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during both the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits. Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise and optimising protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size) by eating the right foods in the post-exercise meal. This is also the time for soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) repair and the removal of chemicals that build up as a result of cell activity during exercise. Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, add crosstraining, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.

Adaptation to exercise

The Principle of Adaptation states that when we undergo the stress of physical exercise, our body adapts and becomes more efficient. It’s just like learning any new skill; at first it’s difficult, but over time it becomes second- nature. Once you adapt to a given stress, you require additional stress to continue to make progress. There are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it breaks down and risks injury. Doing too much work too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage, but doing too little, too slowly will not result in any improvement. This is why personal trainers set up specific training programs that increase time and intensity at a planned rate and allow rest days throughout the programme.

Recovery needs to take place not only physically but mentally and spiritually too. BURN out is a result of not allowing your WHOLE being the time and space to recuperate after pushing yourself to your limits. This collection of great articles gives you great insight into recovery, let’s take a closer look…

Nutrition: Feed Your Body

There are compelling reasons for embarking on a rehydration and refuelling strategy immediately after a training session. The basis for this started over 40 years ago when it was shown that exercise performance (moderate to high intensity) is related to muscle glycogen availability and that fatigue during such an activity is often associated with a depletion of muscle glycogen. It can be assumed that muscle glycogen decreases during exercise, and that for complete recovery these stores need to be replenished. There is evidence to suggest that ingesting carbohydrates immediately after exercise results in higher glycogen levels six hours later compared to if the carbohydrate was only ingested two hours after exercise. Muscles that are damaged from the exercise do not restore their glycogen as efficiently as undamaged muscles, possibly as a result of transient insulin resistance. There is evidence to suggest that exercise capacity will be restored more effectively when a mixture of carbohydrate and protein is ingested during recovery, compared to the same amount of carbohydrate alone.

How important is recovery nutrition after exercise?

The importance of recovery nutrition depends on the type and duration of exercise just completed, body composition goals and personal preferences.

The goals of the recovery nutrition are to:

• Appropriately refuel and rehydrate the body

• Promote muscle repair and growth

• Boost adaptation from the training session

• Support immune function

Proactive recovery nutrition is especially important if you complete two or more training sessions in one day or two sessions in close succession (e.g. evening session followed by early morning session the next day). However, if you’re exercising once a day or a couple of times a week, recovery nutrition is still important but you may be able to meet your nutrition goals from your usual meals or snacks without adding in extra food.

What can happen if I get my recovery nutrition wrong?

Inadequate nutrition recovery, especially if training multiple times a day, can result in:

• Increased fatigue (during training and at work or school)

• Reduced performance at your next training session or event

• Suboptimal gains from the session just completed

• Increased muscle soreness

The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison... Ann Wigmore


The relationship between sleep and recovery after exercise, particularly relating to performance, is receiving more attention as the link between sleep cognitive function and metabolic function becomes better understood.It has been recommended that athletes should have at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Based on the understanding of sleep and how it contributes to recovery and restoration,there is reason to believe that “power naps”during the day will be beneficial. Research has shown that “power naps”, defined as a brief period of daytime sleep lasting less than an hour, improves alertness, productivity and mood, and may contribute to consolidating learning and improved performance of tasks involving visual discrimination.

Many of the world’s greatest athletes eat, sleep, breathe, and live for their sport. But did you know that in addition to physical conditioning and conscious eating, sleep plays a major role in athletic performance and competitive results? The quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to winning. REM sleep in particular provides energy to both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to repair memory, consolidate memory, and release hormones. Tennis great, Serena Williams, told a UK publication that she usually sleeps well and enjoys going to bed early around 7 p.m. On the website of cyclist Lance Armstrong is a LiveStrong dare to get six to eight hours of sleep to improve mood, performance, and concentration. A study in the journal SLEEP confirms the role of sleep in performance with results thats how declines in split-second decision making following poor sleep. Results also showed increased accuracy in well-rested subjects. If there's one facet of the training regimen many athletes tend to neglect, it's sleep and recovery. But skimping on either can single-handedly halt your gains, increase your risk for injury in the gym or on the road, and hinder processes in your body that regulate, well, pretty much everything. John Walker and Damian Little tell us more.


Sleep gives you more than just rest; it recharges your “battery,” a.k.a. nervous system and replenishes your energy stores. Naturally the deeper and better you sleep, the better you reload. That's important because if you don't let your central nervous system(CNS) recuperate, your fitness suffers since your CNS is responsible for triggering muscle contractions, reaction time, and response to pain and you can start overloading your body on a larger scale. You're going to become slower, weaker, maybe even less coordinated in your workouts. What's more, your endocrine system and hormone profile are working while you’re sleeping. "These are really important because they secrete hormones, like cortisol and testosterone, that produce protein synthesis [muscle growth]," Little says. "In a stressed-out state, people have high cortisol levels, which can hurt performance and goals over a long period of time," he adds. For example,after a couple days of being under-recovered, your testosterone is going to drop; that affects how much muscle you can gain among other factors, like sexual function."

The better your reload is during sleep, the better you’ll be able to tax your body the next day," says Walker. If you have a bad reload during sleep, the workout you do the next day might seem harder than it normally would. Or you might overreach to compensate for your lack of energy, which ups your odds for injury. "When you’re asleep, all your body has to do is repair your muscles, breathe, and keep your hormone levels up," he says. It doesn't have to do as much, in comparison to when you’re awake, so it can use most of its energy to restore your damaged tissues. But if you’re getting low-quality sleep, or not enough sleep, that’s going to impact your body’s ability to heal itself. Bottom line: Without proper rest and restoration, you start degrading muscle growth and recovery, and your central nervous system stops recharging, so you feel tired, demotivated, and weak in your workouts, causing a negative feedback loop that can start a vicious cycle, Walker says.


"Some people think, ‘Oh, I get eight to nine hours of sleep; that’s enough,’ but sometimes it’s not," Walker says. The quality of your sleep matters most. You can sleep for eight hours; but if the quality isn’t that good, you won’t recover as well as if you had six hours of high-quality sleep. You also need an optimal environment for sleep and to maintain good sleep hygiene, as well as good nutrition (don't eat fatty,spicy, or ultra-processed food right before bed) and use supplements (like melatonin and tart cherry juice).


Just as you track your calories when you're on a diet,it's helpful to keep tabs on your recovery. "We use a basic journal or monitor to test out people’s level of fatigue," Walker says. Simple questions like "How do you feel today?" "Are you sore—and is your soreness symmetrical?" and "How many hours and how well did you sleep?" can expose simple measures of fatigue.


Pay attention to your body. Are your feet starting to get a little bit heavy? Are you not as balanced on some of those landings? Are you not quite making the corners on the single-track? These signs of fatigue might not even show up on any test or machine. "In some ways, the critical eye of a coach, a co-partner, or yourself—if you really understand your own system—can be your best indicator of fatigue," Walker says. Professional athletes are really good at this. They know when they have that pop in their legs and when they don’t. If you're overly tired, call it quits; better you get the rest you need than hurt yourself. Each workout you do has a different influence on fatigue markers. But as long as you’re keeping track of your workouts, you’ll be able to note the trends in your body’s recovery time. “At MJP , we have hangover effect charts that show each client how long it'll take him or her to recover,” Walker says. “We also order workouts to optimise recovery," he adds. For example, if you're working on power in the form of plyometrics, like box jumps or broad jumps, get the work in early in the session because you’ll be too fatigued by the end. This way the recovery can actually occur within the training day itself.

"We’ve got to fatigue you!" Walker says. "We’ve got to pull you into that system (aerobic or anaerobic) where you suck. "Being uncomfortable (not in excruciating pain) is how you get stronger, faster, better. There are going to be days where you don’t feel great, and workouts that crush you. And that’s okay. Athletes training for the Olympics are constantly pulled toward their goal by getting uncomfortable. "There were days when [retired American sprinter and four-time Olympic gold medalist] Michael Johnson would run repeat 300s and feel completely trashed for two days later," Walker says. "That doesn’t mean the training itself is bad. "You want to make sure whatever you’re training for, you're stressing the right system at the right time," Little says. You've got to find that fine balance and know when to push it and when to back off.


Late-night rituals: Most of us are overworked. You're probably working on your laptop, checking emails on your phone, or catching up on news or social media late at night. Problem is, the blue light emitted from these devices is going to trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. "Your body’s natural melatonin levels are going to be pushed down pretty low because your body thinks it needs to be awake," Little says.

"Get off your electronic devices at least one hour before you go to bed; this will help your melatonin levels naturally rise to where they need to be before you go to sleep," he adds. Lie down, meditate, do some positive self talk, read a book, or talk to another human being (crazy stuff, we know); all of these things are incredibly relaxing. Plus, they can get your heartrate down. Bedroom environment/sleep hygiene: If you're in a city, try blackout curtains if light from store fronts are always on outside your window. Set your bedroom temperature to a maximum of 20 degrees C (your body prefers cooler temps to slow your heart rate down and get to sleep quicker), Little suggests. Invest in a good mattress, sheets, and pillow, too. You want to create the optimal environment for sleep.

Non Steroidal Anti- Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)

NSAIDS relieve pain and have anti- inflammatory properties. These properties make them an attractive modality for the treatment of athletes after training and competition to possibly enhance recovery, and are the most widely used medications for treating muscle injury. Studies on strains and contusions suggest that the use of NSAIDS can result in a modest inhibition of the initial inflammatory response and the associated symptoms. However, the inhibition of the biological steps may cause negative effects later in the healing phase. Many studies have examined the acute affects of NSAIDS on muscle injury and the diverse findings suggest that NSAIDS have a dosage-dependent effect that may also be influenced by the time of administration. Animal studies suggest that whilst NSAIDS may have a short-term positive effect on muscle repair, the long-term effects (four weeks) may be negative and associated with ineffectual or delayed muscle regeneration.


Charles Bennington Coach CrossFit, Gymnastics

I’m sitting down to write this in my living room and, as long as I’m conveying extra details to you, it is worth noting that I’m sitting on a 3.5” massage ball in an attempt to loosen up my piriformis. You see, that little sucker is inflamed. Heck, between weightlifting pieces, gymnastics play time, and conditioning work, it seems there is not a day that goes by that something does not feel angry and pissed off at me. But I have come to terms with accepting that some part of me will be tight and sore on almost any given day as a result of my workouts. I am certainly not planning on stopping the things I do for my workouts, but I am willing to use deliberate recovery measures and supplementation to help battle this inflammation. I would venture to guess that most people understand there are many inflammation responses going on in the body at any given time. The acute inflammation we get from the physical stimulation and demands created by our training programs is generally a good thing, pushing the body toward repair and healing. However, outside of our exercise-induced inflammation, we are also bombarded by other physical, chemical, and biological agents and stimuli that contribute to chronic inflammation. While the acute inflammation from exercise is nice to keep in check, it is the sum of all stressors of chronic inflammation that we really need to concern ourselves with.

Chronic inflammation can eventually potentially lead to multiple conditions and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and even some cancers. Let’s look at some supplements we can use to stave off excess inflammation and see if we can’t pick up some additional benefits along the way. A search on Breaking Muscle for “fish oil” shows there is already eight pages of results, so we’ll go ahead and pass on that one since it’s been covered in depth already. Instead, the first supplement we’ll check out will be a quick look into green tea.

Green Tea

One of the good things about looking for links between green tea and inflammation is that this potent plant is being used in a plethora of medical and scientific research pieces as we speak. Susanne M. Henning, Ph.D., R.D., adjunct professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles has finished a block of research that intended to study the influence of green tea on prostate cancer. A study group consumed six cups of brewed green tea daily for three to eight weeks, depending on the timing of their prostate surgery, and the control group did not consume green tea. Post- study serum prostate-specific antigen concentrations were considerably lower in the group that consumed the tea. Researchers also established that in the green tea-consuming patients, nuclear factor kappa B (NFKB) was greatly reduced. As NFKB is a serious indicator of inflammation that is linked to cancer, autoimmune diseases, septic shock, viral infection, and improper immune development, it is an exceptionally good thing to keep down. Additionally, scientists from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio have identified that the green tea polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) decreases the expression of interleukin-8, a protein that causes inflammation. They also identified an inverse relationship in that the higher the dose of EGCG, the greater it decreased the expression of interleukin-8.

Ginger Root

Another item to supplement in the battle against inflammation also starts with the letter “G” - ginger root. Both the American Association for Cancer Research, in its journal Cancer Prevention Research, and a University of Michigan study identified that ginger may have potential as a colon cancer prevention agent. They also found that supplementation with ginger root reduced colon inflammation markers. Aside from colon cancer, ginger has also been shown to work against skin, ovarian, and breast cancer. And for a benefit a little more in tune to our exercise pursuits, the University of Georgia found that adult exercisers who took two grams of daily oral supplementation of ginger had a reduction in exercise-related muscle pain by 25%. I realise what I have presented here in regards to green tea and ginger is predominately concerned with cancer (not that fighting cancer is ever a bad thing). But if you look at the relationship that exists between cancer and inflammation, anything that lowers cancer risk factors through reducing markers of inflammation is more than likely going to help out your swollen traps and lats, too. If we consider that ginger can potential reduce our muscle pain by 25% along with the green tea EGCG and interleukin-8 relationship, green tea and ginger might present a potent one-two punch against joint and muscle aches from our training. It is also worth keeping in mind that your body has a finite number of resources that can ever be dedicated to physiological functions. The less overall inflammation your body has to contend with, the more that it can focus on healing your exercise induced, localised, acute inflammation.


Massage is widely used by athletes to prepare for exercise and accelerate recovery from training and competition. Data collected from 12 major national and international athletic events between 1987 and 1998 showed that physiotherapists spend between 24% and 52% of their time using massage. The premise upon which massage treatment exerts its effects are thought to be through decreasing oedema and reducing pain, enhancing blood lactate removal, and promoting healing by increasing muscle blood flow. These proposed mechanisms are not always supported by the scientific evidence, suggesting that the effects may be psychological. Some studies have found that massage does not reduce symptoms of muscle pain. Other studies have found to the contrary.

For example, ten healthy subjects performed eccentric exercise of the elbow flexors designed to induce muscle soreness. The arm which underwent exercise received 10 minutes of massage therapy three hours after the exercise. Massage was effective in reducing inflammation and the symptoms of pain by 30% but it had no effect on muscle function. These results show once again that pain and muscle function are disassociated and that muscle pain should be used with caution as a clinical marker of how a muscle has recovered. It is understandable why the results of the studies that have used massage to alleviate symptoms of muscle damage are quite varied. This can be explained because there are many different types of massage therapy, while therapy duration and frequency can also influence the results.

Furthermore, it is quite difficult to do a completely blinded study using massage as an intervention therapy, making the results difficult to interpret. A review of all the published studies on massage showed that most studies contain methodological limitations, including inadequate training of the massage therapists, insufficient duration of treatment, too few subjects in the experiment, or over- or under-working of muscles that limits the practical conclusions which can be derived. However, it may be concluded from all these studies that generally muscle soreness arising from DOMS is reduced with massage. Massage is a widely used recovery strategy among athletes. However, apart from perceived benefits of massage on muscle soreness, few reports have demonstrated positive effects on repeated exercise performance.

Furthermore, increased blood flow is one of the main mechanisms proposed to improve recovery (thus improving clearance of metabolic waste products). However, many studies reported no increase in blood flow or lactate removal during massage (Monedero & Donne, 2000, Tiidus & Shoemaker, 1995). Indeed, in a recent study, Wiltshire and colleagues (2010) reported that massage actually impaired blood flow and lactate removal. Lane and Wenger (2004) reported that massage was superior to passive recovery in maintaining cycle performance separated by 24 h. However, active recovery and cold water immersion provided greater (non-significant) benefits compared to massage.

Monedero and Donne (2000) reported that massage was no more effective than passive recovery performed between two simulated 5 km cycle time trials separated by 20 min. However, a combined recovery consisting of active cycling and massage was significantly superior at maintaining performance than active cycling or massage in isolation, or passive recovery. In contrast, in high-intensity cycle sprints (8 x 5 sec sprints repeated twice), Ogai and colleagues (2008) reported that when massage was performed between the two bouts, total power output of the second bout was enhanced compared to the control. It should be noted that no other recovery strategies were performed, and as such, it is difficult to make recommendations for massage over other forms of recovery. Several reviews of the effects of massage have concluded that while massage is beneficial in improving psychological aspects of recovery, most evidence does not support massage as a modality to improve recovery of functional performance (Barnett, 2006; Weerapong et al., 2005). However, as massage may have potential benefits for injury prevention and management; massage should still be incorporated in an athlete’s training program for reasons other than recovery .


The main goal of stretching is to increase the range of motion around joints. The data showing that this indeed occurs is convincing. Stretching is commonly advocated as a technique for reducing the risk of injury although the research does not necessarily support this. The evidence supporting stretching as part of a recovery protocol is less convincing. A mechanism by which stretching may enhance the recovery process has yet to be identified. Furthermore, there do not appear to be any studies that have investigated the effect of stretching between exercise sessions/matches on performance during post-recovery exercise/competition. Stretching exercises have been shown to be ineffective in reducing the symptoms of muscle damage. A comprehensive review of studies which had used stretching after exercise (total stretching time ranging from 300 to 600 seconds) with the goal of reducing muscle soreness, showed that 72 hours after exercise, pain had only reduced by 2%, which was not regarded as meaningful. Although stretching is anecdotally one of the most used recovery strategies, the literature examining the effects of stretching as a recovery method is sparse. In team sport athletes, Kinugasa and Kilding, (2009) assessed the effects of 7 min of static stretching following a football game.

Stretching was not as effective active recovery for improving the subject’s perceived recovery. Similarly, Montgomery et al. (2008) reported that a combined recovery strategy (stretching and carbohydrate intake) performed immediately after three basketball games over 3 days was not as effective as CWI for restoring physical performance (20 m sprint, basketball specific running drill, sit and reach test). In contrast, Dawson and colleagues (2005) reported that stretching following an Australian football match significantly improved power output during a 6 s cycle sprint 15 h after the match, compared to a control. Additionally, Miladi and colleagues (2011) reported that dynamic stretching was significantly superior to active or passive recovery for maintaining a second bout of cycling to exhaustion. Finally, following a muscle damaging protocol, stretching was found to improve range of motion and reduce muscle soreness compared to a control (Kokkinidis et al., 1998). As can be concluded from the above findings, there have been mixed reports regarding the benefit of stretching as a recovery strategy. However, two separate reviews of recovery methods concluded that there was no benefit for stretching as a recovery modality (Barnett, 2006; Vaile et al., 2010). It is important to note that to date, there have not been any detrimental effects on performance associated with post- exercise stretching.

Active Recovery

Active recovery enhances the removal of high levels of circulating lactate. However the link between high levels of circulating lactate and impaired muscle function is dubious. It follows then that if active recovery has beneficial effects, the mechanism of action is then through other mechanisms. Despite the lack of understanding of the mechanisms of active recovery, there are several studies which show that this method has some positive effects. For example, a recent study on rugby players showed that recovery rates (using creatine kinase intransdermal exudate as a marker) were similar for active recovery, contrast temperature water immersion, and wearing lower-body compression garments – and were significantly better than passive recovery. However, not all studies show that active recovery has a beneficial physiological effect. Active recovery needs to be an integral part of the training programme and implemented immediately after a training session (cool down), or after a match. Active recovery can also be structured into the programme on days of “easy” training. Active recovery needs to incorporate aerobic-type activity with stretching exercises included.

The activity should be of a sufficiently low intensity as to not induce further fatigue, but also assist with a psychological recovery, particularly after a tense match. Active recovery should always be performed in a non-competitive environment. A popular form of active recovery, particularly the day after a race, is a pool session. Some great examples of active recovery are: swimming, jogging, Pilates and yoga.

Mental Restoration & Recovery For Athletes

Mental restoration. Mental rejuvenation. What the hell do I mean by “mental recovery?” I’m talking about anything that helps you feel like your batteries are recharging. Anything that brings more joy and satisfaction to your life. It’s any thought or action that improves your well- being and reduces the amount of tension, stress or anxiety you feel. It’s the idea of giving your mind a break in the intensity, so you can go hard again. Sometimes you’ll want to engage in more adventurous, thrilling and exciting activities to improve your mood. Other times, you’ll want to be more peaceful and relaxed. The key is building awareness about what helps you feel restored and carving out time each day and each week for mental restoration.

If you’re a goal driven person who is on the grind, trying to get things done, you’ll benefit from chilling out and slowing the hell down. If you can prioritize restoration time throughout your week, you’ll be able to give more focus and intensity when it matters most. Honestly, even 5-10 minutes here and there can make the world of a difference. Don’t believe me? Try it. A lot of athletes work their asses off in training – get home and make some food – scroll through social media and scan stuff on tv or the internet until they fall asleep. Repeat this day after day and a few weeks later they are tired,distraught, lacking confidence or struggling with other signs of burn out. Does that sound like you? I program mental restoration for the athletes I work with and I check to see that they are taking time for these types of activities each week. To be your best, you have to crush your training and maximize your recovery. There are hundreds of ways to get restored so that you can continue to put out high effort at your training or job. Continue to tune into what helps you, and what you want to regularly incorporate into your schedule.

Restoration Ideas For Athletes Training At High Intensity

1. Meditate

2. Pray

3. Let your mind wander without any distractions, while being as still as possible

4. Read

5. Journal

6. Create or look at/watch art

7. Make or listen to music

8. Work on breathing

9. Listen to podcasts

10. Watch movies or shows (hopefully uplifting or educational ones…not trash)

11. Talk with your favorite people

12. Cook

13. Do outdoor activities

14. Do yoga, light stretching, etc.

15. Get a massage or other spa treatment

16. Take a bath or relaxing in a hot tub

17. Visualize

There is immense value in doing an activity simply for pleasure and not to improve, win or perfect it.

In Part 2 we look at some newer techniques which may help in your recovery strategies.

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