Look, we all wish we could spend every day in the gym, passing hours working on form, upping our reps, and crushing our goals. But the reality is that your body needs to rest so that you can better maintain your muscles. That doesn’t mean that your rest days have to be spent crashed on the couch. Instead, you can practice active recovery to better promote your health and wellness and to keep your body ready for your next intense workout. The sports nutrition experts at Axis Labs will explore the value of active recovery.
The Traditional Rest Day
When we say recovery, many instantly think of taking an entire day off, abstaining from any form of exercise. Common wisdom like “muscles grow at rest,” and “take a day or two off from your routine” has created this sense that you need to avoid exercising occasionally to keep yourself from straining your muscles, or wearing out your body. These lines of thought are valuable, as rest is part of building a better body, but they can also keep you from making your recovery days valuable. These thoughts separate recovery and activity but they don’t have to be if you take advantage of an active recovery day.
Active Recovery And You
For those who subscribe to the traditional understanding of a rest day, the concept of an active recovery day may seem counterintuitive or even oxymoronic. Active recovery doesn’t mean that you’re repeating the intense workout you did yesterday, but it does mean that you’re still exercising in some way. Basically, your active recovery is done on your off days, is less intense, and for a shorter period of time than your regular exercise regimens.
What constitutes “active recovery” is really dependant on the athlete. For instance, for marathon runners, a short run at a slower pace can help them sustain their efforts, without impacting their ability to carry out a longer training session. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind for active recovery is that if you feel better after exercising a bit than before the exercise, you are actively recovering.
Why Does Active Recovery Work?
Active recovery has several advantages over passive recovery, where an athlete doesn’t exercise at all. By working out at a lower intensity, your helping your body to recover by increasing the blood flow to your muscles and tissues. This improved circulation moves valuable nutrients, like amino acids and more oxygen, to your stressed muscles so that they can repair themselves faster. Light exercise also forces waste products that accumulate on your muscles, like lactic acid, out of your system, and prevents your muscles from becoming damaged.
Active recovery also aids in the mental aspect of intense periods of training. When athletes are focused on a goal, like increasing their bench weight, or an event like a marathon, they might balk at the idea of taking a rest day. To them, the rest day symbolizes a step away from their goal. Active recovery days allows athletes to still feel like they’re making progress without straining their bodies or sustaining an injury during a more intense workout. By making a few days of their workout schedule active recovery days, athletes can continue to build strength, even if they aren’t going after it at their hardest.
Active Recovery Ideas
If you’re training for a specialized sport, field, or event, you might work with your coach to develop an active recovery regimen that best supports your existing training schedule. However, if you’re simply working to improve your health, lose weight, and live a healthier life, you can enjoy a variety of different active recovery options.
Yoga can help you to improve your flexibility and mobility. Each part and joint in your body is moved through motions that are low impact and low stress. While yoga can be more, or less intense, based on your preferences, it’s a great way to stretch out tight muscles and improve blood flow to these areas. Additionally, yoga teaches you valuable breathing techniques and body control skills that can help you with your other exercises.
Perhaps the most obvious form of active recovery there is, but valuable nonetheless. Walking throughout your active recovery day helps you to burn calories, stretch your tired muscles, and allows you to get outside into the sunshine. Simply spending time outside walking can help you improve your mental health, alleviating feelings of depression and loneliness, which in turn helps you better focus on your future training endeavors.
SMR is a form of massage that works the connective tissues that are around your muscles and bones. Using a foam roller, massage ball, or massage stick, you can alleviate the strain your muscles are under after a workout. It has been found that consistently using these massagers can help to improve the range of motion in your extremities and decrease muscle strain, limiting stiffness later.
Going for a swim is a great form of active recovery. It’s a low-impact exercise that allows your body to be essentially weightless, relaxing your joints, and stretching your body in ways that aren’t possible on dry land. It has also been found that the pressure the water applies to your body helps to stimulate and improve the circulation in your muscles, blood vessels, and heart, which aids in muscle recovery.
Take Advantage Of Recovery Supplements
While light exercise is an effective part of an active recovery process, some athletes choose to utilize supplements that help in the recovery process. Those might include products that boost your amino acids, and allow for rapid muscle repair. Others utilize muscle protein powders like whey protein, which provide your muscles with the nutrients they crave during their recovery.