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What is active recovery you ask? Active recovery is the process of speeding up the rate in which your body recovers from resistance and endurance training by being active. Yes that’s right moving around while sore after a huge workout makes you heal FASTER as opposed to sitting or lying down and resting all day (passive recovery).
It shouldn’t be confused with Active Rest, which is the method of being active in your rest periods between sets and exercises in the gym.
Active recovery isn’t one specific exercise or movement. Anything that gets your heart rate up and blood pumping to your muscles or your muscles moving and stretching without taxing your body’s central nervous system is active recovery.
The general rule of thumb is having your heart rate up to 40-60% of your max. It depends on your level of fitness to what counts as active recovery to you. For an unfit person, walking is more than enough for active recovery. However for a marathon runner perhaps a slow jog, or light bodyweight exercises such as deep squats and stretching is more appropriate.
Why Should You Do Active Recovery?
Improves Circulation of Blood and Faster Nutrient Uptake
There are advantages from doing active recovery as opposed to passive recovery. The nutrients required by your muscles to recover and operate are transported through your bloodstream. Exercising to increase your heart rate for a period of time increases the blood flow to your muscles and therefore feeds more nutrients! Are you stiff and sore from your leg day yesterday? Do some bodyweight squats and light stretching today! You’ll be stiff and sore at first but strong and limber after.
Relieves Stress and Improves Mood
Exercise, even light exercise through active recovery sends signals to your brain to create endorphins. These endorphins are what makes you feel good whether it’s from eating a delicious food or cuddling with your loved one. Going for a walk is much healthier than eating that sugary snack!
It’s common for some people to build momentum with their fitness goals and progress and slowly taper off and even stop all together. One rest day turns into two rest days and that turns into a week, before you know it you’re cancelling your gym membership.
Keeping active each and every day keeps your mind in focus and you’ll be less likely to fall off the wagon. You can still call it your rest day, just make sure you keep moving!
Keeping your diet in check
For most people, the hardest thing to stay in control of is your diet. I can go all year without missing a workout in my intense routine, but I’m at risk for slipping up with my diet each day. This risk is multiplied if I DO ever skip a workout because my brain likes to rationalise how I can slip in this donut or that slice of pie. ‘You are having a break today, you’ve done well. Have a reward’ is a thought I have every time I have a complete passive rest day.
This is the crumbling of the outer wall of your willpower, messing up your diet one day can easily turn into messing it up again the next day and the next day! If you do your active recovery workout in the morning you are less likely spoil your diet, because you feel it is wasting the time and effort you put in.
Be Smart About Active Recovery
Adding active recovery to your rest days is incredibly beneficial to your health, however you must be smart with how much and hard you push yourself. If you go even slightly overboard, your nervous system will stop recovering and continue to wear out. Your nervous system isn’t like your muscles that can recover quickly. It takes time to heal and can wear down through many other factors in life not just exercise. This is known as overtraining.
Likewise if you are injured and feel acute pain while moving, depending on the injury it may be best to opt for passive rest. If your injury doesn’t involve your legs or back that impedes your ability to walk however you will usually benefit from active recovery.
Active Recovery Workout Ideas
A simple 30-40 minute walk is usually enough for active recovery. If you are lean and athletic then a brisk walk or even slow jog will benefit you. If you are unfit, then simply walking at your normal pace is great!
Lightweight Resistance training
Perform an exercise which moves the muscles that are stiff and sore. Think bodyweight squats, knee push-ups and assisted pull-ups. Compound exercises are the most effective here; meaning more than one joint is being used in the movement. Grab some light dumbbells and do squats into dumbbell overhead press, just be sure not to get close to failure and rest periodically. You want a stable heart rate through the workout.
Spend 20-30 minutes stretching your stiff and sore muscles, and even use a foam roller release a lot of the pressure built up in your muscles. This helps keep your muscles limber and allows proper blood flow to the muscles being stretched.
Yoga is excellent at keeping your muscles mobile and flexible as well as some of the exercises are effective at raising your heart rate. Keeping your muscles flexible makes you less prone to injury also.
Swimming is an excellent form of cardio because you engage your whole body without added pressure to your joints. This also makes it a great exercise for active recovery; just make sure to tone down the intensity.
As long as you’re injury free, you should be using active recovery to boost your performance in and out of the gym! Your muscles recover faster allowing you to train harder in your next intense workout session. Your sense of wellbeing is improved and you will feel so much fitter and healthier. The better question is, why aren’t you doing active recovery?