Active Recovery: The Best Way to Spend Your Workout-Free Days
We all know the feeling of waking up stiff and sore after a heavy workout the previous day.
Although feeling sore after a workout is a sign of a job well done, we can agree that walking around stiff and sore for days after a workout is best to be avoided.
Luckily, active recovery workouts are more effective for beating delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than just taking a pain killer and waiting for it to pass. They are also accessible to beginners and more advanced athletes alike.
Keep reading to learn more about what active recovery is, how it compares to passive recovery, and some workout tips to help you get started:
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What is Active Recovery?
Active recovery includes specific exercises done either during your workout, directly afterward, or in the days following to speed up muscle recovery. The exercises you do on your active recovery days are often the same ones you would do during regular workouts, with cycling and jogging being two popular options.
The main difference is that they are generally done at between 30-60% of your MHR, also known as your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate will vary depending on your age and can be calculated by subtracting your age from the number 220.
Exercising within a lower range of your MHR will increase your heart rate to get your blood pumping without putting additional strain on the muscles.
Good to know:
Many of us think that lactic acid lingering in our muscles is the cause of DOMS (delayed muscle onset soreness), which is what causes that stiff and sore feeling in the days after your workout. Surprisingly, DOMS is actually the result of eccentric exercise, which creates microscopic tears in our muscles when we exercise. Using active recovery days can ensure we give our bodies the time they need to properly recover post-workout and protect us from the negative effects of overtraining.
Differences Between Active and Passive Recovery
Active and passive recovery are two different processes that differ in many ways, but the end goal is the same — to keep the body strong and healthy.
- Doing a rest day workout is an excellent option for days when you feel like you still have energy but are dealing with some residual soreness or stiffness.
- Passive rest days are for when you are recovering from an injury or feeling under the weather.
Active recovery refers to the use of gentle, non-strenuous movements to hasten the muscle recovery process that takes place after high-intensity physical activity.
Examples of active recovery workouts:
- lightly jogging in between sets of a sprinting workout.
- yin yoga, which includes passive longer-held poses, in the days following a strength training workout.
Passive recovery is a type of recovery that takes place through rest and stillness. Though it is not as effective as active recovery, passive recovery days are something we all need to take.
Examples of passive recovery:
- Getting enough sleep, relieving stress through meditation.
- Eating a balanced diet, including foods that relieve muscle soreness.
Benefits of Active Recovery
It’s not always easy to know when to take a rest day, and although it might seem like hitting the gym seven days a week is the fastest way to build the body of your dreams, recovery is an important part of any training plan. On your recovery days, eating foods that aid in muscle recovery and penciling in an active recovery workout will help you get workout ready faster and experience benefits like:
- Reduction in lactic acid buildup
- Increase in muscle strength
- Improvement in sports performance
- Lessened DOMS recovery time
- Daily physical activity with less risk of injury
Most professional athletes spend significantly more time in recovery than they do training, and learning the best way to speed up the recovery process is an integral part of maximizing the benefits of consistent training.
Types of Active Recovery Exercises
A number of popular exercises can be converted into an active recovery workout simply by adjusting the level of intensity. Anyone can do things like cycling and jogging at a minimal level of intensity to benefit muscle recovery as opposed to muscle growth.
Using yoga for sports recovery can allow the muscles and the connective tissue around them to loosen and lengthen. This creates more space for oxygenated blood that contains a number of nutrients essential to the recovery process to make its way to the tissue, supporting the muscle in its recovery process.
Some poses for you to include in your rest day workout are:
Downward Dog Stretch
Learn how to do the downward dog stretch:
Spinal Twist Stretch
Learn how to do the spinal twist stretch:
Learn how to do the Bridge:
Knee to Chest
Learn how to do the knee to chest:
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Learn how to do the kneeling hip flexor stretch:
All of these poses and more are included in the ‘Active Recovery and Core’ workout that can be found on the adidas Training app.
Cycling, being a low-impact exercise, is the perfect addition to any recovery workout and can help get your blood pumping while putting minimal strain on the muscles as well as the bones and joints. To make cycling a recovery workout, it should be done for no more than an hour — significantly less time for anyone new to working out — and at no point should you exceed 60% of your MHR. You should aim to cycle at a conversational pace, no more than two on a scale of difficulty, and should at all times be able to breathe comfortably through your nose.
Jogging or walking
Whether you choose to jog or walk during your active rest day workout will depend on your level of fitness and the level of intensity you require to get your heart rate up. For a true active recovery workout, you can try doing 30-40 minutes of low-intensity walking, which should give you all the necessary recovery benefits with minimal strain.
For anyone wanting to limit their amount of movement, a massage is a great option. It can be either self-administered using your hands, a foam roller, or even a tennis ball or done professionally by a registered massage therapist. Massage can help reduce tightness, improve blood flow, and even relieve any lingering muscle soreness.
Active recovery is best used on days when you have the energy to work out but are physically limited by muscle soreness and fatigue. Whether you decide to walk, cycle, or do yoga, you can trust that the increase in blood flow will help you relieve DOMS and provide your muscles with everything they need to repair, helping you to speed up recovery and get back to your regularly-scheduled workouts faster.