Active Recovery : Making The Most Of Rest Day

Posted on 30-Sep-2016 by Kripa Jalan

For those of us absolutely obsessed with training, taking a rest day can seem like a curse. We could be done for the week, finished with our recovery drinks and our training plan calls for a rest day the next day. But we don’t want to be stuck inside, we want to stay active. What should we do?

The universal solution seems to be: REST

But that doesn’t cut it for us.

Several ideologies have been promoted with regard to rest. “Muscles grow at rest”, “You need X days off a week” and so on. We’ve grown to believe that absolute abstinence from exercise for at least one day a week is necessary. We need to recover. However, there’s a stark difference between rest and recovery.

Truth is we can actually benefit from daily exercise. The trick lies in the dosage of it.

Active Recovery?

It focuses on finishing a workout at a low intensity, but just high enough to get the blood moving and reduce residual fatigue in the muscle.

Here context matters. Say you’re a marathon runner. You’re accustomed to running long distances at a definite pace, on your training days. In that context, a light jog on non-training days would do no harm. As long as it makes you feel better.

How Is Active Recovery Beneficial?

  • Nutritional Benefits:
    Often our diets tend to go for a toss on rest days. While staying active, we have a greater motivation to stay on track, nutritionally speaking. We make that added effort to eat clean rather than give into our cravings.
  • Physiological Benefits
    We think most of the magic happens while we lift, sprint or jog. In reality the effects begin to manifest outside the walls of the gym. When we exercise, we break down muscle tissue and when we rest our body begins to rebuild it. Without adequate rest, the body will continuously break down precious muscle mass. In the bargain we won’t see the performance gains we’re meant to see. So it’s safe to say that recovery is just as important as training. The entire purpose of it is to allow the muscle to repair itself and to engage muscles that are sore. It’s why we generally have a de-load phase once a particular plan gets over.
  • Psychological Benefits
    Any form of exercise is a cause of stress. Prolonged periods of weightlifting or even cardio, stimulate the release of the stress hormone, Cortisol. In abundance this hormone contributes to the storage of surplus stubborn fat. Additionally, some time off gives our minds room to relax, away from the counting of reps and minutes. Think about it, there are times, during a stress where we feel we just can’t push anymore. We feel fatigued, yet somehow we muster up the spirit to finish what we started. Our brain convinces our body to continue to work. This can be mentally taxing.
  • Overtraining
    We’ve grown to believe that more is better. We think we’ll lose more weight if we run that extra mile or build more strength if we lift for an added hour. Too much of something can never be good. Be it sugar, laziness or even training. Over training is caused by extensive periods of training, without adequate recovery.

There are three stages of this condition:

  1. Staleness: Where our bodies can’t perform at their best.
  2. Overtraining: We feel sore all the time and our immunity begins to spiral.
  3. Burnout: We constantly feel tired and run the risk of injury.

Long story short, a light walk or a session of mobility is very unlikely to steal away from athletic improvement or get in the way of our recovery.

What qualifies as active recovery?

We were built to move around, not stay glued to a chair, staring at a computer screen for endless hours. We can dedicate time to our happiness and bodies on our active days by doing some fun activities. Activities, we wouldn’t otherwise have the time/inclination to do.

  • Self -Myofascial release – Foam rollers and Lacrosse balls. These are devices used to massage our muscles. These help tame over active muscles, reduce stiffness, provide temporary pain relief and even improve range of motion.
  • Walking/Hiking/Cycle – More than the burning calorie bit, these activities are a great way to be outside and promote mental and physical wellness. Not every workout will kick our butt. But they should be tailored to our current fitness levels. Say you’re an avid runner, a hike would be a great way to spend an off day. However, if majority of your training comprises light jogging, a walk would be more appropriate.
  • Technique Work– Go after a lift or a movement, which you have been struggling with. It could be handstand push ups or snatches. Grab some super light-weight and get after it.
  • Swimming – This is one activity that engages the muscular and cardiovascular system simultaneously. Moreover it’s a low stress activity, which is likely to help the process of active recovery.
  • Mobility/Yoga – In addition to being a part of our everyday regimen, we could even attribute one entire day just to mobilize our joints, after a hectic training week or 60 hours at a desk. This would actually work towards improving our everyday movements, athletic performance and keeping us injury free. After all what could is strength if your body can’t utilize it efficiently?
  • Take A Fun Class: It could be that dance class you’ve been meaning to go to or that rock-climbing event you’ve been eyeing. The point is to do be active, without over straining the body. Just enjoy yourself.

The Takeaway: 

You could either take a rest day and do nothing or take an active recovery day, keeping the intensity low. You’d rather train at 100% 4 times a week than at 60% all seven days.


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