While exercise is a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, overdoing it can be counterproductive. A proper workout needs balance as well, and active recovery is the way to maintain that balance. It helps relax your body after exertion and is even known to reduce soreness and inflammation after workouts.
Depending on how strenuous your workout is, you may opt for active recovery in between or right after your workout, or you may even decide to take a rest day in which you exercise at a less strenuous level. It all depends on what works best for your body and your lifestyle.
There are two types of recovery: active and passive. Each has its benefits, but the definition of active recovery encourages activity and movement while recuperating:
Both active and passive recovery are necessary for a balanced lifestyle, but an excess of passive recovery has the risk of setting you back. Active recovery is the sweet spot between being idle and training intensely. There are three ways to incorporate active recovery into your workout:
Chances are, you’ve been incorporating examples of active recovery into your workout routine without even realizing it. If you’ve taken a yoga class or taken time to do some stretches after a high-intensity workout, you’ve practiced active recovery. These types of exercise can also be used as the basis for rest day workouts — days in between high-intensity workouts when you want to continue to push your body without risking harm.
Specific types of gentle yoga is an excellent way to start resting both your body and your mind, and stretching is known to help encourage blood flow, which reduces the chances of post-workout soreness.
Here are five other ways to practice active recovery or what to do on rest days.
Like gentle yoga, tai chi is a traditional practice that requires you to very strictly control your body’s movement. It consists of slow, gentle movements that activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which aids your body’s recovery from the stress of a workout.
Tai chi has the additional benefit of building strength and balance and of improving your overall relationship with your body. A meditative aspect is sewn into the core of the practice, which you should also take advantage of.
If you prefer something that feels a bit more stimulating, you can still lift weights during active recovery. The rule of thumb is to do high-rep exercises with lighter weights on your rest days — about 30 percent lighter than what you usually lift. This allows your blood to flow and still provides light resistance without overdoing it.
Weight-lifting as a rest day workout is even a great way to perfect your form since you’ll be lifting at a steadier rate than usual.
Water provides a substantial resistance for you to work against without risking harm to your joints. Swimming is sometimes overlooked as a workout, but it’s one of the best to encourage your muscular and cardiovascular health.
It also provides opportunities for your muscles to stretch in ways they can’t outside of water.
Another great option if you’re wondering what to do on rest days, steady-state cardio provides you with cardiovascular stimulation without the polarities of a high-intensity interval training. Lower-impact than other types of workouts, steady-state cardio gets your heart rate up and makes you break a sweat while still providing opportunities to mix it up.
Running, walking or cycling are all options for steady-rate cardio and can be done indoors or outdoors, depending on your mood — or the weather.
Believe it or not, a massage after a high-impact workout can do wonders for your muscles. Either a self-massage or a professional one will do, so long as your muscles get the gentle stimulation they need to not become inflamed or sore for days following your workout.
If you opt for massaging yourself, or self-myofascial release, you could reduce your chances of delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Whenever you use your muscles, especially when exercising, your body turns glucose into lactic acid, which is how your muscles get the energy they need to perform. Once your muscles stop working, the lactic acid your body created remains in your muscles and causes that dreaded post-workout soreness.
Active recovery helps lactic acid move out of your muscles and dissolve into your bloodstream, so it’s not around to cause you pain afterward. The increased blood flow also makes it to your joints, reducing the chance of joint and muscle inflammation.
If that wasn’t enough, active recovery is also known to improve your mood and keep you from getting the post-workout blues, while also alleviating any fatigue. Plus, it’s great for your heart since it increases your heart rate and builds endurance.
If you’re ready to incorporate active recovery into your workout routine, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t over-exert yourself or, worse, injure yourself:
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