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What Is Active Recovery?

What Is Active Recovery?

What Is Active Recovery?

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.

What Is Active Recovery, Exactly?

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:

  • Active recovery: The goal of active recovery is to help your body heal from exercising by reducing the likelihood of inflammation and soreness. It also provides a mental break because caring for your mind is as important as caring for your body.
  • Passive recovery: In contrast to active recovery, passive recovery is when you take a complete break from exercise. You’re not being active at all, which is especially useful if you’ve experienced an injury or are feeling burned out.

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:

  • Post-workout cool-down period: Done immediately after your workout to slow down your heart rate but keep it slightly higher than your resting heart rate.
  • Mid-workout interval training: Low-intensity exercises in between high-intensity ones.
  • Post-training days: Low-intensity workouts for days following extreme training or marathons.

What Are Some Active Recovery Examples?

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.

1. Tai Chi

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.

2. Weight-Lifting

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.

3. Swimming

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.

4. Steady-State Cardio

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.

5. Massage

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.

What Are the Benefits of Active Recovery?

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.

3 Tips for Active Recovery

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:

  • Stretch: Stretching is a simple and effective way to maintain increased blood flow and relaxation without needing to devote an hour to a yoga or tai chi routine. Stretch often and well — ideally before, after and during your workout — to reduce the chances of a pulled or sprained muscle.
  • Hydrate: There’s a reason our bodies are made up of more water than any other element, and when you sweat, you’re using up your body’s supply of water. So, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Remember, if you feel thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated.
  • Meditate: Many people don’t realize that self-care and a healthy lifestyle also includes a healthy mind. Meditation is a great way to rest and refresh your mind. If sitting still for extended periods isn’t for you, there are alternative ways of meditating that keep your body busy and your mind free, such as doing the dishes or knitting. Certain workouts, like yoga and tai chi, are based on a marriage of the mind and body and incorporate meditation into the physical movement.

Contact 5 Bridges Health & Fitness to Start Your Fitness Journey

Regardless of your age or fitness level, the team of personal trainers at 5 Bridges Health & Fitness is here to work with you one on one to help you reach your fitness goals. We won’t just pair you up with anyone, though. We’ll have a fitness consultation with you to determine a plan as unique as you are.

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