Hanging out on the couch the day after an intense workout may seem like the best way to give your muscles some time to recover, but you might be surprised to learn that your body will actually bounce back better if you keep it moving by opting to engage in an active recovery activity instead.
What is active recovery, exactly? It involves participating in lower-intensity exercise to rebuild and restore your muscle strength for future training sessions. The lower intensity movement causes blood flow that carries oxygen and other nutrients to assist in muscle repair and prevent fatigue. “It’s akin to a ‘staycation.’ You’re still ‘in-town’ but seeing the sights in a new and relaxed way,” says Andia Winslow, a personal trainer and founder of The Fit Cycle. “It’ll ensure less soreness/stiffness and enhanced performance when returning to regularly programmed workouts.”
You should typically plan an active recovery activity in between your tougher training sessions. “For example, if your workouts were on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday would be active recovery,” Winslow says. “Thursday and Friday would be workouts again, and passive recovery would fall on the weekend in this example. Unlike its active counterpart, [passive recovery] truly is a rest day. Take a load off, kick off your shoes, and relax. Remember, this is a necessary part of the programme.”
It’s also possible to incorporate active recovery into your regular training sessions too by choosing to spend your rest time between exercises doing less-intense moves — think: jumping jacks, air squats, or boxer shuffles — geared toward keeping your heart rate up and you burning calories at a higher rate than if you just used that time to stand or sit down.
According to Winslow, though, dedicating whole days to active recovery will benefit your bod most. When it comes to the types of workouts that qualify as “lower-intensity exercise,” there are plenty of active recovery examples from which to choose. “What’s great is that active recovery can be fun,” she says. “Try a meander in a park with your dog, shoot some hoops, ride your bike slowly through a new neighbourhood, glide around in a pool — the opportunities are endless.” Winslow also recommends working on stretches like low lunges, heel-to-toe raises, and seated back rotations.
Here, you’ll find 11 of the best active recovery workouts to do on your off days. You’ll also find a list of the benefits of active recovery — which are, let’s just say, compelling enough to compete with an afternoon spent clearing your Netflix queue.
5 Benefits of Active Recovery
- Reduced inflammation and soreness for enhanced performance. “Soreness after workouts is due to the fact that the body, once at rest, is now under stress,” says Winslow. The body’s movement during active recovery causes blood flow that carries oxygen and other nutrients to assist in muscle repair and the reduction of inflammation.
- Promotes overall well-being and relieves stress. Foam rolling can also count as active recovery. These active tools can ultimately relieve muscle and stress, even if you experience some discomfort at first.
- Reduces muscle fatigue. Doing just 20 minutes of post-exercise active recovery working the same muscles you just trained is more effective at fatigue reduction than passive recovery, according to a study published by the Public Library of Science.
- Helps prevent injury and improves endurance for optimal performance. That’s according to a small study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of active and passive recovery on female and male subjects after performing sprint intervals.
- Reduces discomfort from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you’re getting started or returning back to a fitness routine, chances are you’ll experience stiffness or pain at some point, but active recovery can help. “Delayed muscle soreness, or DOMS, is normal two days after vigorous exercise,” says Winslow. “But active recovery and stretching will help alleviate the temporary discomfort. Returning to sedentary lifestyle will not.”
Using your active recovery days to work on becoming more flexible will not only help you work through any soreness or stiffness you feel from your more intense workouts, but it’ll also help you increase your range of motion, avoid muscle imbalances that can lead to injury, help you relax, and improve your posture, according to the American Council on Exercise.
The best way to improve your flexibility is through active (holding moves for 1-2 seconds instead of 30 seconds or so) or dynamic stretching. Or, you could sign up for an active stretching class at your gym or a studio dedicated to flexibility training, which seem to be popping up *everywhere* as of late. Keep in eye out!
Whether it’s hot or not, yoga is one of the best activities to do on your active recovery days because it combines flexibility training with low-intensity, total-body strength training, allowing you to keep blood flowing from head to toe without overtaxing your system. It’s also relaxing and stress-relieving, so you really can’t go wrong with rolling out your mat.
Like yoga, Pilates is an excellent workout to do on active recovery days because it involves both stretching and low-intensity strength exercises. It’ll keep your blood circulating without revving your heart rate and allow you to work on your flexibility and mobility too.
As Winslow noted, taking Fido out for some fresh air totally counts as an active recovery activity — you don’t even have to put on leggings (though, why TBH, why would you not want to?)
Going for a nice, easy jog (sometimes referred to by runners as a “shake out”) will get your blood pumping — and oxygen flowing to all your muscles in order to aid with their recovery. The key here, though, is to keep your pace conversational, as in, you should be able to talk easily the entire time. Save the sprints and hill drills for your next hard workout.
Going a few metres on a rowing machine can really rev your heart rate — god knows plenty of trainers like adding them to their circuits for this reason. But when performed at a steady-state (i.e. a 4 or 5 out of 10 in terms of effort), rowing is a really great active recover activity for similar reasons to jogging. This is especially true if you add it after an intense lower-body workout, as it’ll give you a chance to get your legs a rest while strengthening your upper body and improving your endurance.
Like jogging, brisk walking, and rowing, riding a bike — stationary or otherwise — can be a low-impact, low-intensity form of exercise that allows you to work on your muscle endurance, get in some steady-state cardio, and give your body a break in between harder training sessions. Just be sure to maintain a leisurely to moderate pace — no tapping it back, okay?
Getting in the water isn’t just good for your circulation, it’s a light form of resistance training that’s easy on your joints too.
Don’t know how to swim or just aren’t a big fan of the backstroke? Why not give water aerobics a try. The water serves a form of light-resistance training, its buoyancy makes it a low impact form of cardio-strength training. Arm floaties are, of course, optional.
Hitting the trails is an opportunity to decompressing, soak up some fresh air, and give your muscles a chance to recover while still keeping them engaged. Think of it as a moving meditation.
Like Winslow said, finding fun things to do with your downtime is a great way to spend an active recovery day, and heading to your nearest climbing wall to scale a vertical obstacle course definitely counts!
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com