Every serious athlete knows that it’s important to take rest days when you’re training for a big race. These recovery days let your mind and body recuperate, heal, and recharge before your next hard session.
There are two main types of recovery. ‘Passive’ recovery is when you take a day off completely from exercise. Another type of recovery is called ‘active recovery.’
Active recovery is any easy to moderate exercise that can help get your blood flowing to your muscles to help them recover. You can choose to do a light run with a shorter distance and lower intensity or you can choose from a number of other active recovery strategies.
The idea with active recovery is that it will help your body recover better than just rest alone. The amount of exercise that is considered a ‘light workout’ needs to be appropriate for your particular fitness level.
If you are a couch-to-5K warrior who is just starting your training, a brisk walk or hike would be perfectly adequate to get your blood flowing and help your body recharge. On the other hand, a regular marathon runner, might jog an easy 2-3 miles on their active recovery day.
Overall, you should feel better after your workout than you did beforehand. If you feel worse, than you likely pushed too hard.
Active recovery helps promote the blood flow to your sore muscles and joints. Waste products from muscle breakdown can be carried away while fresh blood can deliver nutrients and warmth. This action helps repair and rebuild the tiny micro-tears in your muscles after a strenuous workout.
Depending on the source, some people consider only light exercise to be ‘active recovery’ while other sources would include things like massage and foam rolling. Regardless of how you define it, active recovery, or promoting that blood flow is great for your body.
A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that active recovery (light exercise) did a better job of reducing lactic acid build up in muscles when compared to sports massage or plain resting.
Better recovery means a better performance next time it counts. Try out some of these active recovery methods to help your body heal on your non-training days.
Using the principles of active recovery, you can help heal your muscles faster and avoid some lingering soreness.
Just remember to be smart. If you are feeling really run down, a day of passive recovery may be just the ticket. If you are feeling pain that does not go away after recovery days, you may have an injury that needs medical attention.