Personal trainers have long touted the benefits of taking a “recovery day” to avoid over training, while allowing torn muscles the chance to repair and grow. However, recent research indicates that an “active recovery” day could be just as effective, if not more so. What is active recovery and how can you incorporate it into your fitness plan?
What Is Active Recovery?
Put simply, active recovery involves performing a less intense workout during one of your off days. One of these workouts is generally shorter in duration and less intense than a typical exercise session. It may also involve a different type of exercise than what you would normally perform. For example, runners might enjoy bike riding or brisk walking on an active recovery day.
Active Recovery Benefits
There are numerous benefits to active recovery vs. rest, a few of which are:
- Makes it easier for you to stick with a diet plan. Many people associate exercise with eating right, and could therefore be tempted to binge if given a rest day.
- Allows you to burn more calories so you lose weight faster.
- Decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
- Prevents boredom, making it more likely you will stick with a workout plan.
Research also indicates that active recovery helps lactic acid levels in the blood return to normal quicker. A study performed at the Centre for Adventure Science Research revealed that rock climbers who engaged in recumbent cycling after a climb had their blood lactic levels return to normal after 20 minutes, whereas those who simply rested took 30 minutes for their levels to return to normal.
Active Rest Examples
Triathlon coach Alan Kipping-Ruane advises working out just hard enough to get the blood moving, yet not too intensely. Regardless of the activity, you should use a flat surface whenever possible, or modify activities so that they are low impact. Take your current fitness level into account when coming up with an active recovery plan. An endurance athlete could find that light jogging is appropriate, while someone who is less fit may consider moderate walking.
A few ideas include:
- Walking, which can help improve your mood by allowing you to take in some additional sunshine.
- Weight lifting – Many people believe you cannot lift weights during an active recovery day, but Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Pat Koch disagrees. He recommends lifting 30% or less of your usual weight and stopping just one set short of muscle failure.
- Swimming, an activity that is especially beneficial because it provides little stress to the joints.
- Yoga, which increases your range of motion, making it less likely you will experience an injury during a more strenuous workout.
There may be “off” training days when you do not feel like doing anything at all. Other times, you may have a hankering to exercise, but are worried about overtraining. An active recovery day is perfect for those occasions, so adding one in every now and then is a great way to ensure you continue to meet your fitness goals.