Overtraining can lead to fatigue or injury. Active recovery days can be an important part of any training program. But rest and recovery doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around and doing nothing. Spending recovery days focusing on actions that will enhance future workouts can improve your overall workout program.
What is Active Recovery?
A common definition for active recovery can be a simpler or easier workout than normal, both in volume and intensity. It may also include different types of exercise or movement. There may be a lower risk of injury, as well as distinct advantages over solely resting, including that people generally feel better and can have a more positive mood when they exercise in some way every day.
Stretching and Foam Rolling
Low-intensity stretching activity can help circulate blood, move oxygen through the body, eliminate excess lactic acid from heavily-worked muscle groups and decompress major joints. Stretching can include movement, or be static, and may help to increase the range of motion for muscles and joints.
Foam rolling is one type of self-myofascial release, or SMR. Implements such as rollers, balls or other specialty items may be used to stretch and massage muscle groups. The roller can be used on all larger muscle groups, using a pressure level that makes the muscles feel better. Consistent use may improve range of motion over time, as well as reduce stiffness from heavy training.
Lighter Training Activities
Depending on the type of training, doing a lighter version may make for a great recovery day activity. Doing similar weightlifting moves with lighter weights may have a restorative effect on the muscle groups. Swimming can activate muscles without pressuring joints that may be recovering from a prior workout. Cycling, walking, hip strengthening exercises, slowly running or hiking can be refreshing outdoor activities. Light lifting to work out sore muscle groups can be restorative. The amount of activity should be set based on current fitness levels and the regular training schedule.
Practicing yoga on active recovery days can give muscles the balance needed to build strength faster. While weight or other training can focus on specific sets of muscles, yoga can address the well-being of the entire body and mind. Consistent practice can improve agility and flexibility, as well as build the muscles’ capacity for absorbing oxygen. Yoga can also help remove excess lactic acid from the muscles and they recover from previous heavy workouts.
Risks of Avoiding Recovery
Athletes risk injury when they avoid rest and recovery days. Ongoing levels of physical stress can lead to several issues, including:
- Injuries, including muscle strains, joint pain or stress fractures
- Diminishing physical performance
- Poor sleep
- Negative mood swings and psychological instabilities
- Decreased immune system strength
Recovery Day Activities
An active recovery day, while still moving the body, can also help the body to recover from intense workouts that may break down or create microscopic injuries to the muscles being worked. Rest is needed to help muscles, joints, tissues and bones rebuild and recover. Activities that focus on a balanced movement for the whole body rather than specific muscle groups can speed recovery and lessen the risk of injury.