Making the best of rest

making the best of rest_copyHow you recover following a hard workout or having played a tough match is as important as how you train or perform. Certainly, a hard session or a period of sustained training activity will leave you with sore, stiff muscles but the last thing you should do is take a complete break from any activity at all. Active recovery is the best way to help muscles and joints recover quickly.

A golden rule


One of the golden rules or training principle is that you have to push the body harder and harder get improvement. Lift heavier weights, run further distances, cycle more hours. That is true, but every body has a breaking point, which is why it is so important to allow your body a day or a week of lower volume work every so often so it can recover.

A time to repair


The purpose of recovery is to allow the muscles to repair and to engage the muscles that are tired or sore following a workout or a series of workouts. Active recovery should involve doing some exercise but at an intensity that just gets the blood moving and helps reduce residual fatigue in the muscle.


A recovery day might involve running at a low intensity for less than 60 minutes or riding a bike at less than 75 minutes. You could also try other activities that you have never tried before, such as nordic walking, Pilates or using the climbing wall.

Myth-busting


The adage “muscles grow during rest” or “everyone should take one or two days off exercise a week” have no scientific substance behind them. Who says that we should have days when we do nothing, we often feel much worse if we do nothing – a brisk walk will get oxygen and blood pumping around the body and shift those toxins that have built up after your hard workout. The secret lies in choosing the right amount or dose of exercise each day.

Context is an important factor when deciding what form your active recovery should take. A marathon runner who has a day off his or her intensive schedule and goes for a bike ride instead is unlikely to suffer any damaging consequences to their running style or fitness.

Feeling better is the key

For an unfit person just starting out on an exercise programme, anything more than a walk may constitute a strenuous workout, so the active recovery needs to be very gentle. As a rule of thumb, active recovery exercise should leave you feeling better after you have exercises compared to before you started. If your heart rate is high and your breathing is fast, then you have crossed the divide between active recovery and a work out.

There are mixed opinions on the benefits of active recovery. Some people believe that active recovery is essential for your body’s metabolic pathways of recovery, others think it does nothing to simulate recovery.

We think that active recovery helps the muscles get rid of the toxins left by heavy exercise and, importantly, makes you feel better.

Here are some ideas for active recovery exercises:

Walking/Hiking - not only does it burn calories but being outside can increase feelings of well-being. Consider your starting fitness level before going on a massive hike.

Lighter weight lifting - use a much lighter weight or a machine, so you can feel your muscles working but at a much lower intensity than usual.

Swimming - this is low stress on your joints and muscles, but gets your cardiovascular system pumping. Like walking, consider your current fitness levels when deciding how much swimming you are going to do.

Yoga - this activity takes your joints and muscles through a safe range of movements.

And just how much recovery should you do, is really down to how you are feeling. Really sore, stiff muscles could probably do with two to three days of active recovery and stretching. Listen to your body, it will tell you when enough is enough.


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