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The importance of active recovery

Believe it or not, there’s a right way and a wrong way to recover. Taking a full day off from your usual gym routine to recover is an old-school idea that needs a serious refresh.

Proper recovery requires movement, not a day off.

When you’re inactive you can slow or even stop the restorative process, and you can potentially pitch at your next training session under-recovered.

Here are 5 more ways to boost your recovery efforts.

Stimulate, don’t stagnate

Muscle tissue thrives on stimulation and suffocates in stagnation. Inactivity shuts off the muscle pump action needed to drive the lymphatic system, which is important for recovery as it helps to keep exercise metabolites and other fluids moving within and around the body.

It’s often the reason why we feel stiff, sluggish and less mobile following a day of complete rest than we do after consecutive days of all-out training. That’s why exercise specialists, from exercise scientists to coaches, now suggest that their clients engage in some form of mild to moderate activity, in what’s commonly referred to as active recovery.

There are other elements in the equation, such as adequate sleep, stress management and on-point nutrition and supplementation.

What is active recovery?

Effective recovery requires movement. This promotes blood flow to accelerate the drainage of metabolites that build up during intense training, and shuttle ingested nutrients from food and supplements to recovering muscles and other tissues to boost the tissue repair process.

Your post-workout protein shakes is a vital step in ensuring optimal recovery from training.

There are a number of active recovery techniques that can help your muscular, hormonal, cardiovascular and immune systems to recover more effectively, in a shorter period of time, which helps to maximise your body’s adaptations to exercise.

Active recovery sessions should be short, low-intensity activities that are different to your primary training modality.
• Walking
• Easy jogging
• Stationary cycling
• Non-weight bearing activity such as swimming are all suitable options.

More than movement

Mobility drills, foam rolling and stretching, whether that’s a yoga session or a few static stretches, are additional ways to promote greater blood flow and aid the natural repair process. When we perform this work we start to address the musculoskeletal misalignment that tends to occur when we go from our predominantly sedentary seated daily positions to all-out intense training, often without an adequate warm up.

There is a real need for this type of proactive work as fascia, muscles and tendons form a complex structures that connect movement and anatomy chains throughout the body. Tightness or poor function in one area can throw the movement of an entire chain off, leading to compensation, poor performance and, potentially, injury. Tightness can also slow down both physical and CNS recovery as the body works harder to self-regulate and correct these issues and imbalances.

These soft tissue release techniques also help to break up adhesions through the pressure applied, and also manipulates neuromuscular receptors, causing muscles and fascia to relax and release tightness. When combined with dynamic stretching and mobility work, soft tissue becomes more pliable, which is key to restoring function and improving recovery.

Other, more direct forms of release that can also be included on active recovery days include dry needling, recovery massages, and hot-cold contrasting (saunas or hot showers, and complete submersion in ice baths, for instance.) These techniques are also highly effective at helping to reduce tightness, restore function and improve circulation.

Finding the right combo for active rest

Hitting the gym for a high-intensity full-body metcon after 6 days of a hardcore bodybuilding split is not what your body needs.

An easy 20 to 30 minute run in the park, a hike out in nature, or a few laps in the pool, followed by some mobility, stretching or even yoga will have the restorative effect you’re looking for.

Once done with your active recovery session you should be left feeling energised, loose and limber, and it should hopefully have ironed out any niggles or hot spots. This is what the ideal ‘rest’ day should be.