When training for an event, or just following an everyday workout routine, rest is essential to performance, health, recovery and injury prevention. While rest is crucial, there is a fine line between it being beneficial and detrimental. I do not schedule a planned rest day unless I am toward the end of training for a big race. Instead, I listen to my body and make sure to find a balance between high impact, low impact and strength training activities. Enter Active Recovery!
Active recovery can aid in healing and keep muscles loose, fresh and improve performance. The key is to keep your effort moderate and the impact low. Doing an activity that engages different muscles than your main sport is a good option. If you are a runner, swimming, biking, walking, or yoga are all good choices. My favorite form of active recovery is swimming.
Tomorrow I have a long run planned and since I ran a fast 3 miles yesterday, I considered taking today off so that my body would be fresh for tomorrow. But, after sitting on my butt since 6AM working, I was really craving some pool time. Swimming is a great cardio exercise without being high-impact like so many others. I swam a comfortable 1100 yards (44 laps) and could immediately feel my muscles loosen up. Doing breaststroke, my hips opened up more than they have in months of stretching and yoga.
Here are some general tips for making the most out of your active recovery days:
Use It or Lose It
Ride a bike, swim laps, or walk for about 30 minutes. Keep the intensity low—your maximum heart rate shouldn’t exceed 50 to 60 percent and you shouldn’t be out of breath.
Busy athletes often neglect stretching. I know I am always guilty of this. Spend time on your active recovery days to take a yoga class, do a yoga video at home or just spend some extra time stretching. After your muscles are warm from your bike ride or walk, stretch your tight spots. Mine are usually my hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes.
It is easy for me to take day off of intense exercise and turn it into a day of intense eating. My nutrition habits are directly affected by my exercise habits so I have to be careful to keep my eating in check on rest days. You can instead use active recovery days to stock up on nutrients you may not be getting enough of during a typical training week.
Catch Up On Zzzs
Especially if you have a big training run or hard workout planned for the next day, aim for a solid seven to nine hours of sleep a night to give your body adequate time to rebuild and repair itself.