Typically, when we think of recovering from exercise, what usually comes to mind are things like resting, getting a decent amount of sleep, ensuring our nutrition is on point, and perhaps taking a supplement such as amino acids, or a sleep aid such as zinc and magnesium or ZMA.
By now, most of you are probably more than familiar with the idea that the real progress is made not in the gym or on the track, but at the dinner table and in bed while you sleep.
While this is absolutely true and you must make sure you’re covering all of your bases in terms of rest and nutrition, as your fitness levels increase and you begin to enter into a more intermediate stage, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a secret weapon you can add to your arsenal.
Enter active rest and recovery workouts.
The Benefits of Active Rest
It should be noted here that for many people whose fitness levels are somewhat lacking, what we might call a recovery workout might be too much to perform even as a primary workout.
For people who are just beginning their fitness journey, even a brisk walk can prove incredibly taxing, so active rest and recovery workouts are intended to be used by trainees who are beyond the beginner stages and want to start upping their game even more.
The first benefit of active rest is that of nutrient partitioning.
Performing light exercise on your non-training or ‘off’ days will ensure that the carbohydrates you eat on those days are used more efficiently – far more so than if you were sitting around watching TV all day and not using your muscles.
Recovery workouts are also a great way of increasing circulation and getting blood into your muscles.
Remember, we’re not looking for a crazy skin-splitting pump, but driving some blood into your muscles will speed up the recovery process by delivering nutrients where they are needed most, and you’ll probably start to notice that your soreness won’t last so long after tough workouts.
Perhaps the simplest benefit to understand is that you’ll be giving your metabolism an extra jolt on a day where it would usually start to taper off due to your inactivity.
For those of you whose primary goal is fat loss, this is ideal for keeping the furnace burning as hot as possible. And those of you who are primarily looking to build muscle and enhance your performance, you’ll be able to get more calories and more carbohydrates into your body – surely that can’t be a bad thing!
So What Does Active Rest Look Like?
Let’s take a look at a few examples of activities you could perform on your active rest days.
Perhaps the simplest form of active recovery is going for a stroll and getting a bit of fresh air.
For an extra fat loss boost, try walking first thing in the morning before you eat breakfast, but remember that you shouldn’t feel exhausted after your walk – if you do, you probably need to give yourself time to adapt or you simply pushed too hard or for too long.
Simply walking at a steady pace on a flat surface, hilly terrain, or even a treadmill for 20-45 minutes should do the trick.
In another article entitled What is a Foam Roller? we explored the benefits of foam rolling and how it can significantly enhance your rate of recovery.
Giving your muscles a good going over, especially in the areas where you are sorest or tightest, will definitely pay dividends in both the short term and the long term.
Similar to walking, swimming will give you the benefits of a gentle cardiovascular workout which will increase circulation to your muscles.
The additional benefit of swimming is there it is a non-impact form of exercise because you’re floating in water.
This makes it far gentler on your joints and is arguably more suitable for instances where you’re incredibly sore or if you’ve, say, tweaked a joint and don’t want to aggravate it with excessive strain.
Simply adding in a second workout for either your whole body or a specific muscle group is a great way of paying a little extra attention to the weak points in your performance or your physique.
If we take a leg workout as our example, you might perform lighter, less strenuous exercises.
So instead of heavy squats and leg press, you would perform higher-rep sets on machines such as the leg curl, leg extension, and hip adductor. Reps could go as high as 20-30 per set and you should ensure you don’t come anywhere close to failure.
This may seem like unnecessary or even completely pointless exercises to perform with such light weights, but again, driving blood into your muscles and loosening up your joints will enhance your recovery, improve your fat loss results, and will likely increase your muscular development.