Guide on how to stay active on rest days.
What is Active Recovery?
As a fitness enthusiast, beginner or advanced, it's common for us to experience one of the following after a challenging workout; either delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or small muscle tears i.e., Inflammations; in which you have pushed your body beyond it's exertion limit.
Usually, when we experience the above symptoms, we would normally interpret this as signal to take some well-deserved rest by pretty much doing absolutely nothing, avoiding any form of muscular activity through exercise. However! Research suggests that doing this might not be the best technique for recovery...
How do I 'do' Active Recovery?
The usual suggestion would be engaging in AR in-between exercise days (rest days). Cardio or low-intensity movements, such as swimming, yoga and light cardio sessions are examples of an active recovery session. The key is to keep your heart rate at 30-60% of your maximum, A recommendation of 1-2 recovery days in between training days is a common suggestion and one that works, Rhea et al. (2003).
(An example of a 4-day training schedule with the incorporation of AR days):
Sunday- Active Recovery
Wednesday - Active Recovery
Thursday - Weights
Friday - Active Recovery
Saturday – Weights
Another example of engaging in Active Recovery would be to engage in this in-between sets. As gym-goers, we've all seen the guy or girl go through 5 sets of texts with 300 reps per set between each of their working sets; one would call this their recovery time, or resting period time in between sets.
An exercise research team from the State Colorado University, conducted a test to compare passive recovery and active recovery during a performance based session. Active recovery was shown to increase the length of time in performance, sustaining output and reducing fatigue. (St. Pierre et at., 2018)
Active recovery during workout sessions would include, once again, just keeping that heart rate at 30% - 60% of its maximum.
A fine analogy to exemplify the impact of active recovery:
You're in a car travelling 70MPH on the motorway, about to make the exit. You're in 6th gear and need to start slowing down. Now, you wouldn't emergency stop while you're red-hot steaming down the motorway, switch to 1st gear then rev up again to exit right? You would move down the gears 1 by 1 until you found the (for the sake of this article) 'recovery' speed in which you can then build up again to make the exit safely, but efficiently.
Same thing with Active Recovery! Demolishing a leg session with your heart rate at the 70% - 95% of its maximum then suddenly stopping cold and not moving for the next day wouldn't be as beneficial as slowly actively recovering from it by working at a lower rate to sympathise muscle contraction and blood flow to go to the next training session in an efficient method.
The goal of Active Recovery
Hopefully by now, you understand the foundations of active recovery and its use in exercise and fitness training. So, to conclude with the overall goal of it... Active recovery is simply a technique in order to help the body return to a sense of autoregulation, so when you hit the next workout, you shouldn't feel too fatigued.
A different way of understanding AR's approach is to also think of it as a physical cleanse; increasing blood flow to bring oxygen-rich blood to tissues and remove cell waste produced during exercise. (Corder et al., 2000; Monedero and Donne 2000).
Do you still feel like sitting on your couch Netflix-ing the latest 'Stranger things'? Or doing some Active recovery to smash your next workout and develop a self-regulating machine!?