Active recovery days play a pivotal role in optimizing fitness routines. Positioned strategically between intense training sessions, these days involve engaging in light activities to promote recovery and support muscle healing. Rather than succumbing to inactivity amidst muscle soreness, active recovery days contribute to loosening tight muscles, preventing lactic acid buildup, and enhancing overall physical well-being. These purposeful breaks not only enhance recovery but also pave the way for more productive training sessions. If you are striving to achieve your fitness goals, active rest is an important component.
Stuck for ideas? Sick of walks in the park? We’ve put together 10 practical ideas for your active recovery days. These suggestions are designed to help you maximize your rest days by engaging in light, beneficial activities. Hopefully they will make recovery time more effective and fun.
1. Work on your flexibility and mobility
Flexibility and mobility are areas often ignored in the training of the average person. Many tend to favour weights, cardio or a mix of the two. Sadly outsides of sports, martial arts and dance training the benefits of this type of training are often overlooked. Perhaps many believe they are getting more ‘bang for their buck’ by participating in high energy/high intensity exercises. Many might perceive flexibility/mobility training as simply boring. This is unfortunate, each of us has many areas of weakness/inflexibility that we can work on improving. Working to improve in these areas can not only improve your training but has carryover to improve our daily lives. By improving the quality of our movement, we improve our lives and the potential of injuring ourselves.
Incorporating stretching into your active recovery routine can help soothe muscles and enhance flexibility.
Many don’t believe this type of training offers them a challenge. Try a yoga class for the first time and you will see the different kind of strength required. If you are uncertain about attending a class then just take an online session at home (plenty of yoga routines available on youtube). Not into Yoga? Fine look at advanced stretching techniques such as the cossack squat or shin boxes. Lookup our old friend former Soviet Kettlebell master Pavel Tsatsouline for tips of stretching to improve flexibility. Take the time to focus on areas of weakness. Work on areas that are particularly tight and don’t move as freely as they could or should. Want a further flexibility challenge? Look into training with lighter kettlebells to improve in key areas. This will allow you to focus on movement and technique rather than gains.
2. Work on your core strength
Rest days are a perfect opportunity for some core training particularly if this is something you have avoided in your regular training sessions. Since you can fully concentrate on the core solely and target it from all angles. (Try to include not only the abdominal muscles and obliques but also the glutes, spinal muscles and lower back. Basically the entire core, see here for details). So a great opportunity to strengthen those areas. Strengthening the core will improve many areas of training.
Dedicating a day to focus on your core muscles provides an opportunity to enhance core strength while also giving the upper and lower body muscles a well-deserved break.
3. Active recovery workout
If you want to keep it going with the training, ok. First be careful, don’t overdo it, burnout is a real thing. With any ‘rest day’ workouts aim for shorter sessions of easy, light resistance training with a focus on quality of movement (use resistance bands and lighter weights). Opt for a HIIT class where there is a good mix of cardio and resistance style exercises. The workout will be challenging without overtaxing your muscles too much.
Incorporating light circuit training can provide a refreshing method for active recovery, while also helping to maintain training momentum and boost serotonin levels.
4. Low-impact cardio session
As above, keep the intensity right down. Look at some form of steady state cardio training. Cycling, swimming, long walks at a brisk pace outdoors or on a treadmill are good examples. Try hill walks/incline treadmill walks for 30-45 minutes to give yourself a nice rest day challenge. The idea is to get some blood flowing and stretch the muscles, not to push yourself to exhaustion. Remember, fatigue is not the purpose of active recovery.
Engaging in light running or jogging can serve as a beneficial active recovery method, aiding in muscle relaxation and promoting blood circulation. It’s a great way to keep your body moving and help reduce post-workout soreness.
5. Challenge your equilibrium
It’s quite common, especially with resistance training, to unintentionally focus more on one side of your body over the other. This can lead to an imbalance where one side becomes stronger than the other. So, it’s important to be mindful and ensure you’re giving both sides equal attention during your workouts. To regulate this and create stability in your movements unilateral training (one sided focus training) can be used. Unilateral resistance training offers the advantage of addressing muscle imbalances, promoting symmetry and stability, while also enhancing core strength and coordination.
Using Unilateral training to focus on muscle imbalances.
Unilateral resistance training typically employs lighter weights and presents a fresh approach to exercise. It might feel peculiar initially, given that it requires individual limbs to operate independently, diverging from the accustomed coordinated movement.
Examples of unilateral exercises:
- Single-leg squats.
- Single-leg deadlifts.
- Bodyweight renegade rows.
- Single-arm pushups.
- Single-leg glute. bridges.
6. Hiking, Long Walks etc
Using hiking for active rest provides a refreshing break from intense workouts while keeping your body in motion. It helps relax your muscles, clear your mind, and improve overall fitness in a natural and enjoyable way. Take the opportunity to use your rest day for a whole day out. Go hiking out in the sticks. Plan a long route that will take you a couple of days. If you are stuck in the city, go for a long walk in your local park, take the family or the dog out with you and make a day of it.
Hiking allows muscles to unwind after intense workouts. The natural scenery and fresh air can do wonders for both body and mind.
Plan tours of local sightseeing and museums that you have been putting off for a long time. Do something active that you enjoy and that you don’t typically have the time to do regularly throughout your week.
7. Taking part in sports or hobbies
A great way to undertake active rest is to participate in some friendly sporting activity with friends or family. The sky is the limit with this one, football, basketball, golf, volleyball, etc. Or choose to participate in an activity you wouldn’t normally undertake, something new. Archery, snowboarding, even axe throwing.
Unleash your inner Viking with some Axe throwing. A great way to unwind and have fun.
8. Spa, Massage, Banya
A spa or massage can be just the ticket for resetting sore muscles and relieving aches from overtraining. It’s also a great opportunity to undo knotted muscles and get rid of trapped fluid. Just make sure you drink water before and after you go to help you get rid of the excess toxins that will get released into the bloodstream.
Using a sauna can be a quick and relaxing way to aid active recovery after a workout.. and meet new friends.
Hot and cold treatments are popular in many cultures. Indeed the effects of heat and ice in healing/repairing sore muscles are well documented. Exposing yourself to extreme heat and extreme cold can have many physical (and mental) benefits. Use your rest day as an opportunity to visit a Finnish sauna, Turkish Hammam, or Russian Banya.
9. Get prepared
Spend the day preparing for the upcoming week. Preparing meals ahead of time can save you valuable time during busy days and help you make healthier food choices by having nutritious options readily available. It also assists in managing portion sizes and maintaining a balanced diet. Use your rest day to set yourself up for success in the week to come.
Planning and preparing meals ahead of time saves valuable minutes throughout the week while ensuring a balanced and nutritious diet.
It’s not called a rest day for nothing. Relax, go for a cheat meal, take yourself to the cinema, go shopping. Just get out there get some vitamin D (sunlight) and stretch those sore muscles. You will be surprised with the number of calories a day out at the shops can rack up.
Post-workout chill out time. Give your body the relaxation it needs to come back even stronger next time!
When to use recovery days?
The correct answer to this is whenever you need to. Everybody recovers differently, some people take more time than others. If you have undertaken a particularly intense series of workouts then it’s always a good idea to allow the body to adapt and recover. This is when active rest is ideal. You will know yourself when you need to iron out those kinks and knots in the muscles with extra stretching and easy exercise.
Taking rest days is incredibly important for your body’s growth and recovery. While it might be challenging, especially if you’re seeking fast results, remember that being patient and embracing the recovery phase is essential. Use this time to learn new skills and make improvements in different aspects. Your body will appreciate the rest, and the extra repair time will ultimately lead to better performance in your upcoming training sessions.
Opting for active rest during your workouts maintains your workout’s flow and optimizes your time spent at the gym. Make the most of your rest intervals by staying active.