What is active recovery – and why is it so good for you?

When you’re trying to take your fitness to the next level, it’s natural to assume that you should go longer and harder. But what if you weren’t? According to fitness authorities, like the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine, the key to achieving your goals isn’t doing more. It’s about balancing your training with a special type of rest called active recovery.

What exactly is active recovery and how can it work for you? Here’s what you need to know.

What is active recovery?

Rest may just be what the instructor orders. But that doesn’t mean sitting on the sofa doing crosswords. According to recent research, the best way to re-energize sore, worn-out muscles and come back stronger and faster is to keep moving, just at a lower intensity. Why? “Recovery is all about blood flow to bring nutrients to muscles and joints for repair and to carry waste products away from damaged muscle tissue,” says Jonathan Ross, CPT, owner and author of Aion Fitness. Abs revealed. “But muscles only get blood flow from movement.”

Active vs passive recovery

That doesn’t mean curling up with a good book or vegging in front of the TV is completely useless. “The body will still recover, but it may take longer if you include active movement,” says Alana Myers, MS, CPT. An ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach.

Because this more passive recovery can lead to pooling of blood in the arm and does not promote circulation. Therefore, it is not nearly as effective in providing starving, depleted muscles with the nutrients they need to rebuild glycogen and creatine phosphate for better strength, power and endurance. And it’s not as efficient at removing waste products created during exercise.

Finding the right balance

If you’re wondering how much active recovery to aim for, the answer is different for everyone, depending on how fit you are and how hard you’re training. For example, someone in killer shape might be able to get away with as little as one day a week. But for most of us, taking a recovery day after two to three days of heavy workouts is a good goal. The best way to know for sure, says Myers, is to pay attention to how sore your muscles are.

5 Ways to Recover Faster

One of the really nice things about active recovery is that it doesn’t require a lot of time. For example, Rose likes to aim for two quick 10-minute sessions per day that target the gluteal muscles (though you can always go longer if you want).

Which activities are best? “One person’s hour-long hike is another person’s workout for active recovery, so it really depends on your fitness level,” says Ross.

If that sounds good, these activities can get you started.

Cross training. Changing up your workout is a great way to give tired muscles the break they need. If you normally run, try leisurely cycling. or visa-versus. Depending on the intensity, aim for 30 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Yoga or Tai Chi. “Moving back and forth through a full range of motion helps move blood through the tissues,” says Ross. Bonus: They’re also great stress relievers.

swimming “It’s one of the few recovery options that eliminates gravity and allows your body to decompress, making it excellent for pain and inflammation relief,” says Myers.

Foam rolling. Twenty minutes of post-workout foam rolling can significantly reduce muscle soreness and increase range of motion. Start at the point farthest from your heart, then move toward your heart, pausing to focus on the tender spot for 30 to 60 seconds, suggests Myers.

Stretching. When you’re short on time, try a quick stretching session focusing on the worst muscle groups for 30 to 90 seconds, suggests Myers.

As good as light exercise is for recovery, you don’t need to get that grainy either. Gardening, washing your car, walking the dog, playing table tennis, or shooting hoops also work. Ultimately, Ross says, the best activity for recovery is the one you enjoy the most.

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