Here’s a new oxymoron to file with favourite ones like military intelligence, deafening silence and seriously funny: active recovery. What?

If “active” implies action and “recovery” requires rest, how exactly do these two things go together? Well, not only do they go together, but active recovery has become one of the biggest buzzworthy trends in the fitness industry today.

Are you an Overexerciser?

Whether you are an elite athlete or an avid gym goer (meaning you actually use the membership you purchased last Jan 1st as part of your resolution to get in shape!) you are in danger of hurting yourself or damaging your body as a result of overexertion.

I personally like to work out every single day because it means I can eat more, so, fair trade!  Also, I tend to stick to my diet more carefully on the days that I exercise.  But I have definitely noticed that sometimes, after 3 or 4 days straight of exercise (I alternate between spinning, elliptical and kickboxing) my muscles start to feel fatigued and I feel like my movements are slower than normal.  

Logic would seem to dictate that exercising 24/7 is a good thing.  After all, we watch what we eat every day, we take our vitamins every day, we hug our loved ones every day (so good for your health!) But many experts in the sports, health and medical industry now believe that while working out or exercising every single day seems beneficial, it can lead to injury, muscle and ligament strain, exhaustion and burnout.

Yet even knowing the risks, many athletes and gym goers still insist on working out every single day for various reasons; for health, to stick to a regimen, to lose weight faster, for fear of losing the “groove”. So, when given the choice between working out and doing nothing, working out and training will always win out.  

What is Active Recovery?

Very simply put, active recovery is a compromise between doing too much and not doing anything (passive recovery). Seems like a no-brainer: take a day off, relax, let your body heal. Yet some people are still reluctant to give up their full workout even once a week!

Enter active recovery.

Active recovery entails engaging in a less strenuous activity on your off-days from training.  The activity can still provide strength and endurance benefits but in a slower, gentler, safer way.  Active recovery is also beneficial as a mood booster and as an effective way to burn some calories on your off days.  

Judging the difference between an actual workout and an active recovery activity is a very personal thing.  For a weight lifter, active recovery might mean lifting a lower weight and doing fewer reps, while a runner might take a long walk instead.  If you know your body and your fitness level, and if you pay close attention, you will probably be able to tell the difference for yourself.

Active Recovery Activities

So, you have decided that active recovery is a good idea after all.  Congratulations! Now, the question remains: what do I do?

As I mentioned before, you can do what you normally do but at a slower, lighter or less intensive way.  However, active recovery also gives you the opportunity to try something new for a change.  This has the added benefit of helping you avoid burnout.

Here are some excellent active recovery options:

  • Cycling, walking or hiking:  It’s fun, it’s convenient, it can get you out in the fresh air, you can use the time to reacquaint yourself with your bestie!  Just remember to keep the pace comfortable and your heart rate down.

 

  • Yoga or stretching: For active recovery, make stretching your actual workout rather than a precursor to exercise.  Take the time to really stretch every muscle from your head to your toes.  Use flex bands or foam rollers to help you get a good stretch and to work out any kinks in your muscles.  Take a beginner’s yoga class!

 

  • Lighter strength training: Lower your lifting weight and do fewer reps.  The aim is to warm up your muscles, not to strain them. A good yardstick is to use only up to 30% of the weight you usually lift.

 

  • Swimming:  Probably your best active recovery option if you have access to a body of water.  Swimming is the ultimate low impact, non-weight bearing activity you can engage in.  Doing slow laps is great, as is stretching, doing lunges and squats, and “running” in the water.  Or you can just float…

Any of these activities done in a non-strenuous way, will have no negative impact on your usual fitness routine.  In fact, you will be able to return to your regularly scheduled exercise program renewed and reinvigorated!  

Just keep in mind that if you are trying to lose weight, active recovery days are not get-out-of-jail-free diet cheat days (sorry! I wish they were, but they’re not!) A lower calorie intake still trumps even strenuous exercise for weight loss purposes.   

Active recovery is not a passing trend.  It is a sound, well-founded concept that will help you keep yourself in shape, healthy and strong for years to come!