"It is not how hard you train, but how well you recover."
Active Recovery….now that may sound like an oxymoron to you! Recovery conventionally refers to taking time off training and resting, whereas active implies the opposite. We are generally conditioned to believe that activity and recovery are conflicting notions.
The whole objective of recovery is to allow your muscles to repair themselves. However, taking a recovery day does not have to involve doing absolutely nothing. Whereas rest is classified as taking time off training and getting some sleep, recovery refers to practices or methods utilized to boost your body’s repair. Active recovery also plays a large role on the mental element of training, the purpose of a recovery day is not solely to give your body a rest from training but also to give you that much needed mental break.
Active recovery entails completing an exercise or a workout at a low intensity, something that is intense enough to raise your heart rate and increase blood flow, which in turn helps to reduce the residual fatigue in muscles. Active recovery can also be crucial in reducing the symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). There are a number of different ways to practice active recovery, here are a few of my favorites:
- Light jog, or a brisk walk – running is one of my weaknesses in training, so I like to try and do a light jog on active recovery days and start to build up my running endurance. The pace needs to be very relaxed and comfortable.
- Yoga or deep stretching – doing some extra mobility and flexibility work can really compliment your CrossFit training and provides some great mental down time. If you don’t have time to get to a yoga class, simply doing some foam rolling or mobility work at home is another great thing to do for active recovery.
- Swimming – this is one of my favorite things to do for active recovery. This is particularly low stress for your body due to the weightlessness. Swimming can be a great workout engaging both the muscular and cardiovascular system without increased pressure on your joints.
- Cycling – like other methods of aerobic exercise cycling can be a great active recovery workout. The low impact nature of cycling is easy on your joints and a great choice for active recovery.
- Technical work - sometimes active recovery can happen in the gym too. Another great tool for active recovery is to run through Olympic lifts with just the PVC or an unloaded barbell focusing on technique.
An important element of active recovery is ‘mental restoration’, this may be achieved in a number of ways, it may be meditation, watching a movie, or playing a game. The key is to engage in activities that help you recharge your batteries! In my opinion there are few better ways to relax your mind than doing a light swim, a brisk walk or just playing a game. I adore training but when I train I am constantly trying to improve, trying to break through the next barrier and sometimes it is really important to just take a break!
Find your favorite way to add some active recovery into your week, make it something fun, and make it something that leaves you feeling better afterwards. Whatever activity you choose must be restorative and recuperative for you. The goal is to end the session feeling invigorated, not exhausted.
In order to best restore your body, and return to training feeling fit and fresh, there are a number of other things that must also be accounted for:
Sleep – the amount needed varies from person to person. Regardless of how many hours of shuteye you need, this is the single most important element for both mental and physical recovery. A hot bath before bed can also be great for recovery in addition to lulling you to sleep.
Hydration – getting adequate fluids before and after your workouts is fundamental for muscle endurance and recovery. Upholding proper hydration guarantees that our cardiovascular system is operating at maximum capacity. Our body is mostly made of water and thus good hydration will promote the repair and growth of our cells.
Nutrition – besides sleep, nutrition is the most important aid for recovery. On rest days or active recovery days we want to make sure that we stick to our clean eating plan and not to reduce the amount of calories too much, (undereating can be just as damaging as overeating). On active recovery days we can reduce our levels of carbohydrates (carbohydrates are predominantly used to fuel our body, if we reduce our energy output we can reduce our carb input) but maintain levels of protein and increase fat slightly. Eating real food, in its unprocessed form will give your body all the required nutrients. Consuming whole foods, along with herbs and spices (cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and garlic are particularly anti-inflammatory) can assist in moderating any inflammation, which will in turn assist with recovery.