In today’s “go big or go home” mentality, it is easy to push yourself harder, faster, and farther — especially when it comes to workouts. When we start to see the results we want, it’s easy to think that more is better. Nothing could be less true.
In fact, pushing yourself in the gym seven days a week can leave you tired, burned out, and at a higher risk for injury. What’s more, you can hinder your results when you don’t give your muscles time to recover. “When we work out, muscles are being broken down,” explains certified health coach Shannon Hernandez, co-founder of Cardigan Communications in San Antonio, Texas. “By not allowing a day or two for healing, your muscles don’t have time to recover and rebuild.”
That’s why scheduling active recovery days is as important as scheduling leg days. What’s a recovery day? If you have to ask, you probably aren’t taking enough of them. Recovery days balance rigorous training with less-intense activities — but they aren’t permission to lie around doing nothing (though we highly recommend scheduling that into your life as well).
Although the terms “rest” and “recovery” are often used interchangeably, it is important to realize that rest is referring to an inactive state such as sleeping or napping, while active recovery is taking steps to help your body recover from the physical demands placed upon it while training. Below are a few ideas for recovery days. Incorporate them into your schedule once or twice a week to improve your overall performance and well-being.
Suggestions for Active Recovery
Swimming: This low-impact exercise gets blood flowing while going easy on the joints. The water offers a natural resistance to tone muscles without lifting heavy weights. (Read tips for beginning swimmers.)
Walking, hiking, or light jogging: Active recovery walking is not power walking; it’s a steady stroll at an easily sustainable pace, focusing on form and posture. You should be able to easily carry on a conversation. (Get more from a walking workout.)
Yoga or Pilates: Not only will these exercises stretch, strengthen and lengthen muscles, yoga and Pilates increase flexibility for better performance and lower risk of injury. (See 10 reasons to do Pilates.)
Foam rolling: We know it’s not the most exciting activity, and it can be painful, but self-myofascial release is an excellent way to address and prevent sore, tight muscles by breaking up adhesions and scar tissue while increasing blood flow to the tissues. (Learn about the importance of foam rolling.)
Infrared sauna or cryotherapy: Both help the body recover, but they do it in different ways. Sauna uses dry heat and infrared light to draw toxins from the body through sweat; a cryo chamber exposes the body to freezing temperatures for three minutes. Both reduce inflammation, thereby reducing the length of recovery time needed between training sessions. (Explore infrared sauna and cryotherapy.)
Sports massage: We’re not talking about a feel-good, aromatherapy massage, although essential oils can certainly be included. A good sports massage goes deep and uses trigger points to release muscle tension. Cupping and acupressure may also be incorporated into sports massage. (Find out how massage makes a difference.)