If you work out regularly, you know how important rest days are. Taking a day off from strenuous activity prevents injury, avoids burnout and gives your body time to heal. Resting also helps you make more progress with your workouts because it gives muscles time to get stronger.
Although taking a break from physical activity is important, inactivity on rest days may hinder your progress and lead to an increased risk of muscle strain. Rather than resting completely, many experts now recommend practicing active recovery—low-intensity exercise on rest days.
After a tough workout, it’s common to experience a variety of post-exercise symptoms, including delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle tears, inflammation, stiffness and general fatigue. While it might be tempting to remain sedentary when you’re sore, a better solution is to actually keep active.
An active recovery workout is the practice of staying active on your rest days or after an athletic event, such as a marathon or competition. Rather than staying inactive post-workout, performing some light exercise on your rest day has numerous physical and mental health benefits.
Popular active recovery day activities include walking, hiking, cycling, swimming and yoga.
Depending on your workout regime, you might take an activity recovery day once or twice a week. Of course, active recovery exercises don’t have to be reserved just for rest days but can also be practiced throughout the week in conjunction with regular workout days.
The concept of active recovery isn’t reserved just for entire rest days. You can also incorporate active recovery into your workouts by remaining active between exercises at the gym or at the end of your workout as an active cool-down. Studies have found that active recovery cool-downs help to improve workout performance.
Active recovery has numerous benefits compared to passive recovery. Because active recovery promotes cardiovascular activity and circulation, as well as many other health benefits, it’s a better rest option than remaining sedentary, which can carry certain risks for well-being.
Active Recovery Benefits: Below are some of the reasons to choose active recovery after exercise.
When you exercise vigorously, your body burns carbohydrates as fuel, producing lactic acid as a byproduct. The more vigorously you exercise, the more lactic acid builds up, leading to muscle fatigue.
When you go from vigorous exercise to complete rest, lactic acid doesn’t have a chance to clear your body and instead starts to pool. By gradually reducing your heart rate with active recovery after a workout, your body can start to naturally clear out lactic acid levels, preventing exhaustion.
When you do weight lifting, strength training or any other form of fitness, your muscles need a rest period in order to repair properly. It’s during the healing period that your muscle growth actually occurs. Tiny tears in the muscle fiber that occur when placed under stress repair themselves during rest, reinforcing and strengthening the muscle.
Active recovery is a more efficient way to repair these muscle tears and speeds up the recovery process faster than passive recovery. During active recovery, your blood circulation increases, and your tissues receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal.
Going from highly active to totally sedentary can be too much of a shock to the system. While muscle soreness is an expected and natural part of strength building, being totally inactive can increase the soreness and stiffness you feel while your muscles rebuild.
Inactivity in the days following vigorous exercise can cause your sore muscles to tense up, leading to stiffness after a tough workout. Light activity keeps the blood flowing and helps muscles stay loose rather than tighten up during recovery. This results in better mobility, flexibility and range of motion.
While there are many active recovery exercises you can do, yoga is becoming a popular choice among athletes and workout enthusiasts alike. Yoga is a bodyweight activity, requiring just yourself and a mat. The ideal part of practicing yoga on rest days or as a cool-down is that you can make it as light or intense as you’d like.
Different yoga postures carry different levels of intensity. Some are designed to build strength, while others help you achieve deep muscle and connective tissue stretches that your body desperately needs after a workout.
The benefits of yoga aren’t just physical; they’re mental too. Not only can you remain active on your rest days by practicing yoga, but you may also experience less stress, increased focus and improved mood.
Yoga helps accomplish all the goals of active recovery. For one, it’s a low-impact exercise, meaning it doesn’t add stress to recovering joints. It’s also specifically meant to increase mobility, which also leads to increased blood flow. People who practice yoga also learn to get in touch with their body’s needs and develop better body awareness.
While the benefits of yoga for active recovery may be endless, here are a few to consider.
Flexibility is the degree to which your muscles and joints can move through their full range of motion. It’s a natural ability our bodies have but lose over time, particularly when leading sedentary lifestyles. Even people who are regularly active can still experience poor flexibility.
Limited mobility is one of the possible causes of chronic low back, neck and shoulder pain.
Yoga poses help stretch not just your main muscle groups but also the deep layers of tissue that surround each muscle. By incorporating yoga into your active recovery regime, you’ll start to regain some of the range of motion you may have lost, particularly in stubborn areas like the low back, glutes and hamstrings. Better flexibility in these muscle regions can lead to better athletic and training performance.
Yoga teaches you how to connect your breath with your physical movements. Breathing control is crucial for athletes, weightlifters or anyone who engages in intense physical exercise. Proper breathing helps with endurance and injury prevention by delivering adequate oxygen levels to your muscles during physical exertion.
By practicing yoga, you learn to control your breathing and keep it consistent even while under physical stress.
Intense yoga poses can cause people to hold their breath, but by practicing proper breathing, you learn to use your breath to help you complete the pose with strength and stamina. Similarly with any physical activity, whether it’s running, swimming or weightlifting, breathing in a controlled manner helps your endurance levels and prevents fatigue.
Body awareness is a crucial ability for everyone, but it’s particularly important for those who like to exercise intensely. How aware you are of your body determines the amount of control you have over your movements. And good motor control determines how well you can perform athletically.
People with high levels of body awareness have better posture and balance, which reduces the risk of injury.
Additionally, being aware of your body helps you set limits on your physical exertion—you learn the difference between good and bad pain. Yoga for active recovery helps you cultivate the body awareness you need to continue training optimally.
Last but not least, yoga is a safe way to keep your blood pumping during recovery. Since it’s important to maintain blood flow on your rest days, yoga for active recovery can help keep your muscles nourished and speed up the repair process.
Yoga poses help open up tight connective tissue, allowing blood to flow to areas with poor circulation.
Increased blood flow carries oxygen and nutrients that are vital to the healing process. The improved circulation you experience with yoga during active recovery helps you prepare for your upcoming week of training.
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