Exercising three to five times per week is not to be sniffed at — it requires a huge amount of diligence, a lot of energy, and a rock-hard mindset. Because of this, it may be tempting to use your non-exercise days — rest days, to most — to chill out and give the weights room a wide berth. But, could laying dormant in between your sessions be doing you a disservice?
This is the idea behind active recovery days, during which you’d use your free time to continue to stay active rather than being sedentary. But that doesn’t mean sneaking in a CrossFit WOD or booking into a class and promising yourself you’ll throttle back (you won’t). Instead, it’s about taking things slowly and remaining active. A short swim, for example, or an hour’s walk and some mobility at home. Here, Third Space Elite Trainer Tom Hall walks you through 4 benefits of incorporating active recovery days into your routine.
You can increase blood flow to your muscles
“The activity can reduce lactic acid build-up and increase blood flow,” explains Hall. “It’s a chance for the removal — or faster removal — of metabolic wastage from your muscles.” Similarly, it’s theorised that active recovery can also reduce muscle tears, says Hall, offering a more beneficial result over sedentary activity, “as your heart rate won’t have elevated and you won’t have pumped oxygenated blood around the body.”
Active recovery days are flexible
“You can go walking, if that gets your heart rate elevated to around 30-60% above your resting heart rate, to light jogging or on a cardio machine,” says Hall. “You’re trying not to have any central nervous system fatigue as you’re just trying to increase blood flow.”
It doesn’t need to be in the gym
“Going for a walk or jog is absolutely fine,” says Hall. “If you want less joint stress, swimming is perfect.” If you’re at home (and presumably without access to high-spec cardio machines or a swimming pool), foam rolling or light mobility work will do just the job. “It will allow your blood to flow better,” says Hall.
You can still do classes, but pick the right one
It can be tempting to book into a class between your structured sessions, but make sure you’re getting out of it what you need to. “If the class ends up being too strenuous, that’s a workout rather than active recovery,” says Hall. “Recovery is supposed to make you feel better the day after, so if the class can’t achieve that then you should avoid it.” Instead of redlining your heart rate and pushing the needle, opt for a class or session that’s more suitable to an active recovery day. Yin Yoga, for example.
It’s a good chance to work on your mobility
“Mobility exercises are fine to do during an active recovery day,” says Hall. “Just be wary of over-stretching or anything like that.” Mobility, however, doesn’t come under the umbrella of resting, but it’s a valuable recovery tool that could also be paired with a lower-intensity day of exercise, where you haven’t gone heavy, says Hall.