No doubt, you train hard. Hard training means you need to recover.
The question came up recently in a group discussion – “What do you do on active recovery days?“
It’s an interesting question. I felt like I wanted to share it here and expand a little more.
Active recovery days are for recovering, they’re not training days. As a highly regarded strength coach stated, “You don’t get stronger by lifting weights. You get strong by recovering from lifting weights.” The point is that recovery is very important for all of us, my fellow strength enthusiast.
First, we have to define what it is we’re talking about.
What exactly are active recovery days anyway?
Active recovery days are an “off” training day where you’re still keeping active. Pretty simple, right? This basically means you do some sort of light activity on an off day.
You’re not training for strength, you’re allowing your to heal and recover from a previous hard training session.
As a die-hard lifter, this may be easier said than done though.
I know many people who have a hard time taking days off – they want to keep training all the time. We simply can’t do this. We have to recover in order for our bodies to grow and get stronger.
With hard strength training comes neurological fatigue (specifically our central nervous system, our CNS), an elevated or a disrupted hormonal environment, and microtrauma to our soft tissues (muscle, tendon, and ligaments). To go forward, we must step back.
I like to think of these days as time when I can restore, renew, and refresh. Active recovery should be things to help us feel good and keep moving on our days off from heavy lifting. They are activities that are not stressful.
Here’s 5 things I like to do for active recovery days (yet these things are not restricted to just active recovery, so keep that in mind).
I’ve said this a million times. I’m a big fan of simple walking programs. Just getting out there and going for a short walk can do wonders for your body and health. For any strength athlete, going for a 20-30 minute brisk, but low level walk is fantastic for the mind and body. In my opinion, walking is a highly effective way to renew and recover.
ACTIVE RECOVERY = 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking, outdoors if possible.
As a father of two, I love to get out there with my 2 girls and have some fun. I’m not saying to go crazy here and you don’t want to have any kind of “weekend warrior” type of injury playing around. But on active recovery days, I like to get outside and play with the kids. One of my favorite things to do is to go the park and shoot some hoops. Living in Florida, we also spend a lot of time swimming, which definitely fits the bill on these active recovery days. We run, we play catch, we have some fun. Keep it low level and enjoy the great outdoors. If you’ve ever read the great work by Mark Sisson, then you know that one of his primal laws is play.
ACTIVE RECOVERY = Get out and play. Examples are light running, playing basketball, swimming, outdoor games and activities.
Having a “go to” movement or mobility program is probably one of the best things to do on your active recovery days. Of course, you have to have a “go to” program or some ideas of things you’d like to do. Keeping moving. Keep working on any mobility issues. Keep mobilizing muscle tissue tightness or restrictions.
Here’s a simple example of a short movement/mobility program I’ve used:
- Goblet squats (*light kettlebell) x 5 reps with good power breathing
- Kettlebell halo’s x 5 reps each direction
- Spiderman crawls on the floor, forward and backward x 2-3 lengths
- Supine hip bridges x 10 (for glute activation and opening the hips)
- Overhead (dowel rod) squats (for positioning awareness and lower body mobility) x 5-10
You could do this for 1 to 3 rounds.
This is just one example. This program demonstrates something simple that can be done in about 10 minutes or so. Whatever you do, keep it simple and keep it light.
The Original Strength program works great here too. It’s easy, fast, and makes you feel great.
ACTIVE RECOVERY = A simple, 10 minute movement and mobility program is almost the perfect thing to do on active recovery days.
Athletic performance begins with good breathing, right? Well, how much time do you spend working on just your breathing? If you’re like me, probably not enough.
Here’s an example of a very simple breathing routine:
- Get in supine position (on your back) on the floor
- Position the feet so that the hips and knees are flexed to 90 degrees
- Place your hands on your stomach – so you can feel the breaths
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose
- Exhale slowly through your mouth
- Notice the expansion of your stomach into your hands (diaphragmatic breathing)
- Do this for 3-5 minutes (shoot for 10 minutes for extra credit)
- The point of this is to focus on good, efficient diaphragmatic breathing
Another example of active breathing with movement could be The Founder exercise from Foundation Training and the work of Dr. Eric Goodman. The Founder is the practicing the hip hinge movement with decompression breathing. Decompression breathing is the core of the Foundation Training movement based exercises. I’m experimenting more with these techniques myself.
ACTIVE RECOVERY = You have a variety of breathing techniques to consider. Once again, keep it simple.
This may also be a good day to do some light conditioning work – and I emphasize the word light here. A few sets of kettlebell swings, a few minutes of jumping rope, maybe a few Turkish get-ups, or a partial kettlebell snatch test (*with a bell size down from your average bell). Spending 10 to 15 minutes here seems about right with low volume and intensity. You could also combine 5 minutes of conditioning with 5 to 10 minutes of movement/mobility work above.
- 3 sets of 10, 1 handed kettlebell swings (60 reps in total, work on solid technique).
- 5-10′ of jump rope intervals
- 3 reps of Turkish get-ups with lighter bell (work on slow, deliberate technique)
- 3 sets of 10 (or 60 continuous) kettlebell snatches (one to two bell sizes down)
ACTIVE RECOVERY = Very light conditioning work. 10-15 minutes with lower volume and intensity.
You’ve got 5 ideas for active recovery days. There are many things to do, but the key is to make sure what ever you do, keep it limited to light activity.
- Walking program
- Movement/mobility program
- Breathing exercises
- Light conditioning
Of course, you could take off completely and not do anything at all. When in doubt, just go for a walk.
Let your body be the guide for what you do – and what you shouldn’t.