Keeping active to speed up repair
The sore, stiff muscles that come as a result of a hard training session, or after a sustained period of training for a specific event are part and parcel of the fitness aficionado's life. But how you deal with it is important for your overall fitness and your long-term health. In other words, how you recover is as important as how you train or perform.
The temptation is to sit down, have a rest and wait for the aches to go. But that will do nothing for the speed of your recovery. Active recovery is by far the best remedy for sore muscles.
Stage one of the recovery
Straight after your work out, drink a recovery protein drink and then undertake a session on the foam roller. This approach will help your muscles start the repair process. The recovery drink gives added protein, the foam roller will start to break down the lactic acid that is causing the stiffness.
Avoid break point
One of the golden rules of the gym is that only by pushing the body harder will we get improvement. If you want to run faster races, you must go faster on the treadmill; to build bigger muscles, push bigger weights. The concept draws on the fact that the body adapts to stress and will hit a plateau, which you must push through to get improvement. That is all true, but every body has a breaking point, which is why it is so important to allow your body a day or a week of lower volume work after a particularly tough period.
Repair and recovery
The purpose of recovery is to allow the muscles to repair and to engage the muscles that are tired or sore following a workout or a series of workouts for a lighter workout. Active recovery should involve doing some exercise but at an intensity that just gets the blood moving and helps reduce residual fatigue in the muscle.
A recovery day might involve running at a low intensity for less than 60 minutes or riding a bike for less than 75 minutes on a 50 percent effort basis. You could also try other activities to introduce the concept of cross training - climbing is very good for stretching muscles and engaging muscles that you don't use so much. Walking or going to an exercise class that you have never tried before are also great ways of allowing your muscles to recover.
Breaking the myths
The adage “muscles grow during rest” or “everyone should take one or two days off exercise a week” has no scientific substance behind it. Who says that we should have days when we do nothing, there is no hard and fast rule here. The secret lies in choosing the right amount or dose of exercise each day.
You should also remember that a day or a couple of days doing different exercises will not ruin your training. A marathon runner who has a day off his or her intensive schedule and goes for a bike ride instead is unlikely to suffer any damaging consequences to their running style or fitness. Likewise, someone who trains intensively for six days a week is unlikely to lose form or fitness if they give themselves a few days off the gym work and goes swimming as a form of active recovery.
Get the level of recovery right
What you use as active recovery depends upon your current level of fitness. For an unfit person just starting out on an exercise programme, anything more than a walk may constitute a strenuous workout, so the active recovery needs to be very gentle. As a rule of thumb, active recovery exercise should leave you feeling better after you have exercises compared to before you started. If your heart rate is high and your breathing is fast, then you have crossed the divide between active recovery and a work out.
There are mixed opinions on the benefits of active recovery. Some people believe that active recovery is essential for your body’s metabolic pathways of recovery, others think it does nothing to simulate recovery.
We think that active recovery helps the muscles get rid of the toxins left by heavy exercise and, importantly, makes you feel better.
Some ideas for active recovery exercises:
Walking or Nordic walking - not only does it burn calories but being outside can increase feelings of well-being. Nordic walking has the benefit of giving your upper body a good work out too.
Lighter weight lifting - use a much lighter weight than usual, so you can feel your muscles working but at a much lower intensity than usual.
Swimming - this is low stress on your joints and muscles, but gets your cardiovascular system pumping. How much swimming you do should reflect current fitness levels.
Yoga - this activity takes your joints and muscles through a safe range of movements.