What is “Active Recovery” and Why You Should Care About It

Mike Campanella

The only scientifically proven way to reduce muscular soreness from a hard training session is to work out again. I honestly don’t know if that is 100% true, but I am about 97% certain it is mostly true.

In layman’s terms, it works like this: your muscles are like pumps– they suck in nutrients that produce energy, and then they push out metabolic waste and byproducts from said energy production. (I know, some high-brow jargon, here.)

If you are sore (or injured) and you don’t move (don’t activate your pumps) then you don’t circulate metabolic waste, and it all just kind of hangs around and makes your muscles feel like doodoo.

If you do move your muscles (activate your pumps) it will help flush the junk out, while simultaneously bringing in the nutrients that help to facilitate tissue repair and recovery.

How to Actively Recover:
1) Get a heart rate monitor
2) Dress in warm clothing
3) Perform some form of low impact exercise for 30-60 minutes

This is going to sound obvious, but Active Recovery workouts cannot be strenuous, or you will not recover. You’ll just induce more muscular soreness/tissue damage and your performance will suffer. I call that scenario: Actively Not-Recovering.

Essentially we are trying to keep the heart rate low (anywhere from 50-65% of your Max Heart Rate) and engage in exercise that elicits a low amount of mechanical stress. This will allow your intramuscular glycogen stores to replenish, inhibit cortisol and shift your preferred fuel source over to existing fat stores. Plus, this style of training helps increase the elasticity of your heart, as opposed to making it thicker (which is a common side effect of excessive HIIT training).

The whole “multiple layers of clothing” trick is a nifty tool to help you do less work, while reaping the same cardiovascular benefits. The warmer your body gets, the more you sweat and your blood becomes thicker so your heart will be working harder to circulate blood. You can get to your desired heart rate zone faster, while also allowing your muscles to chill out.

You will need at least 30 minutes of this type of low-intensity exercise. I don’t ever partake in Active Recovery workouts because I don’t work out enough to have to recover, BUT IF I DID, it would look something like this:

1) Foam roll & dynamic warm-up
2) 30-45 minutes on the bike, elliptical, or an incline treadmill walk
3) Full body stretch afterwards
4) Deep tissue massage from one of Paul Hagerty’s clones (I am convinced that he has clones. He works 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and always has a smile on his face. Or, he’s a robot.)

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