Active recovery & rest days - a natural fitness perspective
If you’re hitting the weights or cardio machines seven days a week hoping you’ll reach your fitness goals faster, you’re likely doing yourself a disservice, at least from a natural fitness perspective.
Becoming an all-rounder
True natural health is about fostering an all-round sense of wellbeing and developing a wide range of movement skills that require strength, stamina and mobility. Some call this ‘general physical preparedness’ or GPP, some call it real world fitness’. Either way, it' should be your aim in life, over and above aesthetic results. And here’s the thing - to get there, you’re going to need a rest and recovery strategy.
Rest days and longevity
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, rest days are a surefire way to help you maintain a regular training program in the long run, helping to reduce the build-up of joint pain and muscle fatigue that can lead to injury and knock you off course for weeks or months at a time.
That said, not all rest days are equal. In years gone by, the general consensus was to take a completely inactive rest day, asking nothing of the body whatsoever. The consensus amongst sports scientists has evolved since then however and now we have recovery 2.0 - active recovery!
So, just what is active recovery?
Active recovery is essentially low-intensity physical activity carried out on rest days. It aims to reduce DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), inflammation and fatigue, thus improving performance in subsequent training sessions.
Your active recovery routine should be shorter and less vigorous than your normal workout, while still involving the same muscle groups.
how does it work?
The idea behind active recovery is that mild exercise gets the blood pumping at a faster rate than at rest. This increased circulation removes lactate and other metabolic waste from the muscles, reducing tissue damage.
In other words, if you choose to do on an hour of mobility work for example, or take a massage and go for a hike, you’re body is going to thank you for it even more than if you just lay on the sofa all day moaning about your sore legs and arms.
the evidence for active recovery
One trial looked at the effects of swimming-based active recovery on running performance. Nine well-trained triathletes started with a high-intensity run, followed by a recovery session 10 hours later. Experts measured time to fatigue with a second run 24 hours after the initial exercise.
The recovery swim significantly lengthened time to fatigue compared to passive recovery (830 s vs 728 s). It also lowered levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.
A systemic review and meta-analysis of 99 studies determined that active recovery was more effective for DOMS prevention than cryotherapy and contrast water therapy but less effective than massage.
active recovery as part of a natural lifestyle
Our bodies are designed to move every day, so when you think about it, active recovery makes perfect sense - especially in a biophilic, evolution-friendly lifestyle.
As well as the physical and performance benefits, exercise clears your head, improves focus, and relieves stress. Active recovery will give you the endorphin boost you’d be missing if you sat in front of the TV in other words.
While heavy training sessions are usually a solo affair, “active” rest days are a great excuse to get some fresh air with your loved ones. This could look like an ocean swim with the kids, an easy hike with friends or a post-dinner walk with your partner. This list is by no means exhaustive though so get out there do your own thing!