After a great week of following your intense workout plan, you might feel like just doing nothing for a day. While putting your feet up seems like a reasonable reward, it might not be the best way to help your recovery from the rigors of exercise. When Tony Horton has completed his week of workouts, instead of just sitting down for a whole day, he plans some modest fitness goals to provide an active rest day.
What Is An Active Rest Day? Active Recovery Exercise For Physical Activity Outside Of The Gym
Strength training naturally subjects your body to thousands of tiny muscle tears. It’s important to give this damage time to heal so that your muscles can grow and change. That’s where active recovery comes into play. Active recovery (or ‘active rest’) is more beneficial than simply staying still (known as ‘passive rest’) because it encourages:
- Blood flow and circulation
- Muscle recovery, which reduces muscle soreness
- The cleansing of blood toxins
- Elimination of lactic acid buildup 1,2
Obviously, if you’re injured or very tired, use this time for passive recovery (complete rest), and follow any treatment plan from your doctor or physical therapist. If you feel good, your active rest day should include lots of stretching and plenty of hydration. It’s also a chance to work on your form.3
A good active recovery day includes exercise which gets you moving at around 60-70% of your regular workout intensity and heart rate. If using weights, dial it back to about 30% of your usual weight challenge (this is where you can really take time to work on your form).4 Active rest days can be scheduled in advance and, just like your normal workout days, you’re more likely to succeed if you begin with a plan.5
Active Rest Day Activities: Get Outside For A Hike, Bike Ride, Or Other Enjoyable Cardio
In place of the more rigorous strength and resistance training which dominates your fitness calendar during the week, active rest days are great for some light cardio. This gives you the chance to exercise in different ways and in new environments. Need some ideas?
- Go for a moderate hike. If six miles would be a typical challenge, try just 1.5 miles on your active rest day.
- Take friends, family and/or dogs for a long, relaxed walk.
- Go cycling in terrain that won’t be too challenging.
- Spend some time on the elliptical.
- Try kayaking on a river, lake, or reservoir.
- Volunteer for a community cleanup.
- Do some light yard work or gardening.
- Go swimming. The pressure of the water helps improve blood flow, while joints are relieved of their usual burden.6
Try Some New Yoga Poses: Help To Stretch Sore Muscles From Overtraining
Stretching tired muscles helps support flexibility. This can help you maintain the range of motion in your joints and reduce soreness. Stretched, relaxed muscles are strong and flexible. Tight muscles are shorter and weaker, so when you call on them to contract (when standing, lifting, etc.) it’s more likely they’ll become damaged.7
Stretching should be a daily activity, and it’s best carried out according to some simple guidelines:
- Stretching cold muscles before a workout can cause damage; instead, take a quick (5-10 minute) walk to warm up.
- Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; keep a clock or timer in view to help with this.
- It’s tempting to ‘bounce’ in the stretch, but it’s better to just hold still.
- You should feel tension, but not pain. If the stretch hurts, stop and relax.
- Prioritize the muscles that you’ve been working on, and then target any others that feel tight.
- Remember that flexibility will improve over time, and that progress might feel very slow, especially in your hips and hamstrings.
- Breathe slow and deep during these active recovery stretches.8,9
More Active Recovery Exercise Ideas: Basic Stretching And Easy Exercise Moves
Your active recovery day should focus on flexibility, balance, and coordination. Try these techniques to get the most from your recovery day and give your body a chance to repair itself:
- Focus on your hips and core. Useful exercises include planks, ‘dead bugs’, glute bridges, ‘bird dogs’ and ‘fire hydrants’. In addition, crawling (yes, on the floor, like a baby) provides a good, moderate workout, as well as some fun and variety.
- Work on your form using a mirror. This can raise your kinesthetic awareness, helping you work on spatial perception, coordination, and alignment.
- Try tai chi. The slow and generally undemanding movements of this ancient martial art are ideal for a rest day. Additionally, practicing tai chi may help ease stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.10
- ‘Go’ for a short, easy ride on a stationary bike.
- Take an easy yoga class. The steady flow of poses in a gentle yoga class can help muscle recovery, and the exercises promote bodily awareness and mindfulness.11
- Experiment with self myofascial release. Manipulating your myofascial tissues – the web of thin, strong material which protects bones and muscles – may help release tightness and promote relaxation.12 This can be done by visiting a practitioner who provides therapeutic massage, or at home using a foam roller, massage stick, lacrosse ball, or similar object.13 A foam roller is an inexpensive addition to your home gym, and you’ll find that various forms of exercise and recovery benefit from a foam roller.14
Using Your Active Rest Day For Planning
You can use part of your active recovery day to assess your fitness program and make any necessary tweaks. You can plan the coming week’s workouts, thinking about any equipment, scheduling, or preparation you need to do. This is also a good time to plan your diet for the week, making sure to include lots of lean protein, fruit, and vegetables.
Active Recovery: An Essential Part Of Fitness Success
Gaining strength means tearing up your muscles, and this means a period of repair and restoration is essential. Taking an active rest day once a week provides a chance for recovery and growth, helps you avoid overexerting muscles, and may help support blood flow. Varying your activities, including other people, doing some foam rolling, heading outdoors, and trying some new stretches are all great ways to use your active recovery day. Just make sure to get your doctor’s approval before beginning any new exercise regimen.