Exercise What is Active Recovery & Why Do I Need It?

What is Active Recovery and Why Do I Need It

Ah, rest days, they’ve gotten a bad rep with the popularity of the “No Days Off” movement but the truth is rest and active recovery are the best way to make sure those hours in the gym aren’t doing more harm than good.

Aren’t Rest Days & Active Recovery Days the Same Thing?

Nope! 2 different things with 2 different goals.

Rest Days

The purpose of a true rest day is to completely chill out, meaning no activity (outside of activities of daily living) at all. This complete halt gives your body the opportunity to focus on just recovery. Rebuilding from a workout and building new muscle tissue is hard work that takes focus. That focus can be interrupted if your body has to worry about keeping you alive during your high-intensity spin class. So resist the urge to workout and just relax. If you’re the type that wants to feel like you’re physically doing something to take steps toward your goals every day try mediation, it’s more powerful than you think!

Active Recovery Days

Today is the day to give your body a little hand in recovering from those intense workouts.  During a workout, we’re bound to get a few things out of order one way or another and your body is pretty powerful but it can’t fix everything in a single day.

Active recovery days are intended to aid in resetting your body, your posture, and your mind so you’re at your absolute best the next time you hit the gym. So think realignment activities like yoga, Pilates, massage or just a simple self-stretch. Now for you sweat junkies out there this doesn’t mean find a high-intensity Hot Athletic Power Yoga Boot Camp class (I doubt such a thing exists, but you get the idea) and call it recovery.

“Ok, but I want to [lose weight, get stronger, run faster, build muscle, insert goal here] can I really afford to take 2 days off every week?”

My dear, you can’t afford not to. Sure you can keep grinding, grinding, grinding, but eventually, your body won’t be able to keep up.

Imagine this scenario:

You start a new job that you love and you’re really great at it!
Soon your boss takes notice and rewards you with a big high profile project.
Great! Sure it’s some extra work but it will be worth it if you can get a promotion early.
You finish the project and it’s a hit! Awesome!
Now your boss trusts you and gives you another even bigger project.
You get to work.
2 days later he sees how well you’re managing and gives you another.
You’re good at this you can handle it.
Then the very next day another project.
Another & another.
How many days in a row would it take before you either had a meltdown or walked out?

That story is no different than seeing your body performing great under pressure and deciding to just keep adding weight, just keep going for 10 mile runs every single day because obviously, your body is tough. It can handle it, right? But eventually, your body’s going to give up just like you would walk out on that job that you loved at first.

Your body shutting down can take a lot of different forms. Fatigue, lack of motivation, weight gain or plateau no matter how much you workout, strength loss, loss of appetite, difficulty in sleeping or focusing, and often times injury. Some of these may sound worse than others but they’re all symptoms of a major issue that we want to prevent if you want to keep succeeding.

So let’s paint a different picture. Same job, same big project:

The project is a success.
Your boss rewards you with a 3 day paid weekend this week.
You go home Friday, spend the weekend relaxing and basking in the glow of your accomplishment.
You return to work to find part of your work for the week completed by an intern and another big project waiting for you.
Each time you receive a project and complete it successfully you get paid days off; sometimes a long weekend, sometimes a whole week for bigger projects.
You never get behind on your other work duties because many of the tasks are passed to eager interns as a thank you for working so hard.
How do you feel about this job now? How motivated would you be to keep working harder and harder on every project and keep succeeding?

We need to do the same for our bodies. Give a little get a little. If we want to really see fast progress we need to be diligent about our recovery or “reward” days as I like to call them. And the harder we push ourselves the more deliberate our recovery time should be!

Now go forth and rest!

Bonus Tips:

Many of my clients, much like myself, are pretty Type A go-go-go personalities which means slowing down can feel like wasting time even when logic tells us otherwise. Here are self-talk/mindset tips to help you get over that mental hurdle:

  1. Start viewing active recovery & rest days as a mind-body retreat, and put it in your schedule.
  2. Make an event of your relaxation time, set the scene and make it something you genuinely look forward to.
  3. Remind yourself of everything you read here any time you want to skip the rest day.  And remember that active recovery is still a big step forward, not backward and not a pause in your progress.
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