When you’re committed to your training program, taking a rest or active recovery day can be even harder than sticking to your workouts. Figuring that more is better, many of us churn out workout after daily workout, only to be sidelined with an injury or mental fatigue that won’t let us make it off the couch. If you can’t remember the last time you took a break from your training or if you’re struggling with nagging soreness, injuries or low motivation, it’s time to build some mindful breaks into your program.
Recovering from your workouts doesn’t have to mean complete inactivity. Active recovery workouts allow you to continue physical activity at a lower level of exertion than your training workouts. The rule of thumb for these workouts is that they should leave you feeling better than when you started. Many of us find that it’s easier to stick to both a training plan and our diet if we stay active every day. Active recovery not only helps us to do that, but may also have some benefits by providing an opportunity to improve our form and increase our range of motion, without taking time away from training on more intense days.
Whether you’re using your treadmill, indoor cycle, or elliptical, your home fitness equipment can be a great way to build lower impact workouts into your training plan. Technological advances, such as virtual destination video and preprogrammed workouts can make it easy for you to take a mental break while providing just enough increased circulation to help you recover from your last tough workout. These recovery workouts might be as simple as using your home fitness equipment, while keeping an eye on your heart rate. For active recovery workouts, try using the “fat burning” setting (if your machine has one) or keeping your heart rate at 60-65% of your maximum. While your total calorie burn will be lower than if you were working out at a higher intensity, you will give your body the chance to recover and to become more efficient, making your more intense workouts easier in the long run. You can incorporate the same approach into an outdoor run or bike ride by using a heart rate monitor and slowing your speed, or even walking every time your heart rate goes above 65%. While you may find yourself walking a lot during your first workouts, in time you will become more efficient and able to maintain your pace with lower effort.
Active recovery also gives us the opportunity to build in some cross training workouts. For runners and cyclists, lower intensity days when you are less fatigued are a great time to work on drills to improve your form. Think about keeping your exertion rate down (these workouts should feel easy!) while increasing your mental focus on maintaining perfect form. Runners might do some easy strides on a treadmill or the road; cyclists might work on increasing the pulling action of their pedal motion while releasing tension from the upper body. You can also incorporate yoga, core work, self-myofascial release (foam rolling), or light strength training for cross training that will help your body and mind recover, increasing your strength and flexibility for your next training session.
While active recovery is a great tool to keep motivation high and injury low, there are going to be days that call for complete rest. If your training schedule includes very high intensity events or if you’ve just completed an exhausting competition or season, you may benefit from one or more consecutive rest days. These days can also be used regularly to avoid injury and exhaustion and to improve adherence to your program. While your home fitness equipment makes sticking to your workouts easier, family schedules and work demands can still lead to time off from training. When you know that these conflicts are coming up, you can plan for them by incorporating a full rest day into your plan. It might make sense to look at your upcoming weekly schedule and if you know that one day is going to be unusually tight, schedule a tough workout for the day before. Rather than feeling guilty about missing your next workout, enjoy a well-earned day of rest knowing that your body is getting stronger for your next training session.