What it is – and isn’t
We’ve all heard the term before: Active Recovery. But what does it actually mean?
It should be exercise or an activity that supports your recovery during a hard week of training. Like going for a walk, an easy bike ride, or maybe doing a mobility session or yoga exercises.
But what we often see, is people doing their usual classes – just “taking it easy”. That is not Active Recovery.
Here’s what you’re actually looking for to support your recovery while training.
What is Recovery and why is it “active”?
The goal of Active Recovery is to reduce soreness after a heavy workout and to help your muscles recover by stimulating blood flow.
When you train, you create tiny tears in your muscles, which need to be repaired to make your muscles grow and get stronger. The better the blood flow, the faster this process is.
But if you want to help recovery, without just creating more tears to be repaired, you need to reduce the intensity.
If we use heart rate to categorise a session’s intensity, an Active Recovery session should be at around 60% of your max heart rate; or even less. Compared to your training that may sound low – and it is. That’s the whole point.
A CrossFit example: 12 min AMRAP Workout
- Usual training: 165-170 bpm (Threshold zone)
- “Taking it easy”: 140-150 bpm (Aerobic zone)
- Active Recovery: <120 bpm (Zone 1, maybe Zone 2)
So if you’re wondering how you can do your usual session at a low enough intensity…
…you probably can’t.
What to do instead
Some ideas for Active Recovery:
- a nice walk
- a casual bike ride
- a leisurely swim
- a mobility session (make sure you warm up properly)
- a yoga class
- or even something like gardening
It’s a great opportunity to get outside, relax and actually allow your body to recover from your training. Studies have shown that light activity promotes better recovery that simply slumping on the couch all day.
Remember that your body needs rest to function properly. Muscles need time to repair themselves and energy stores need to be replenished. You can only push for so long until things start to break down.
So schedule in rest days where you keep moving, but with the intensity dialed down significantly. Especially in a sport as demanding as CrossFit or High Intensity Training, these days are incredibly important.
By Sam Parish