Once you get in to weight training and start seeing progress you are going to be motivated to keep working at it and not want to take any rest days. Trust me, I get it, I don’t like having sedentary rest days and if I’m hitting the gym I like to hit it hard.
But taking both active recovery and rest days can be very beneficial. First let me explain the difference between the two.
An active recovery day or active rest day is where you perform a low intensity, light exercise workout to stimulate the recovery process. If you had a good week of hard workouts and you are still feeling a bit of muscle soreness then this is a great substitute to doing nothing.
Whereas a rest day is when you have the sedentary rest day and don’t do any sort of workout, if you are in so much pain that you don’t think you could workout then you better take a rest day. I’m not going to get too in depth on a rest day for obvious reasons, we all know how to be lazy once in a while. One thing I do want to say about your rest day though is continue to eat healthy, don’t pig out just because it’s a rest day.
Active Recovery Days
Putting an active recovery day in to your workout program will speed up your recovery and give your body a rest without completely taking the day off from the gym. The active recovery day will aid to increase your recovery from the previous few days by increasing the blood flow to your muscles and tissues.
When you do high intensity exercise it contributes to the production and accumulation of blood lactate in your muscles, the active recovery will clear this lactate faster than a rest day and at the same time allows you to burn a few extra calories and give you that satisfaction of working out that you have come to crave.
Active Recovery Workouts
I like active recovery days not only because they help speed up the recovery from my workouts that week but they also offer a way to take a break from the heavy weights and get in an aerobic workout.
Low Intensity-Light Resistance Training
This is a personal favorite for me, it still gives me the satisfaction of going to the gym and allows me to feel like I didn’t really have an off day. I try to stick to about 30% of the weight I would use during my regular training sessions and do high reps, in the 15-18 range. I also keep it to 1-2 sets for each muscle group and try to do a full body active recovery workout.
When you lift heavy it tears down the muscle tissue and it is the muscle repairing itself that cause the growth we are after. By doing the lighter weights it helps provide blood flow to the muscles carrying oxygen and nutrients to the fibers and aiding in the recovery process.
So, keep it light but go for some high reps. The lightest resistance band you have is also great for your active recovery days, while performing your low intensity workout with the band you can also let the band provide some extra stretch at the end of the eccentric portion.
Doing yoga or just performing some stretches is good for both active recovery and rest days. Just make sure if you do either during your rest day you do an easy routine that still allows you to relax and not strain too hard. If any amount of light stretching is causing a lot of pain in your already sore muscles then maybe you should consider making this a rest day where you binge watch your favourite show and don’t do any stretching.
During your active recovery days you can go a little higher on the intensity level and do some deeper stretching where you can start to feel it in your already sore muscles. Or pick your favourite 30 minute yoga routine and work your way through that.
Swimming or Other Aquatic Exercise
Swimming or other water exercises are great low impact workouts for active recovery days since they allow you to use your muscles with little to no strain on your joints and you can get a great stretch easier than you can laying on the floor. Not much to this, just remember to keep the intensity down and keep it under 30 minutes or so.
Walking or Light Jogging
You can either take this outside for some fresh air or hit the treadmill for some lighter cardio training to aid your recovery. Either of these is a great option for your active recovery days, it allows you to get your heart rate up and sweat a little without doing any more damage to your muscles.
You could even make this a hiking day where you get out on the trails with some friends or family, make a day out of it and have a picnic while you’re out there.
This is a great way to get the blood flowing to your lower body, I really enjoy getting out for a bike ride on my active recovery days. I keep the intensity down, try to avoid too many big hills and just go for a steady relaxing ride. This also gives you some good cardio work without putting too much strain on your joints and muscles allowing you to recover quicker.
Self Myosfacial Release
Yeah I know, Self Myosfacial What?!
Self Myosfacial Release or SMR is a tool assisted self massage that helps with muscle pain and aids recovery on your active recovery days. It does this by relaxing tight muscles, improving blood, oxygen and lymphatic circulation.
SMR can use a foam roller, massage roller or a firm massage ball to relieve muscle soreness in certain areas. There are numerous videos available online to help target certain areas using different techniques. If you don’t have any of these items you can use a hard ball to get at most of your muscle pains.
No matter what you choose for your active recovery and rest days just make sure you keep the intensity down and don’t turn it in to another workout day. I can guarantee you that if you start working these days in to your routine not only will you feel better on your next active workout day but you will also start to see more gains, whether it be strength or size.
Comment below what you like to do for your active recovery and rest days. Or feel free to ask any questions if you need some help to plan your recovery.