Active Recovery is exactly that “Active”
I don’t like the term ‘rest day’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people should train every single day. I’ve been through periods where I was training so much that I would have actually gotten fitter if I hadn’t forced myself to work out two or three times a day. The reason I don’t like hearing ‘rest day’ is because I have a problem with the term itself.
Rest implies a passive process. It conjures up images of sitting around on the couch, or flicking through Facebook, waiting for your body to get around to healing itself. This is absolutely sending the wrong message. I know this sounds nitpicky, but it straight away puts us in the wrong mindset.
The more experienced I become – and the older I get – the more I realise how important recovery is. Part of that is because as I get older I can’t put up with the training load that I could when I was twenty. I could drink until I passed out, then get up and run 10km with the boys. We called that a Tuesday. Now getting drunk Friday night will wipe me out for the rest of the weekend. And I can’t handle three workouts a day like I could back then.
So that’s part of it, but a bigger part is that you can only train so hard before it becomes detrimental. Most athletes are training at that level. But with good recovery then you can increase how much training load you can handle. That means that you can get in more training than your opponents, and come game day, you’re going to be fitter than them.
So when I say ‘recovery’ or ‘active recovery’ what am I actually talking about? So, I’m defining rest as simply doing nothing physically active; just taking a day off from the gym. Active recovery is any method or tool used to speed up the recovery process. Today I’m going to talk about nutrition, mobility, Cryotherapy/Contrast Therapy, sleep, and movement.
So we’re all told to eat healthy, right? Obviously that’s not a bad idea, but it’s usually in the context of years so that you don’t drop dead on your fortieth birthday. What I’m talking about today is how to make sure you recover from your last few workouts, reap the benefits, and get ready for your next one. You need at the very minimum 2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight. You should probably have more than that, but let’s start by checking that you are getting that. Justin Lascek in his book Paleo for Lifters recommends 50g over bodyweight in pounds. So I’m about 185lbs right now (84kg) which means I need 235g of protein per day. Basically just double your weight and add 50. If you can get that from real food, great. If you have to resort to supplements, well it’s better than nothing. I eat about a kilo of meat a day (roughly 210g protein) so don’t tell me that you can’t do it without protein shakes.
Protein is the most important macronutrient for recovery, but I’ll quickly mention carbs as well (fats is a subject for a whole other day). The majority of people eat more carbs than they need but if you’re on the other side, and if you’re doing a low-carb diet as well as doing a lot of glycolytic-pathway exercise (Crossfit, fight training etc) then there’s a reason you always feel exhausted. You need to bump up your carbs to levels that will support recovery. Like I said, however, most people definitely aren’t on the too few carbs side.
Also included in nutrition is adequate hydration. You need to drink enough water to replace what you’ve lost over the last few sessions. You should be peeing clear. There’s no real need for sports drinks; water is fine. If you really want to drink them then restrict them to immediately post-workout.
By mobility I’m talking mostly about SMR and stretching. SMR stands for Self Myofascial Release. Essentially it means self-massage. You can do this with your hands, a Lacrosse ball, a foam roller, or several other tools. This is some really good stuff, and regular SMR can fix most overuse injuries that athletes pick up before they turn into shoulder surgery. Now, explaining the technique will take a bit more time than I have in this post – and if you’re training with us you should already be aware of it – but you can search YouTube for either SMR or trigger point, or just go straight to Kelly Starrett at www.Mobilitywod.com.
Stretching isn’t a terrible thing to do, but it lags a distant second to SMR. There are a lot of conflicting studies on stretching, but anecdotally a good dose of SMR followed by a shorter period of stretching gives the best results. Because I know at least one person will ask, I’m not particularly against yoga, especially if that’s mobility work that you otherwise wouldn’t do, but I do think there are more efficient ways.
Cryotherapy (cold) and Contrast therapy (cold-hot-cold) operate off very similar principles. Essentially they aim to reduce the inflammation caused by intense exercise. There have been a ton of papers published on the diminished soreness after these protocols. Some people think you shouldn’t try an suppress the inflammatory response, as it’s part of your body’s adaptation response in getting fitter. I use these when I’m sore, and I know I have to drag my butt out of bed for another session tomorrow.
Cryotherapy is essentially the old ice bath technique, like you see on the old clips of footy players and boxers. You fill a tub full of cold water and ice, and then you sit in it while making stupid faces (if you try this then you’ll see what’s up with the faces). Contrast therapy is alternating hot with cold. When I was at the AIS as a kid, they used to have a sauna with a freezing cold plunge pool directly outside it. I’m guessing you probably don’t have access to that. If that’s the case then you can use the shower like I do. I run 1min of as hot as you can stand, followed by 1min of pure cold. Start with the hot, always finish on the cold, and cycle through 4-5 times.
Sleep is a deceptively simple subject. I’ll cover sleep fully in another article, but for the purposes of recovery know that lack of sleep will slow down your recovery, and it’s free. I understand that people have lives outside the gym (never saw the attraction, myself) and this often eats into their sleep time. I also know that a lot of people who claim they are too busy to get a full eight hours are also suspiciously up-to-date on the latest episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Remember, just because you’ve gotten used to functioning on five or six hours a night doesn’t mean that it’s optimal. So turn off the reruns of Friends (seriously, it’s terrible), log off of www.thechive.com (you’ve probably been on it for too long, anyway), and go get some sleep.
The last thing that I’ll touch on is movement. Getting in some light movement can help speed up the recovery process. Notice that I didn’t say exercise? This isn’t about getting in another workout. Going for a walk along the beach, or doing some body-surfing if it’s summer, those are the sort of things I’m getting at. If you’re fit then you can go for a jog, but only if it’s not physically taxing. If it’s sunny then I like to get in a jog on Sunday mornings, but just nice and slow. It’s about turning the legs over and getting some blood flow, not getting a sweat up. The reason I’m harping on this point is because I know a lot of guys who overtrain (myself included), and have a habit of turning a ‘recovery jog’ into setting an new PR over 5km. Then they wonder why they don’t feel fresh after their rest day.
So, in summary, there is more to your rest day than just not hitting the gym. There are multiple tools you can use to speed up recovery, and some of them are super simple. If you’re in a competitive sport, then you should take whatever extra edge over your opponents that you can get.
Next week we ask the question “How do we know what we know?” in relation to gyms and the way we train.