Active Recovery - Why is it important?

Friday, June 14, 2019

One thing, that as physiotherapists, we often notice, is that adequate and good quality recovery is neglected. So you work hard in the gym, swimming pool, athletics track, football field or whatever it might be. What should you do on the other days? What should you do to recover from your training or competing loads and continue to make progress? The time between these training and competing loads, known as recovery, has a big impact on your future performance in the gym or on the field. How well you recover can either boost your efforts and "fill your fuel tank tank" or undo them and lead to chronic pain, persistent soreness, a loss of fitness/power, sleep disruption, hormone disruption and lower immunity.

Using a balanced recovery routine makes a big difference on how well your body "absorbs" and uses these training and competing loads. Yes, you can hinder your valuable efforts and even undo them during your recovery time.

Under-recovery tends to look like:

  • You train or compete in your chosen sport, get sore and tight, take ibuprofen to recover. Or you just take ibuprofen even before you play or train just to make it through.
  • Your week includes heavy training and/or intense cardio then you do nothing on non-training days or have no non-training days.

Both situations are far more common than they should be. Both of the above situations can lead to a downward spiral in performance, increased injury risk and ultimately, burnout. Inadequate recovery between sessions may start as just feeling run down, having lower energy, feeling irritable, achey or an inability to perform at previous levels. If this sounds like you, incorporating 1 or 2 active recovery sessions into your week could make your performance and well-being substantially improve.

What Is Active Recovery?

Active recovery is 20 minutes or more of mild/moderate intensity activity that you enjoy, usually outside, that gets you moving. It should get the heart pumping, joints moving and should be a distinct change from intense activity. Active recovery can and should be fun, enjoyable and should be non-competitive. Active recovery rejuvenates you, improves your energy levels, clears your head and results in good feelings.

Some examples of active recovery walking, stretching, dancing, light swimming, easy short game golf practice. You can find the activity that works for you as long as it meets the criteria above.

Why Active Recovery?

What happens on our days off from training and competitive sport is extremely important yet is constantly and consistently underrated. Recovery is where the 1% lies – the edge to get that bit more out of your performance.

Recovery is when the body re-builds, rests and heals. A huge number of complex chemical processes take place during recovery and actively recovering helps us "chase" recovery by improving circulation, fluid flow, healing, parasympathetic hormone release,

So get moving, flap your arms and legs and just do something that is fun but is not overly strenuous! Make sure you have fun with it and enjoy it! Active recovery can include walking and talking with a friend. On other days it might include an active stretching CARs (controlled articular rotations) routine or some mat based Pilates movements to get into deep end ranges of your joints. It should feel good! Walking, swimming, yoga or other activities feel really great too. Active recovery can have a pain relieving effect, due to endorphin release, which is much better than taking a pill for recovery.

Make ACTIVE RECOVERY part of your workout week. Plan for it and make sure that it happens. Plan 1 - 2 days of active recovery in your weekly schedule for better recovery and better performance. When you return to competition or training you'll notice an improvement in your performance. 

There are, of course, other recovery strategies, which must be incorporated consistently as well to "fill the tank.” Things that we haven't covered in this article are consistent, adequate and good quality sleep (click here for article) and good body awareness.

If your recovery doesn't sound like it is up to scratch, click here to make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists to get back on track!

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