If not Rest, then at least Active Recovery, Right?

Cat in lotus position (cartoon).

Cat in lotus position (cartoon).

Sam has blogged about the importance of rest days. More than once in fact (see here and here).  When I was mostly into weight training and not much else, I had a good handle on rest days as necessary for giving muscles time to repair and, more importantly, to build.  I understood that without adequate rest, I was at risk of overtraining.

That’s not to say that I always respected that knowledge. I get into things. And then I have difficulty taking adequate breaks. It’s one of these tendencies I need to stay aware of. I’m more likely to want to do something than nothing, even if it’s walking to work or taking in a yin yoga class.

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

Lately I’ve learned about something else: active recovery.  What is active recovery? According to this post at Built Lean:

Active recovery could be defined as an easier workout compared to your normal routine. Typically this workout would be done on off day from training. Generally an active recovery workout is less intense and has less volume. For example, a trainee worried about body composition goals could do active recovery by taking a brisk walk on an off day.

When defining active recovery, context comes into play. To a marathon runner, jogging at a slow pace on an off day will likely have little impact on their ability to maintain intense workouts on their scheduled training days; in fact, it ultimately may help their fitness goals.

You’re supposed to feel better, not worse, after you do something that counts as active recovery.

I confess that I still fall short with rest, simply because I have so many things that I’m trying to fit in and I can’t quite imagine what a day without exercise of any kind feels like. But active recovery? I can get on board with that.

Much of what I read about active recovery recommends low to no impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, walking, yoga, or foam rolling.  But you know, any of these (well, perhaps not foam rolling, but I’m not even sure of that) can be gentle or intense.  I’m not sure who I’m fooling when I try to sub in a very demanding 90 minute Iyengar yoga class as my active recovery day.  And my triathlon swim training is not active recovery. It’s an intense workout.

So I need to check myself and watch out for my tendency to want to keep at it and do everything at a high level of intensity all the time.  I have recently “counted” both yoga and swim training as active recovery. I’ve even counted easy but long runs.

And I’m ratting myself out right here and now by saying that the fact is, I do not have a rest day.  Sundays are my prescribed rest day for the Lean Eating Program, but I have my long run with my 10K training group on Sunday mornings.  It’s easy, but it’s long. And I don’t feel as fresh as a daisy afterwards. And my schedule of workouts resumes promptly at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings.

How do you do rest and active recovery? I’d love to hear from people who do a better job at it than I do.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

18 thoughts on “If not Rest, then at least Active Recovery, Right?

  1. Ahhh! I feel the same way in regards to trying to fit it all in. I often get into the habit of twice a day workouts and then once I get tired have to remind myself that I’m not going to the Olympics or to the CrossFit games any time soon and that as long as i am exercising and feeling good, that’s good enough for me! I come back to my “why” for exercising (my goals are about feeling good and being healthy–injury free with my hormones in check) and then it’s easier for me to find some space to take a day or two off!

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    • Tracy I says:

      Good point about remembering the goals. I think though that I need to go further and internalize the point that even with ‘big’ goals (like my Olympic distance triathlon) and possibly because of them rest is essential.

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  2. Sam B says:

    To be clear, I still walk the dog and bike commute on rest days. That’s not exercise, it’s everyday life. But I do take rest seriously. I do have one day a week with no scheduled workouts. I do it mostly to regain energy and avoid injury. When I’ve had a cycling coach, rest days were part of the program. Why have a coach and not listen? Also, it was a team thing. We were all resting that day.

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    • Tracy I says:

      Okay so commuting and maybe even yin yoga can be part if a rest day. That helps.

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      • Sam B says:

        Here’s two suggestions to make it easier. Think of rest as part of the training program. What counts as active recovery depends on how fit you are. You can use your heart rate monitor to see if a ride is really a recovery ride. For beginning cyclists recovery rides don’t make much sense. You practically have to coast to keep your heart rate in the recovery zone.

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  3. Heather says:

    I have activities every morning and twice a day on some days. I’m supposed to rest on Sundays. Often by Wednesdays I feel tired. But then resting feels like not achieving my goals. I struggle with a real need for rest vs wimping out. In the last month I’ve been forced to rest due to a running-induced toe injury. It took me so long to build up fitness habits and lifestyle that stopping feels unnatural, even to tend an injury. Almost as if it’s an all or nothing thing. I’m working on being more flexible with myself, accepting to skip a day here and there if I need to and remembering that my overall fitness project, begun less than a year ago (after 46 years sedentary) is a huge success.

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    • Tracy I says:

      That’s great that you’re keeping active. Maybe instead of thinking in terms of ‘skipping’ workouts think in terms of scheduling rest—making it part of the plan. I’m not there yet either. Working on it though!

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  4. Craig Burgess says:

    Let’s be honest. Exercise can become addictive. I’ve joked many times in the past that exercise has become what I am now obsessive-compulsive about. I don’t really have an addictive personality at all, in the sense of substance abuse issues or anything like that, but I am definitely a perfectionist in certain limited regards (I am naturally otherwise often comatose) and obsessive-compulsive behaviour and I are in no way strangers. That’s one part of the puzzle regarding why “rest days” for many of us are difficult. I think you might be asking for strategies on how to overcome your exercise addiction. If you’re like me, you have to replace exercise with something else you’re obsessive-compulsive about on these rest days, or make your rest days otherwsie so busy with other things (chores, visits to friends and family, outings to movies, shows, galleries, museums, etc.) that it essentially becomes an active recovery day.

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  5. Craig Burgess says:

    It makes me sigh that this is what I have to do, but I know if I’m on a rest day and not much else is going on in my life that day, i.e. to keep my mind active and fascinated, I’m going to end up in a dark bored unhappy place.

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  6. Sam B says:

    People vary so much that way. There were always people who’d sneak a ride in, even sneak extra training in, on our cycling rest/recovery days. They’d have to do it not in team kit–since it was a rest day for everyone–and then get teased if they were spotted. Ninjas, we called them; their cycling, sneaky kms.This despite lectures and reprimands from coaches who would insist it would be make you slower and lead to injury. I think of physical activity as a huge part of my life, of who I am, but I was never tempted.

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    • Tracy I says:

      I could see it more if in fact the extra training was a positive. Then it would be like what we lament about academics who work around the clock. They publish more and up the ante for everyone. But it’s not balanced. In physical activity, rest supposedly makes you better. So not getting is allegedly counter productive.

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  7. Lisa says:

    Crossfit mainsite advocates a 3 days on, 1 day off approach. That’s hard because it means your schedule changes every week, but I try to do somewhere near a 4 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off kind of pattern to fit my schedule. I’ve been slowly working on volume so that I have 2-a-days on Saturday, and so that I do my rowing at Crossfit before class (which is sort of a 2-a-day). My coach says its better to do more on some days and then solidly rest on rest days (though I also don’t count walking to work, etc.)

    Sometimes on rest days, it helps to visualize my muscles healing (my mental model of how muscles work draws largely on an episode of the Magic School Bus). But it helps me think of a rest day as still a day when something is happening and I am become a better athlete.

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  8. When I was in full on Half-Ironman training prior to baby #1 I would purposely schedule an activity with friends on the day that I was supposed to rest so as to avoid over training and injuries. At the beginning it was team bowling so that I at least moved around a little bit. However, it did get more “active” as I got deeper into my training. I highly suggest finding someone who can keep you in the calm zone on the days that you need to rest. AKA: Choose a different day than Sunday. 🙂

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  9. Jean says:

    During late spring to late fall, there are some weeks, I’m cycling daily. A blend of short commuter bike rides to do stuff combined with long,weekend rides. Cycling becomes so firmly ingrained that either I find it hard to take 1 day off or cycling feels “stale”.

    So taking a day off refreshes me. Since we don’t have a car, minimally I walk. I used to do pilates and easy yoga..must get back into that.

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  10. Moira says:

    I really appreciate Tracy’s thoughts about rest days. What counts as rest seems relative to our individual circumstances, but even then it can be hard to know what to do. For example: On the one hand, a long stretching/yoga and meditation session is a great Monday rest day for me. I want to run more ‘mindfully’, so this is important for training alongside my need for physical rest. On the other hand, I sleep so much better if I do intense aerobic exercise for an hour or so before dinner. So I don’t want to skip Mondays. But then there is the advice of a terrific trainer at my gym — she thinks *two* rest days combined with smart training and solid postural work is the best schedule once you hit about 45 years of age.

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  11. […] supposed to be taking a full day of rest a week. I have blogged about my struggles with this before. Things are no better at this point. I’m much more likely to get rest only when I reach the […]

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  12. Gunther says:

    No one ever told many of us that is was okay to take one or more days of rest in between workouts.

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