As a quick note, I hope all the Vets had a great Veteran's Day, and I offer a prayer to all of the victims of the horrible typhoon in the Philippines. The Red Cross is sponsoring donations for the Philippines for anyone willing to donate.
After all that hard, intense work you did in the gym or wherever you exercised, you deserve a good rest, in fact the best rest possible to bring you to optimal strength and health; in my book, that means recovering actively.
Active recovery means doing some activity on a rest day to improve your strength and accelerate healing, without fatiguing your muscles.
The last part is critical, because if you turn an active recovery exercise into just another workout, you'll end up under-recovering from your workout (I prefer saying that to overtraining).
What Is Active Recovery?
Active recovery isn't really complex; yoga, martial arts, walking, or any number of activities like that can be seen as active recovery, as long as it's not fatiguing your muscles.
If you're a martial artist or athlete, active recovery days are great for you, because it's a chance to practice and improve your form without adding stress to the body.
Your nervous system will remember the movements you do repetitively, allowing you to do them much easier the next time, so you'll get some training in even after your workout is through.
Space out your workouts to make active recovery easier and more engaging. If your train legs and back this one day, spend the next day training arms and shoulders. That way, you can do some low impact walking, swimming, or anything that'll get your legs pumping before or after you train your arms.
Benefits of Active Recovery
As I said before, active recovery helps you maintain better form and improve on it, which makes it critical for any competitor to incorporate active recovery.
You'll be able so improve how intense your recovery days can be the stronger you get, so if you see someone else busting their butt on a recovery day, don't be discouraged.
People often equate the fact that Dan Gable trained like a maniac to get to his level, so you don't need to rest or recover at all; nevertheless, Dan Gable pushed himself to the limits, but he didn't exhaust himself, which is different.
He also had a lifetime of wrestling experience, so spending hours practicing form on the mat for him would be a fatiguing workout for someone else. Testing your own limits is great, but running yourself into the ground will end up having a terrible effect on your health; I've seen it happen way too much.
Furthermore, active recovery keeps you motivated. It's easy to say, “oh, this is a rest day so I'll slide a little bit since I've been working so hard.”
That is a quick way to regress in training, and I believe that most people who fail to reach their fitness goals because of a slip-up. They might have tried a program and been motivated, but once they slid a little bit, things went all downhill.
Active recovery will help you feel like you're still making progress, even if the work isn't intense. And just as a sidenote, it's perfectly okay to slip-up, as long as you get back on track. Don't throw away all of your progress for one mistake.
Methods of Active Recovery
Moving Freely for Life: Full Body Mobility – Mobility training is a fantastic way to spend every day, not just recovery days, to increase your overall movement potential. Eric Guttman, author, Taijiquan and acupuncture practitioner, U.S. Military officer, and much more wrote this great course on mobility, and it's definitely worth it to check it out.
Myofascial Mobility – This mobility training does more to target the fascia than the joints, as most mobility training does. It works in massages and other concepts to increase overall vitality, with pretty long lasting results, and it'll definitely help with workout recovery. If you're in pain or need more energy, this is an absolute hit for you.
Swimming – The benefits of swimming are often raved about in cardio circles, athletic groups, etc. Increased lung capacity and blood flow are two big swimming benefits that, if you don't try to swim the distance of the English Channel, can help you recover very well, without much strain on joints.
Qigong - “IF YOU WANT TO LIVE TO BE 100, DO QIGONG!” ~DR. OZ”
Qigong is an ancient Chinese energy practice that teaches you to mobilize and empower your breath and life force for better health and longevity. That really only touches on the benefits, the best way to find out how qigong can truly change your life, Tristan Truscott and Peter Ragnar both offer a great explanation and program on it: http://www.filledwithchi.com/live/
Martial arts – This applies mainly to form training. Going to your local dojo and destroying the heavy bag or sparring isn't active recovery. When you practice your forms, unless you are doing Sanchin, you'll want to be slow and relaxed in your movements to make it more automatic and maximize power.
This will greatly improve blood flow, which is crucial for proper recovery. It'll also move blood to the tendons, which receive the least amount of blood flow and are the hardest to train. Spend some time doing some forms of whatever martial art you practice and see how it helps you for recovery days.
Other activities like walking, yoga, meditation, and more can help with your recovery, so explore! Get creative! And have fun.
Please put any thoughts, questions, or feedback here and I'll respond as soon as I can.