Active recovery is a term that is most often thought of in relation to sports and athletics. Today I will show you how to think of active recovery as part of a balanced fitness program, regardless of the activity level that you might be starting from. As the term implies, active recovery is the simple idea that you need to have some kind of restorative element to your strength and fitness program.
Back when I was an aspiring circus performer I decided to incorporate group yoga classes as part of my cross-training and recovery plan. In many ways, yoga is a great example of a balanced recovery-day type of activity. Mindfulness and focus on breathing have so many benefits, plus there really is nothing like walking out of a yoga studio with a calm mind and a refreshed, limber body. Sigh. I wish it could have remained that simple for me. After more injuries and surgeries I began to experience tingly nerve and arm pain, sprinkled with a healthy dose of stress… complicating my recovery process.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think yoga is absolutely amazing and it’s choke full of many benefits, but the point to be made here is that, depending on what you’ve got going on, you might need something a bit more specific than group yoga classes in order to rebalance your body.
Now, let’s pause for a moment and zoom out. Yoga is just one example of active recovery. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are also great examples, meditation, a long relaxing walk, foam rolling, or soaking in healing water are all examples of active recovery.
For example, back in my circus days, I would have benefited greatly from a coach or mentor that could have helped me specifically to identify the best yoga class for active recovery. Instead, I happened upon ashtanga yoga and in my athletic youth, I didn’t realize that this particular style of yoga was more of its own athletic pursuit instead of something that could be fully classified as ‘recovery.’ Because of this, I was not actually following a balanced training plan as much as I thought I was, and it wasn’t until many years later that I realized my mistake.
Now, as the sports and athletic industries have evolved, alongside the health and fitness industries, the tools, knowledge, and options available today are far more specific and refined. Today there are countless mind-body healing methods that all have their own unique benefits. From meditation pods and cryo-therapy, to assisted stretching and massage guns, the list goes on and on and the choices can be overwhelming. My point here is that the type of recovery you need is going to be dependent on the unique kind of stress that you’re experiencing. It’s to your benefit to be specific and intentional.
There’s no doubt that we could all use an active recovery-day from the demands of modern living and every-day life. Even if those demands include things like mental or emotional stress, long hours sitting at a desk, or athletic bursts of landscape design, kayaking, or sky-diving. We still need an active and intentional way to recover.
Benefits of Active Recovery:
Active recovery can help improve sleep and immunity while reducing stress and anxiety. Active recovery helps the body to heal and repair because there is a focus on gentle mobility across the entire system. This allows fluids in the body to move and flow without stagnation, and because of this, can support reduced inflammation, joint pain, and quicker recovery from flare ups or over use.
Another key benefit of active recovery is stress relief. When we have an excess of stress in the body, it creates an imbalance in the stress hormones, which actually makes it harder for our bodies to effectively get all the systems functioning that relate to rest and repair. Deep breathing has been shown to efficiently switch the metabolic state into rest and repair. These are the essential pathways and building blocks to immunity, health, and longevity. I’ve seen this thing happen to a handful of my clients, probably maybe 10 people or so over the course of my career. I will see a new client who is clearly very stressed in one capacity or another, and I will assign them with a few key breathing and fundamental movements to practice at home. Now, it’s not with everyone, but with a handful of clients I have seen a drastic, maybe 10-15 lbs of apparent weight loss, in a brief period of time, maybe 3-6 weeks, simply from a very gentle and therapeutic based movement practice, and with no change in diet. I say apparent because I do not focus on weight loss, I do not weigh folks, nor do I ask specifically about their weight, unless they volunteer the information. So, essentially what it feels like (this is not clinically sited mind you) is that these clients have shed unnecessary pounds simply from reducing their stress and incorporating some gentle movement and breath work into their daily/weekly routines.
Who Needs Active Recovery?
While everyone can benefit from adding more forms of restorative movement into their routine, some people do need it more than others. If you’ve ever had difficulty maintaining a consistent workout or fitness routine because of discomfort, injury flare-ups, or joint pain then active recovery is the place to start while you build resiliency.
If you’ve recently experienced a significant change in routine, habits, or lifestyle and need something to help ‘get back on the wagon’ then active recovery is a wonderful place to start.
For all of my athletically minded friends and adventure addicts, a key sign that you need more active recovery is that you’re experiencing greater levels of energy fatigue, lactic acid build-up, or muscle fatigue. Over-eating, carb loading, and eating too much sugar are key signs of stress both in a metabolic sense and sometimes from mental or emotional stress. Incorporating more gentle movement into your diet will help flush these imbalances and restore metabolic vigor to your muscles. It’s also a healthy habit for anyone pushing their athletic edge, because it helps create a time to check in with yourself and ensure that you avoid over-training.
How to incorporate Active Recovery Into Your Routine
The key to intentional recovery that works is that it’s easy to access and easy to repeat! So, whilst you need an approach that is specific and unique to your individual needs, you also need something that’s quick and easy to do on a regular and consistent basis. Taking a trip to the hot springs is a lovely get-away, but that healing self-care energy is going to be 10-fold if it’s backed with an easy-to-follow daily or weekly habit.
Working with a trainer or specialist is a wonderful idea, but it’s not economically available to everyone, and even if it is you’ll train much more effectively if you’re maintaining a balanced baseline.
This is exactly why I created Functional Strength and Pilates! FSP is a one-hour group class that happens live on Saturday mornings, pacific time. I give every participant 3 days of access to the live recording so that it’s easier to create a lasting habit, maintain a healthy routine, and make the time, even when life is hectic and busy.
Each class follows a simple and progressive format that you will start to understand after your first few classes. Essentially this allows you to watch the recordings and know exactly what to focus on, even if you only have 15 minutes.
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