What is active recovery?
Have you ever had one of those killer sessions and thought this is going to hurt tomorrow? You know the ones where you can trouble ahead. Feel the lactic pumping into your legs.
Photo credits: Copyright Usain Bolt
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) peaks anywhere from 24 to 48hrs after a session. The pain is caused by lactic acid, a by-product of energy used by your muscles. For most people, they will grin and bear the pain of not being able to walk up the stairs. The use of active recovery can be a powerful tool in reducing the intensity of dreaded DOMS and can help improve recovery and performance.
The words “active recovery” are a bit of a buzz term within sports medicine. But what does the term imply? Essentially it is any activity that aids in recovery, this is not limited to the physical aspect but can also include coping with the mental rigour of training.
Going off this definition a variety of activities could be considered as active recovery, as long as the intensity is low enough so as not to cause another stimulus-response.
This would also mean that the activity may vary depending on the level of fatigue and recovery required. For example, if an athlete had an intense lactic leg session, but energy is good with no signs of neurological fatigue present, then active recovery may consist of a light jog or bike ride followed by some stretching. However, if energy is low, and neurology feels exhausted then, recovery may consist primarily of stretching and some meditation.
Professional and semi-professional athletes utilise active recovery principles to aid the repair process after an intense session. I’m sure you have all seen the footage or photos of footballers jumping in the pool or “enjoying” an ocean swim after the weekend’s game in winter.
For many years, the post-surgery protocol was bed rest, but we now know this is counter productive. Exercise and movement are vital for the circulation of blood, lymphatic pumping for the removing of inflammation and stimulation of neuroimmunological (immune system) factors. The stimulation of these systems allows for the human body to repair after the stress and catabolic impact of exercise.
Activities that can be included as active recovery:
- light run or bike ride
- stretching or foam rolling
- a light session focusing more on technique
Recovery is required for the body to rebuild to get the maximum results from training. Recovery needs to consider all aspects, physical (muscular and neurological), nutritional and mental, to ensure burn-out, and break-down do not occur. When reviewing your recovery protocol ensure that all areas are covered. See the three aspects as a tripod. All three need to be fully functioning for optimal performance. For example, if physical fatigue is occurring, then emotional stress regarding performance will build up leading to a decrease in output. Similarly, if the mind is fatigued due to stress, then the body’s physical ability to push through will be adversely impacted.
I hope this article has given you some insight into how you look at your recovery from training and ways in which you can enhance recovery.