It's true, athletes like to workout. We workout year-round, through every season, and for some reason or another, we love it enough to keep pushing ourselves to do more.
But do you know what althletes look forward to even more than a hard workout? Recovery day!
You know, that beautiful day (or days or weeks) throughout the year where you are actually required, for the greater good of your training, NOT to workout, Having a recovery day from your regular workouts is an opportunity for your muscles and body to recooperate from the stress and demands or exercise.
For many athletes, however (myself incluided) it may also become the perfect excuse to spend the day on the couch, catching up on a few episodes of your the latest guilty pleasure, and eating a few too many cookies. You earned it, right!?
Well, I hate to bring you down from that lazy recovery day cloud you're on, but doing nothing at all for your muscles on recovery day may actually cause more harm than good. You see, the time you spend working out builds lactic acid and other not-so-friendly waste products in your muscles, which result in that soreness you feel the next day. Low intensity exercise will keep blood flowing through the muscles without overdoing it, allowing the body to clear out these waste products before your next workout.
In fact, research has shown that a low-intensity recovery day BEFORE your hardest workout can keep you energized and fresh. Doing nothing at all the day before may sound like a genius idea, but it could result in feeling fatigued and stiff. Keeping your muscles loose and ready to go can also decrease your risk of injury when jumping back into a demanding workout.
What are Your Active Recovery Options?
Active recovery does not mean you have to gear up for a full-fledged workout. It simply means you need to get up and get moving for a little while to relax and loosen the muscles. This can be done in a variety of ways and does not have to involve the sport or workout routine you usually do. Incorporating a different routine or activity into your recovery day, or cross training, will change up the muscles you use most often, making the most of your recovery time.
Swim laps at the pool, ride a bike or stationary bike, do a light set on a rowing machine, or take a half-hour walk. It is okay to get the heart pumping during these activities, but you should not be using more than 60 percent of your energy. These simple activities will help you feel energized throughout the day.
Stock Up on Nutrients
Remember those cookies I mentioned earlier? They are most likely not the best choice you can make on your recovery day. Sure, it's okay to give in to a couple indulgences, just remember to take the time to get some extra protein and fiber into your diet, two components that may be overlooked or depleted during training days.
Although you may not be working out as vigerously during your recovery day, drinking enough water is still very important. This will also help flush out unwanted toxin from your body. (A quick tip on knowing if you drank enough water: your urine should be pale yellow.)
And I don't mean on the couch! Stretching your muscles is just another way to keep them loose, relaxed, and ready for your next training day. Try to get in 10-15 minutes of stretching each day to prevent injury and promote flexability. This is a great time to focus on the muscles you use the most. Rubbing or massaging areas where you feel sore will also increase blood flow and reduce muscle ache.
Is Doing Nothing EVER a Good Idea?
YES. If you are injured, are experiencing significant pain (above the norm for your workouts) or recovering from an injury, taking time off completely is a wise decision. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect an injury.