5 Tips for the Perfect Recovery Workout
You workout to get fitter, feel great and look amazing, so more has to be better, right?
Wrong. Getting fit is the ultimate ‘Goldilocks’ activity - too little and there’s no change, too much and you can easily suffer from burnout and injury. If you go off like a rocket, although it feels fast and exciting, the downside is you can easily crash and burn. So what do you do on your day off? Do you rest and take it easy? Or do you recover? Here are our 5 secrets to getting the perfect balance and maximum results in your fitness week.
- Expect to get sore. If you’re working hard, you'll get fitter and feeling sore is a sure sign something is working. This is caused by Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS and usually makes an appearance after 24 hours and can stay around for up to 72 hours after your workout. It used to be thought that this soreness was due to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, but recent studies have largely disproved this theory. Instead, the current thinking is that DOMS is a result of microscopic muscle damage caused by the lowering action of muscle. If you were to lift a weight but not lower it you wouldn't get DOMS. As most movements require some form of lifting and lowering, then expect to get sore!
- Don’t do two hard days in a row. A tough workout (an 8 or 9 on the Hiitgirl scale) is a stressful experience for the body. You need to ensure enough time is available for you to recover, repair and super-compensate before doing your next tough session. In other words, your body will recover a little bit better each time and you slowly get fitter as a result. Interrupt this delicate process by pushing hard two days in a row and your fitness can actually be diminished. By all means, do something daily but treat the next day as a lower intensity recovery workout.
- Rest and recovery are two different things. You may be surprised to learn that there's a difference between rest and recovery—though both are crucial in enhancing performance. Rest is generally categorised as sleep and time spent not exercising. Recovery, on the other hand, refers to techniques and actions taken to maximise your body’s repair. And this doesn’t just mean muscle repair. Recovery involves chemical and hormonal balance, nervous system repair and more. There are different factors such as sleep, diet and hydration that can all be beneficial, but one of the most effective methods of helping the body (and mind) recover is through active recovery. Active recovery focuses on completing an exercise at a low intensity, but high enough to increase blood flow and enhance the repair of muscle damage and residual fatigue.
- Choose your recovery workout. It’s completely counterintuitive, but the best recovery workout is to do the thing that made you sore in the first place, at around 60% of normal effort levels (6 or 7 on the Hiitgirl scale). By taking advantage of the ‘repeated-bout’ effect, you can trick your body into boosting recovery, easing pain and pushing fitness levels higher than without a recovery workout. Remember, stretching or warming up doesn't have any effect on reducing DOMS before the event, but are useful when your muscles are sore.
- Something always beats nothing. Rest isn’t the same as recovery. If you can’t fit in a workout, at least take a walk, have a sports massage or break out the foam roller. Your body will thank you for it!
So now you know why active recovery is so important, it’s time to start implementing it into your fitness week. There are various activities you could do, but it’s important to find one that suits you and that you actually enjoy, you may even want to use your active recovery time to work on a skill. Make sure you’re doing the activity at 60-70% effort at an easy, restorative pace. Once you're done with that, take some time to work on mobility and you’ll soon be good and ready for your next hard session. Remember: go hard then go recover!