What is a proper active recovery? Is there even such a thing?
From where I sit, active recovery is one phrase that probably has a dozen different definitions.
And it’s probably not the only bit of running terminology that runners use without knowing exactly what it means.
So, what is an active recovery anyway?
Don’t Overcomplicate Things
As humans, we have a tendency to make things harder than they have to be.
Don’t make an active recovery harder than it needs to be.
If we simply break down the words, we should have a pretty good idea of what an active recovery actually is.
Movement. The opposite of being idle.
The rebuilding of damaged tissues within your body.
Put them together, and you’ve got it!
Active recovery is simply any movement that helps rebuild the damaged tissue in your body as a result of your training.
Simple but Vague
As simple as it is to define active recovery, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to understand what actually constitutes an active recovery activity.
Could running constitute an active recovery? What about swimming? Or cycling?
Here’s where things get a bit tricky.
Because for each of those activities, the answer is both yes and no.
Recovery is the Key
When it comes to the phrase active recovery, the word to focus on is recovery.
In order for an activity to be considered an appropriate form of active recovery, in my view, the level of intensity must be kept low.
The goal of active recovery is the recovery part. Rebuilding damaged tissue and helping your body make the physiological adaptations desired to help you get stronger.
An active recovery day is not a day to be pushing it.
I don’t care if you’re running, cycling, or whatever else, if you push too hard you aren’t going to get the desired recovery benefits.
My Preferred Forms of Active Recovery
While you can make an argument that running, cycling, swimming, and a whole host of other cardio/aerobic activities can be considered forms of active recovery, I don’t include those activities as methods of active recovery within my own training.
Cross training? Absolutely! And to a certain extent, cross training is a means of getting some active recovery into your routine.
When it comes to active recovery, I like to keep it really low key.
Yoga. Walking the dogs. Playing in the pool with Adi. Foam rolling/self-massage.
All of those activities check the boxes of quality recovery activities without the risk of doing too much/pushing too hard.
When Active Recovery is Appropriate
I’m not sure you can make an argument that active recovery is ever inappropriate.
I would encourage every runner to make active recovery a part of the daily routine.
But there are some times when active recovery is borderline required.
After hard workouts, long runs, and races are all great times to help your body in the rebuilding process.
Those are all examples of times when you are pushing your body outside of its comfort zone, and as such you are more than likely doing some substantial damage to the various tissues of your body.
While your body is fully capable of repairing itself, a little extra TLC in the form of active recovery is only going to help speed up that process.
Another good time to mix in a little active recovery is on your days off from running.
So the next time you’re feeling a little more achy than usual, consider adding a little active recovery to your training regimen.
You might be surprised how much of a difference it’ll actually make and how much better you will feel!
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