Allowing your muscles time to rest and recover in between workouts is essential for them to develop and adapt. Although the actual training sessions are important, it’s during that period between sessions that your muscles heal and grow. However, for your muscles to most effectively recover, you shouldn’t just sit on the couch and rest for a day off. Instead, to help your muscles heal as quickly as possible, your days off should consist of active rest workouts.
Active rest workouts are training sessions of very low intensity and volume. Their goal is to increase blood flow, which in turn facilitates healing. After weight training workouts, your muscles are overloaded and left damaged. Increasing blood flow improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, which improves the efficiency of the healing process. As a result, your muscles will be more fully recovered when the time comes for the next training session.
Participating in a session of stretching will increase blood flow while simultaneously increasing flexibility. Static stretching activities, which feature getting to a point of mild discomfort and then holding that position for 20 to 30 seconds, target those muscle groups that are in the process of healing. For example, if you just completed a high-volume leg workout the day before, perform a battery of stretches that target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. In addition, take the time to address any troublesome areas, such as the hamstrings or lower back, that become tight after long hours of sitting.
Low-intensity cardiovascular activities are extremely effective at increasing blood flow. Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are quality cardio activities to use for an active rest workout. Choose a different exercise than you’re actively resting from. For example, if you’re recovering from a high-volume run, choose an activity such as swimming or biking. Intensity must be low, so when walking, jogging and biking, be sure you keep your pace slower than usual and stay away from inclined surfaces. Perform your cardio activity of choice for 15 to 20 minutes.
The abdominals, obliques and lower back are areas commonly overlooked by those who lift weights. However, you can facilitate recovery while developing these muscles by participating in a core workout during your active rest session. After a short warm-up period consisting of jogging or jumping rope, complete a battery of crunches, oblique crunches, bridges and supermans.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.