The day after a really hard training session, all I want to do is switch off. I’m often tempted to put my feet up and relax completely but whenever I do that I find that I’m sluggish, tired and achy during the following session.
That’s why I’m a huge fan of active recovery sessions, which means you use your rest day to perform some very light, very easy exercise. A good example would be going for a gentle run the day after a lung-busting threshold session. Almost all professional sports players and athletes do recovery sessions and they can be just as useful to the amateur athlete as to a world-class performer.
Keep it fun
There are plenty of benefits to doing a recovery session rather than spending all day on the sofa watching rubbish television. First, it keeps you in the right frame of mind. After some hard graft on the road, bike or water your mind is accustomed to gearing up for a tough physical challenge. Switching off from your training plan can make it harder to get the ball rolling when you need to perform next time.
That doesn’t mean active recovery sessions should be treated as a necessary evil. There’s nothing worse than waking up and dreading yet another session, which is why I love active recovery sessions when I train with a couple of mates. Go for a gentle ride or run somewhere you don’t usually train and soak up the views without worrying about your heart rate monitor or whether you’re maintaining race pace. It’s less about pushing yourself to the limits than about having fun and remembering that you do all those hard sessions for the love of your chosen sport.
Legs like lead?
An easy session also has the benefit of keeping your muscles ticking over. Sitting down for too long, especially after you’ve been pushing it, can make your legs feel like lead when you get back to your training.
Why? Research has shown that low-intensity exercise pumps blood into your tired muscles, delivering much-needed nutrients while removing lactic acid and other waste products that can accumulate in muscle cells and cause those aches and pains. The result? Your muscles recover faster so you can nail your next hardcore workout.
Here are my favourite active recovery sessions after a hard run, cycle and swim:
Going for a countryside run is good because you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery for once rather than keeping your head down and pounding the pavement. If you can't, use your gym’s treadmill and then take advantage of the Jacuzzi and sauna afterwards to help you relax and recover.
5min gentle warm-up
15min running (about 50-60% of the pace of your fast sessions)
Persuade a couple of mates to come with you and your recovery ride will feel more like relaxation than a workout. There’s no pressure and you can stop for a coffee or soft drink if you like. It’s about having fun and flushing away the toxins from the previous day’s efforts.
Up to 1hr gentle ride – there’s no need to break into a sweat
You can use a swimming session as active recovery to ease the strain on your legs the day after a serious training run or ride. Don’t be embarrassed to use the slow lane – this is an easy session so leave your ego in the changing room.
15min gentle front crawl
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