ACTIVE RECOVERY – that’s a hot phrase.
The definition: “Low intensity exercise that a person performs after higher intensity exercise to improve their recovery and performance” (1)
(Basically, some easy exercise you throw in to the mix, to help you feel better.)
Now I’ve heard the phrase before, but I’ve always just dismissed it.
It always just sounded like a sneaky way of trying to get me to do more work.
“I’ve already done my exercise,” would be the thought, “I’ve paid my price, can’t I just relax now? I’m not about to go do more. Sounds miserable.”
I was so wrong.
Active recovery is the exact opposite of “miserable.” It feels amazing. And it helps you, in general, feel so much better, and so much happier.
The gist is simple – sometime after you’ve done some more intense exercise (maybe later that day, or maybe the next day), throw in some active recovery – a gentle swim in a pool is a perfect option, but so is yoga, gentle hiking, easy walking, brisk walking, or doing a walk-jog (just go on a walk, and while you’re out, jog whenever you feel up to it). Even using a sauna counts, in my book. (Really.) If your fitness level is high enough, going on an easy run may actually count as active recovery for you.
(But you have to get it right so it’s not too hard. I think for most people, a nice walk, or a gentle swim in a pool, are just the right amount of intensity.)
Now here’s a crucial perspective change:
Active recovery is not about calorie-burn.
It’s not about going hard, burning, or trying to “sneak in” more exercise.
It’s about taking care of your body in a way that feels really good – helping your muscles and cardiovascular system recover, and releasing all kinds of feel-good hormones. It’s about self-care. (Self-love, even?)
Which is a really big shift from the way most people view exercise (i.e., “I’m gonna go as hard as I can and punish my body because the harder I go, the more calories I burn, and the more fat I lose!!! No pain, no gain!!”)
For active-recovery, you have to shift your mindset. You gotta think “I’m doing this gently, I’m taking care of myself. Frequency over intensity, a little sweat and slightly harder breathing, over intense calorie burn.”
Oh, and yes – it really does help you recover better and faster.
Which is kind of counter-intuitive.
You’d think that after some intense exercise, just resting as much as possible would be the best thing to do.
(And YES, it is CRITICAL to rest deeply after workouts. It is important to just relax, get some deep sleep, take some time to just totally unwind, and completely indulge in some hard-earned lazy do-nothingness.)
BUT, if you can introduce a little active recovery between workouts, you WILL FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. Your body will love you for it. And you’ll know. Those feel-good chemicals will flood your system. You’ll recover faster. Your overall energy levels will improve.
You may just feel like Superman.
(Or Superwoman.) (Or Superthey.)
And if you haven’t done any intense exercise yet?
If you have nothing to active-recover from?
Just start active-recovering anyway.
Just start getting out there with this sort of mindset. Aim for feeling good, for finding just the right amount of intensity FOR YOU that doesn’t feel painful, just helps you breathe a little harder, and gently pushes you. Get out and go on a walk, or treat yourself to a sauna.
Just start taking care of your body and active-recovering. Do it as much as you can.
(You can throw in some more intense exercise later.)
What you’ll notice, though, by throwing in very gentle active recovery as much as possible, is that not only will you feel better, but you’ll start to be able to do things you never thought possible.
Your fitness level will improve sneakily, to the point where you find yourself actually being able to pull off exercise you didn’t think you could do.
You may find yourself out on a walk for the first time ever thinking “you know what, I feel pretty good, I’m gonna jog for a brief stretch.”
Or you may find yourself going on runs, or cycling, for the first time in your life, finally feeling like it’s an achievable (and actually somewhat enjoyable!) activity.
And if you’re already at a high fitness level, you may start to find that you can recover, run, train, at an entirely new level – and still feel great.
I find it helps to keep in mind these words when approaching active recovery:
Self-care. Gentle. Enjoyable. Breathing. Sweating. Warm. Low-effort. Endorphins. Frequency. Feel-good. Self-love.
My last two tips when it comes to implementing a philosophy of frequent active recovery into your lifestyle:
1.) Drink a lot of water.
Water is incredible and underrated. It helps with just about everything. For various reasons, drinking lots of water helps you lose weight, build muscle, feel good, and recover incredibly well. Ever since I started carrying a hydro-flask around with me wherever I go (and thus having frequent access to lots of water), I’ve experienced a noticeable improvement in my recovery time from workouts.
2.) (Optional) Try bone broth.
“Bone broth? The hell is that? Sounds creepy. And difficult to come by.”
^That was my first reaction to hearing about this nutritional game-changer. Bone broth is actually very similar in taste to chicken broth, and you can easily buy it at Costco or really any grocery store. (It tastes a little…”bonier”…that chicken broth, but if you add a little salt and pepper – maybe some garlic powder – it tastes great.) I now sip some out of a mug most mornings for breakfast, or whenever I feel like it, as a snack.
Bone broth is actually sort of a miracle food because it’s hydrating, low calorie, and incredibly high in protein (including collagen protein, which has anti-aging properties and is great for joints and skin. This is critical because your body stops producing collagen as it ages, leading to joint deterioration, but radio-labeled studies show that consumed collagen actually goes directly do your joints and other places where it’s needed in an almost comically convenient manner.)
Bone broth is so satiating that it’s extremely useful for fat loss, its protein content is good for muscle maintenance, and its collagen content keeps your connective tissue healthy. It even helps you sleep better.
In other words, it’s a great health/ recovery food.
Try having a hot mug of it with some spices for breakfast, or as a go-to snack. Anyway.
THERE YOU HAVE IT.
In short – yes, get deep rest. Get good sleep, take full days off.
But also consider throwing in some gentle, loving, easy exercise for active recovery – and keep it so gentle and enjoyable that you can really up the frequency of it.
Test it out, and watch what happens. I think you’ll be very happy.