- Stretching your hamstrings and quads.
- Maintaining proper posture.
- Being aware of your surroundings.
All of these things are important elements and rituals for runners to perform. They all support a healthy, safe, and productive workout where you can push your pace and strengthen your craft. But the rituals you perform after your runs and on your rest days are equally as important as what you do on the road. Active recovery is an essential part of any runners training program. Not only does active recovery give your body and muscles the time it needs to heal and strengthen, but it helps prevent injury.
Depending on your pace, distance, and terrain, running is considered a moderate to high-impact exercise. That’s because running places strain on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back. When done correctly, running is a full-body workout that incorporates core strength and upper body stability. Working your body and all its muscles at the same intensity every day isn’t always best. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise at all on your “rest” days”. In fact, you should perform some type of active movement 7 days a week. But knowing which type of exercise to do on your day “off” will help improve your performance the next time you lace up your running shoes.
Two Types of Active Recovery
There are actually two types of active recovery. The first is performed directly following an intense workout or run, while the second identifies the type of low-intensity workouts you perform on the days following your run.
Active recovery immediately after your run is similar to a cool down. This type of recovery acts as a transition from intense activity to a resting state and is as simple as jogging for a few minutes to let your heart rate slow down, stretching, or walking at a slow pace. Cooling down also prevents blood from pooling in the larger muscles of your legs, which leads to feelings of dizziness or fainting. This type of active recovery allows your breathing to slow down and return to a normal state following an intense workout or run.
But what about the active recovery you perform in the days following your run? This type of recovery is important for keeping your muscles working without pushing them as hard as you do on intense workout days. It also gives them a chance to heal, stretch, and rest.
The Importance of Active Recovery Days
There are usually two schools of thought when it comes to exercising. You’re either an extremely serious athlete who doesn’t believe in taking days off or your idea of a rest day is one void of all physical activity. When you adopt active recovery days into your workout regime, you’re achieving a happy medium between these two schools of thought. While exercising 7 days a week isn’t bad for you, it can delay your progress and leave you feeling overly fatigued, making workouts more difficult. On the flip side, sitting on your couch all day because it’s your day off from running, will make tomorrow’s workout a struggle. Active recovery days allow you to bring down the intensity on your workouts without losing sight of your goals or momentum. But there are other benefits as well.
Focus on Form
During your active recovery days, you’ll perform a less intense workout. This means you have more time and the mental ability to focus on your form. If you generally run 10 miles at an average pace of 10 minutes per mile, your active recovery day might include a 3 mile leisurely jog or even a walk. During this less intense run, you can focus on how your feet are landing, if your posture is good, and how tightening your core gives you more momentum while running uphill. Active recovery days give not only your body but also your mind, a time to rest and reset. Use this mental break to correct your form and discover areas of improvement.
Ease Sore Muscles
This is an especially beneficial side effect of active recovery for runners. This break in your intense running schedule gives sore muscles time to recover. That’s because running requires endurance, stamina, and physical effort, regardless of your distance or speed. Running also targets the muscles in your legs, some of which are the largest in your body. By performing active recovery, you’re resting your sore muscles while conserving the strength and progress your most recent run created.
Improves Your Mood
It’s not a secret that exercise in general releases feel-good hormones known as endorphins, but it’s actually been said that active recovery plays an important role in a positive mind frame following workouts. Whether you perform your active recovery directly after your workout, in the days that follow, or both, you can reap the benefits of an improved mood, better cognitive skills, and an overall sense of well-being.
Types of Active Recovery
If you’re looking for active recovery exercises for the days following your intense runs, here are a few ideas that are perfect for runners.
Foam rolling has increased in popularity lately and is ideal for runners suffering from sore, tight muscles in their legs and back. Some of the major benefits of foam rolling include increased mobility and pain management for overused muscles. You can use a specially designed roller or a small ball about the size of a tennis ball. Simply use the roller or ball to massage whichever muscles are sore or stiff. You can do this for approximately 30 seconds at a time, alternating the intensity based on how you feel. Once you become accustomed to foam rolling, you’ll learn which methods work best for you and where your problem areas are.
Yoga is beneficial for athletes of all types and can especially help runners stretch out sore, tight, and overworked muscles. The great thing about yoga is that you can even perform it the same day as your intense workout. Because yoga is especially relaxing and therapeutic for the body and mind, there’s really no limitations on how much yoga you can do. Whether you choose to join a studio or perform yoga in the comfort of your own home, the benefits are undeniable, from increased flexibility and endurance to easing any discomfort or tightness in your joints, ligaments, and tendons.
It’s not recommended that you abruptly stop an intense workout without cooling down. And for the same reason, it’s not recommended that your day off from intense exercise is a completely inactive one. Instead, capitalize on these rest days by incorporating different forms of active recovery that help recharge and rejuvenate your muscles, body, and mind.