Did you know that no matter how hard your workout might be, the real changes happen when you’re not exercising?
The reason is physiological: when you exercise, your muscles actually experience microtrauma – tiny tears in the muscle fibers. Afterwards, “satellite cells” begin to fuse to the damaged tissues to repair the fibers, making them stronger than before. But this process only happens when at rest – therefore making recovery just as important as the workouts you do.
If you never take recovery days, and keep exercising hard every single day, your muscles never get the chance to repair. Your progress stalls, and eventually goes backwards. But if your idea of a recovery day is lounging on the couch, think again! There’s a better way to recharge and get the maximum benefit from your workouts – active recovery.
Passive vs. active recovery
A passive-recovery day means you’re not doing any physical activity – like lounging around the house. The only time passive recovery is good for you is when you’re injured or sick. Instead, include active recovery in your rest days. Think low-intensity movement, like an easy bike ride, a walk or hike, flexibility and mobility exercises like yoga or tai chi, or foam rolling (learn how to foam roll here).
These easy movement activities increase circulation, which in turn brings key nutrients to your muscles so they repair faster. You want to get your heart rate up slightly and just loosen any tightness or stiffness – not break a sweat.
Keep your calories consistent
You may be tempted to dial back your food intake on days you’re not exercising, but that can backfire. Your muscles need those nutrients to rebuild! Also, you’ll deplete your energy stores, which can leave you overly tired during your next workout. So, stay consistent with your healthy diet on recovery days – and remember that sometimes eating more calories is better.
Let your mind recover too
If you’re stressed, it may take longer for your muscles to recover from a strength workout. Researchers say elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may slow down recovery. Relieve stress and speed muscle rebuilding by practicing simple meditation every day. It will lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and help restore glycogen (your muscles’ fuel source.)
Exercising triggers your body’s stress and immune responses, and recovery days allows these to return to normal. Having fun, laughing and socializing with your partner, friends and family may make them shut down even faster. It can lead to the release of hormones like oxytocin and testosterone, which boost energy, elevate mood, and reduce pain. So choose recovery activities that allow you to be out and about with others for an even bigger recharge.
Sleep is important too
Passive recovery doesn’t include sleep – rather, sleep is essential to recovery. When you’re sleeping, your cortisol levels drop and your body releases growth hormone, which helps turbocharge the tissue- and muscle-rebuilding process. So aim for at least 7 or 8 hours a night, especially after a workout day.
Want to learn how to get the most from your workouts and nutrition while maintaining balance in your life? Send me a note and let’s have a conversation! I’m passionate about helping people incorporate health and fitness into their lives with realistic, real-life strategies. Click here to get more of these articles delivered to your email!