Active Rest: Rest Without Resting

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of taking rest days. But, if you’re anything like me and most other runners, that’s easier said then done. Once you get in the habit of working out regularly, forcing yourself to rest, even just for one day, can be an exercise in self-control.

This can be especially difficult if you’re working towards a particularly challenging goal – one that merits more than the average amount of exercise, such as running a marathon. This is where active rest, sometimes called active recovery, becomes a powerful tool.


Active vs Passive

When discussing rest or recovery, it’s important to differentiate between the two forms: active and passive. Passive recovery is what most people think of when they hear “rest.” This would be a day in which you abstain from any form of exercise, completely allowing your body to recharge.

Active rest, however, puts a different spin on the whole recovery process. These are days in which you do some form of light activity. Active rest shouldn’t be confused with light workouts, though. Light days should consist of your regular sport, such as running, but at a lower intensity. Active rest days allow you room to cross train instead, and at an even lower intensity than light days.


The Benefits

Over training is the enemy of all athletes and is a constant danger. It could slow you down or even take you out of the game permanently. Active rest helps to prevent this by actually aiding in the recovery process. A slight, but prolonged, increase in your pulse will bring more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

That same blood, as it leaves your muscles, will clear out any waste products that have formed in your muscles during your normal workout. Removing this waste, including lactic acid, will reduce soreness and speed up the repairs that will ultimately strengthen your muscles.You’ll also warming up your muscles, which will help to reduce any stiffness as well.


What to Do

For many people, active rest days can be an opportunity to simply get some housework or yardwork done. The point is to stay active and keep your heart rate up, while still allowing your muscles to repair from your regular workout.

You can also do something more formalized, like play sports or engage in a different form of cardiovascular exercise. If you usually run, for example, try going for a leisurely bike ride or swim. An easy walk, lasting about 20 to 30 minutes, is another great form of active rest that will get you up and moving without exhausting you when it comes to your normal sport.

Your active rest days are also a good chance for you to work on your flexibility. Both dynamic and static stretching, still lasting about 20 minutes, are a perfect way to keep your muscles limber and still let them recharge.



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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.