Do you remember being a small child and your parents yelling at you to “just sit down and stay still”? Do you remember how uncomfortable that was, thinking of all the things you could be doing, having to sit there and try not to move while you had ants in your pants? This is a lot like what a rest day feels like. It’s that day or two during the week that interrupts your regular scheduled training programming, making you feel like you have no purpose or intention of becoming a better athlete. Well guess what pal, they’re a lot more necessary than you may think, and we’ve got 6 ways to spend your active rest day so that you can still feel productive and on track towards your fitness and health goals.
Why Recovery Days Are Important
Aside from the obvious reasons, like taking a break from pounding your body with heavyweight and high-intensity workouts, recovery days go much further than just mental fatigue. When you workout you cause something called micro-tears. These are small tears in the fibers of your muscles. In order for these muscles to recover and reconstruct themselves, they need rest. Now, do they need full rest or active rest? That depends on your body and the intensity of your exercise. Let’s examine this further, shall we?
Rest Day vs Active Rest Day
If you’re serious about your training and improving your body composition and health, then active rest days are a must. After all, you’re only as strong as your recovery game. And this goes for everyone, guys, girls, active lifestyle all the way to elite level athletes. Your body needs a break, whether your mind thinks it does or not. And trust us, we get it. You feel like hulk on the days your train and the Pillsbury Doughboy on the days that you don't. That's normal, and take it from us, you look equally as jacked on the days you do, and don't workout.
"Rest day? Where is the rest muscle and how do I train it?"
Think about it this way, if you use the same muscles over an over without giving them a sufficient amount of time to rest, your body is going to get tired and worn down. This leads to overuse, injury, and even getting sidelined. There are two kinds of rest days: passive and active.
What is Passive Recovery
Passive recovery, or just a ‘rest day’ from your exercise/training program involves no activity at all. It’s sort of like taking a nap from your regular movement schedule. This helps your body rest without any added stress or activity. If your fatigue is high, both physically and mentally, time off may be the best prescription for your body, says Ray Camano, a USAT Level 1 certified triathlon coach.
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What is Active Recovery
Active recovery is a day that is separate from your normal programming that includes low-intensity exercise. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend the entire day laying around on the couch, but it does mean you should move around a bit to increase blood flow to your muscles. This increases the amounts of nutrients you need to recover and repair on your ‘day off’.
When you increase circulation, think of it as a little boost. According to Michael Reboldl, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., department chart of the integrative exercise program and assistant professor of integrative exercise science at Hiram College in Ohio, active rest days help flush out waste products that build up during exercise (like lactic acid and hydrogen ions) that contribute to muscle damage and fatigue.
This is why you want to take BETA-ALANINE even on your days off!
Additionally, active rest days can help you avoid stiffness, extreme soreness (like Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness [DOMS]), or becoming lazy and unmotivated from a day or two of rest.
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Why You Shouldn’t Workout Every Day
We get it, you go 100. You enjoy the challenge, the grind, the thought of giving your all every single day to become a healthier, happier human. As tempting as self-gratifying it may be in the short run, you actually set yourself up for failure in the long-run, with respect to burnout, overuse, and injury. And trust us, you don’t have to be some elite-level athlete to overtrain because mechanically, all bodies need some level of rest.
Long story short: it’s extremely important to take at least one day off from training each week.
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The Best Method of Recovery: Take an Active Rest Day
The neat thing about taking an active rest day is that it doesn’t just help repair your muscles, but it helps hormone and chemical balance, reduces mental fatigue, and provide the ability to repair the nervous system due to stress. The best tool to add to your training? An active rest day.
"It's not a rest day for me, it's a rest day for the weights."
While you can incorporate a variety of techniques, we also recommend getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep, proper nutrients from a healthful diet, hydrating adequately, and giving yourself some self-love. In fact, it’ll not only help you be a better athlete, but it’ll actually help you live a healthier, longer life, says Gary O’Donovan, a research associate in the Exercise as medicine program at Loughborough University in England. Now that you’ve had your Recovery Stack shake from Swolverine and foam rolled a bit, let’s dive into our favorite 6 ways to spend your active rest day.
6 Ways To Spend Your Active Rest Day
A note before we get into rest day activities, we want to touch on recovery supplements and nutrition. By maintaining a positive protein balance and functional carbohydrate intake you will ensure that you're delivering your body the nutrients it needs to repair and rebuild your muscles.
Supplementing the right nutrients into your active rest day recovery routine can help with faster muscle recovery, promote muscle repair, and reduce muscle mass breakdown and soreness so you can optimize your athletic performance.
We recommend the following:
- BCAA: the building blocks of protein, fights fatigue, optimizes recovery, and improves hydration
- Beta-Alanine: flushes out lactic acid and reduces the buildup of hydrogen ions
- L-Glutamine: most prevalent amino acid in the bloodstream that reduces soreness
What you take on your day off matters just as much as what you take on the days you train. Sip on these three products throughout your active rest day to get the most from your efforts.
1. Myofascial Release
Myofascial Release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. [R] Exercise and training sessions can cause trauma and inflammation to our muscles and by applying pressure, whether by methods of self-myofascial release or from a trusted professional, you can actually accelerate the recovery process.
This means getting a massage, using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, massage stick, or even giving yourself a massage. Myofascial release can increase range of motion and reduce your chances of getting DOMS, according to a review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
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2. Accessory Work
Muscle imbalances and joint dysfunctions happen more often than you may realize, especially if you regularly participate in high-intensity exercises, heavy lifting, and/or Olympic lifting. Accessory work may include unilateral movements or isolated exercises to compliment the full-body movements and bilateral movements that you perform from your regular programming days.
These exercises include more traditional lifting movements and they help focus on the major and minor muscles that support your anatomical structure. Think core work, pushing and pulling movements, and machines.
A couple of tips for you: concentrate on movement quality, it’s not about massive weights or seeing who can curl the biggest dumbbells, and take it seriously. These are the movements that are going to fix imbalances and keep you injury-free in the long run. Plus, lifting on your active rest day, say whaaat!? Talk about a win!
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3. Mobility Work
Ah, the dreaded mobility work. While most of us don’t like to sit and work on our mobility or flexibility (no, they’re not the same thing), it's important to note that if you’re unable to use your strong body properly, what good is it? Think about it - if you can’t touch your toes it’s limiting you in your deadlifts and cleans. If you have a tight chest, your posture is suffering.
If you have tight glutes, pretty much everything is suffering. Are you getting the point here? A solid combination of both static and dynamic stretches on your off day will jump-start your recovery and maximize your active rest day.
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If you shy away from the traditional yoga class because your flexibility sucks, or you just don’t dig the vibe, we have a couple of suggestions for you. Check out Broga, a sportier version of yoga without the sole focus on stretches and bends. If you get bored easily, or just don’t like doing yoga or stretching in general, this may be your new favorite active rest day go-to. Broga combines traditional yoga with functional fitness exercises and high-intensity interval training. It works on improving core strength, cardio, lean muscle mass improving, stress-reducing, and clarity-building postures.
If that’s not your jam, hop into a Hot Yoga class and feel the toxins sweat like a river right from your body. It’s a great way to challenge yourself mentally without pushing your body too hard. Better yet, if your mobility sucks, this is a great way to get a little more bendy so you can get a little bit deeper into your squat the next time you head into the gym. Best of both worlds? We think so. PS - here’s a pro tip for you - drink a sufficient amount of water throughout the day before you head into a hot yoga class. You can thank us later.
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5. Getting Outside
Who doesn’t like to go outside? I mean, honestly. Better yet, take your active rest day outside and it won’t feel like rest at all, just a nice little reboot for your noggin and your body. This could mean running around after your kids, taking the dog for a long walk, gardening, throwing a frisbee, swimming, biking, (dare we say, rollerblading?); pretty much anything counts as long as you get out and do it.
Your body was built to move, so move it. Especially during the summer, if you can get into a pool for some leisurely (or lap) swimming, do it! It’s a low-stress movement that engages multiple sets of muscles and involves cardio. Don’t forget a towel and some watermelon.
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6. Low-Intensity Cardio
While we’re on the note of swimming, low-intensity cardio is a great thing to incorporate into your active rest day. It’s arguably the easiest to get out and do, so, there really is no excuse for this one. Try to keep it low impact and stay hydrated. A couple of suggestions include going for a walk or hike in nature, or on a machine at the gym, playing volleyball, surfing, wake-surfing, and plenty of others.
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Active Rest Days: In Conclusion
Active rest days are going to be an incredible addition to your regularly scheduled programming. With virtually endless options, there really is no excuse to take a day off once or twice a week to give your body and your mind a little break. If you’re looking to take your recovery to the next level, think about supplementing your recovery with clinically verified doses of clinically proven performance products, like the Momentum Stack from Swolverine.
SWOLVERINE is an endurance athlete and active lifestyle brand. Made for the elite athlete, and the strong-willed our products were designed to fuel your athletic performance. We perform when you perform.
We believe that everyone can optimize not only their athletic performance but their human potential. The way we believe we can optimize performance is through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes. We provide the nutrients you need to power your active lifestyle.