Active recovery and the science behind it

There’s a host of reasons to start adding active recovery to your training plan. Here are a few important ones and how to design your own programme.

Move around rather than sitting in one place after a heavy session. This reduces the build-up of lactic acid in the muscle.   -  AP

When you train hard, you need to recover hard. This concept has been around for many years now. What is the best way to approach this is one of the important aspects of peak performance.

In earlier days, the concept of recovery was not very well known and documented. Athletes would just sit around or sleep to recover, which is mostly passive recovery. The times have changed, and so have the expectations on athletes. So new methods and protocols are being used to get them back to peak fitness in the shortest time possible.

There has a been a quantum jump in the science of recovery over the years. There are now highly specialised departments in sports science centres and Olympic training centres around the world, and India too is catching up.

It goes from hydration protocols to contrast baths. Various processes are followed to get athletes in perfect shape for competition.

Passive recovery

Passive recovery is doing nothing basically and allowing the body to take its own time to recover, be it physically or mentally.

One should not avoid passive recovery at all. Some days if your body says that you need total rest from any physical or mental activity, or when you are recovering from an injury or trying to prevent an injury, taking a couple of days off would be more beneficial than overloading yourself.

On the other hand, prolonged passive recovery can cause setbacks.

Active recovery

Active recovery is doing some form of physical activity to promote recovery and regeneration. This allows the athlete to recover, both physically and mentally, from the stresses of training while avoiding peaks and valleys in fitness levels and performance. It has become an integral part of most training programmes.

Active recovery can also include various types of massages.   -  AFP


Why active recovery?

There’s a host of reasons to start adding active recovery to your training plan. Here are few important ones:

Decreased muscle soreness and stiffness: We all know that we’re probably going to be sore after a heavy training session. Active recovery helps reduce that post-workout soreness and stiffness. Move around rather than sitting in one place after a heavy session. This reduces the build-up of lactic acid in the muscle.

Improved mobility: Many athletes are getting bigger and stronger, and the probability of some mobility being lost in this process is high. Active recovery helps offset this problem. The choice of exercise should be to help increase the range of motion for each joint and muscle.

Improved overall fitness: Active recovery can hasten recovery of the muscular as well as the nervous system. There is a close link between the aerobic system and the parasympathetic nervous system, so if you want to enhance recovery, adding an aerobic element to your active-recovery sessions can be a huge game-changer in many ways.

How to recover?

There are a zillion ways to create an active recovery programme. Choose the one that suits your needs and goals. Here’s how to do that:

Choose exercise that is not vigorous and lightweight: Stick to the goals you want. Remember, the recovery session too is a goal.

Use mostly multi-joint compound exercises through a full range of motion: Multi-jointed compound exercises with full range of motion — like squats, lunges, push-up variations, etc. — will not only promote blood flow and circulation, but also reduce muscle stiffness and soreness and restore mobility for the next training session but with less training percentage load.

Train core muscle groups and prevent problematic areas: Some muscle groups are harder to fire up than the others, like the glutes, hamstring, transverse abdominals, etc. So, overloading these can have a negative effect on the supplementary muscle groups that has problems. So, limiting use of these muscle groups that are stiff and sore helps to recover faster and increase movement.

Choose an exercise that increases blood flow and circulation: Active recovery can also include various types of massages, yoga, stretching using foam rollers and other tools. This is the ideal way to relax inflamed and overtaxed muscles. Depending on your sport, skill, fitness level and other factors, active recovery may take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. The choice of activity often depends on the sports you engage in.

Recovery protocols for Virat Kohli or Narain Karthikeyan or G. Sathiyan would all be different. Each will have his signature protocol in place.

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