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Friday, October 18, 2013


For the athlete, recovery from training sessions is essential. I remember being told during my days as a bodybuilder that the muscles grow when you sleep, and training too much (overtraining) can inhibit growth and slow or stall fitness gains. In my twenties I transitioned to endurance sports, and the same concept holds true. For the endurance athlete - and if you like to run, swim, bike, or even walk, that means you - rest is important to the extent that you allow your muscles to recover from a particular exercise. But rest doesn't have to mean inactivity.

Enter active recovery.

Let's say you're a triathlete. You run. You bike. You swim. You do it again. You do it a lot. So much that you begin to notice the signs of overtraining. You have difficulty sleeping. You dread your next workout session. Your resting heart rate goes up. You experience changes in appetite. You become irritable. Your sex drive diminishes. Or you have an upcoming race and begin a taper, reducing training volume and intensity to ensure your muscles are prepared to give their utmost during competition.

Whether you are tapering or suffering from overtraining, your body needs rest. When athletes hear the word they think of spending the day in bed or on the couch, sleeping in, lifting nothing heavier than a slice of pizza or pint of ice cream, or in other ways foregoing the usual workout in favor of inactivity.

But a body at rest stays at rest, and often it is hard to overcome inertia and get active again. Inactivity leads to reduced blood flow, and blood flow is essential to deliver nutrients to tissues and eliminate wastes. Not to mention that spending the hour you'd normally spend running simply lying in bed does little to relieve muscle soreness. What your really need is active recovery.

Active recovery is a form of rest in which you take time away from your workout routine while still maintaining activity. This can mean going for a walk instead of a run, for example.

Endurance athletes may derive particular benefit on off days from resistance training, with or without weights. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, bodyweight squats, and dumbbell exercises strengthen muscles, tighten the core, and maintain blood flow to the tissues that need them, while you break the monotony of running/riding/cycling all those miles.

A second option is self-massage. Athletes often do not give this form of therapy its due. You go on a 2-hour bike ride, come home and would rather eat a big postworkout meal before you'd lie against the foam roller. But using tools such as a foam roller, the Stick, even a tennis or lacrosse ball against the wall, can deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles and work out trigger points that keep muscles tight and put stress on joints.

On your next "rest" day, spend a half hour doing 10-15 sets of resistance exercises. Take Cindys, for instance. All you need is a pull-up bar for this trio of bodyweight exercises. Start with 5 pull-ups, drop down and do 10 push-ups, and finish with 15 bodyweight squats. Do as many of these triplets as you can in 10 or 20 minutes.

Follow this routine with 15 minutes of self-massage with the above-mentioned tools. The Stick works best on the lower leg, the foam roller really hits the quads and ITB, and the lacrosse ball against the wall is our favorite for the butt and back muscles.

We guarantee that following this "rest" day, your body will feel more rejuvenated than it ever could merely by spending the day beneath the covers, not that bed-time isn't useful, especially when it's with someone warm and cuddly, but that's active recovery of another sort, and the subject of another post.


  1. Yea this is great stuff as I'm tapering down for my ironman this saturday. Excuse me while I find a vacant conference room here at the office and go do a cindy.

    I've been hitting the yoga mat and the roller pretty good since the taper started.

    1. You continue to inspire, CJ. Hope you knock your Ironman outta the park as I know you will.