|Passive rest can be really enjoyable, but is it as productive?|
In a typical training day, you may spend an hour in the gym training. Probably, you won't spend that whole hour pounding away at one muscle. Instead, you may focus on two or three muscle groups or perhaps even full-body with the burning desire to elicit a growth response that will take you one rep closer to your goals. From this perspective, the time you spend not training those muscles can be thought of as recovery time, and muscles need plenty of that. In fact, MacDougall, et al. (1995) found that muscle protein synthesis increases rapidly following resistance training (12 sets of 6- to 12-RM) and is nearly double baseline values at 24 hours post-exercise.
This was later expanded upon by Phillips, et al. (1997) who looked at both protein synthesis and protein breakdown following a session of resistance training (8 sets of 8RM) and found that the net protein synthesis was significantly elevated above baseline up to 48 hours following exercise. But exercise itself is catabolic, and to continuously strain your body will only diminish the potential for muscle growth and performance enhancement. So what to do during the recovery time? Eating right, getting adequate sleep, limiting life stressors are all great first steps and will undoubtedly help, but I’m talking activity wise.
Stetting the scene ⇒ Defining Terms
The idea of passive rest should be pretty straight forward: This is when you do nothing. You go about your normal day without doing much more than walking. When you think about it, passive rest is pretty much what the majority of the overweight and metabolically-impaired population is doing 24/7 x 365 years a day.
read moreIn contrast, active recovery can be thought of as exercise performed at a reduced intensity and volume relative to the typical workout. It could be a light or easy day in the gym, or just being active in your leisure time. Context is key here, as a marathoner may just do a light jog, an Olympic lifter may do some technique work, and a totally unfit beginner exerciser may find anything beyond walking to be too stressful on the body to allow for recovery. The point is that active recovery should not be fatiguing and you should finish the workout or activity feeling better than when you started.
From Active Rest to Active Recovery
So what is the point of active recovery? There are at least three reasons why you and everyone else who is taking his or her training seriously may want to implement active recovery techniques into his or her training regimen - in a nutshell:
- Active recover may help you recover quicker and reduce soreness from the previous workout.
- Depending on your goals and how you go about it, active recovery could also let you burn some calories and work on training technique.
- And finally active recovery may serve some important psychological benefits not the least of which is that many people simply feel better when they exercise daily; movement is known to be able to elevate mood among other things.
- The main benefits of active recovery are actually a perfect example of where common sense and science get along: A light workout pumps some blood to the working muscles and can take advantage of this increased blood flow to deliver nutrients crucial for repair and growth while removing metabolic wastes.
|Optimal glycogen repletion | more|
|Protein (g/kg bodyweight)||Carbohydrates (g/kg bodyweight)|
|Table 1: Optimal post-workout nutrient intake for athletes (McDonald 2007).|
Waste & Body Temperature, Mood & Psyche - Where Bro- & Proscience Unite
Waste removal an the normalization of the body temperature, together, may help reduce the likelihood of developing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It is thus no wonder that not passive rest, but exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective means of reducing the symptoms of DOMS - at least termpoarily, as the pain usually returns upon cessation of the exercise (Cheung, Hume, & Maxwell, 2003; learn more in the "DOMS Series").
|Part I||Part II|
Beware of the Catch - Don't Turn Recovery Into Training Days!
Although active recovery may not deter from recovery or impact athletic performance (Andersson, et al. 2008), this assumes a relatively light workload. The only real downside to active recovery is that most people aren’t satisfied doing a short and easy workout (Halson and Jeukendrup 2004), and this is most noticeable in young athletes (Winsley and Matos 2001).
|Illustration 1: The vicious circle of ever-increasing "recovery intensities" (Moussa. 2013)|
Passive Rest: A Safer Alternative?
|Alex has written about the dangers of inactivity in Sean Casey's highly recommended CasePerformance newsletter | read more|
I have previously written about the dangers of being sedentary for most the day; and how there is even a new medical term associated with chronic inactivity: active couch potato syndrome, which is used to describe people who suffer from the same health risks as completely sedentary people despite doing moderate to vigorous daily workouts (Leaf. 2013).
That said, there is nothing wrong with taking a break when you need to, and it is not uncommon for many athletes to have at least one day of complete rest each week (usually Sunday).
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- Berger, B G, and D R Owen. "Relation of low and moderate intensity exercise with acute mood change in college joggers." Perceptual and Motor Skills 87, no. 2 (1998): 611-621.
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- MacDougall, J D, M J Gibala, M A Tarnopolsky, J R MacDonald, S A Interisano, and K E Yarasheski. "The Time Course for Elevated Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Heavy Resistance Exercise." Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology 20, no. 4 (1995): 480-486.
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