Without access to fitness facilities, most of us aren’t partaking in our usual workout routines. For some, it means workouts aren't as intense as they were pre-pandemic. Still, this doesn’t negate the importance of balancing hard work with adequate recovery.
The dynamic has shifted and in order to stay fit, we’ve all had to adapt. Your workouts at home will no doubt provide an alternative training stimulus, so what does that mean for your recovery? How long does it take to recover from a body-weight-only workout? What should you be focusing on? How can you tell if your body is ready for another workout? Let’s take a look at active recovery and the strategies you can use to recover quickly.
I can't express how important it is to be in tune with your body. How does it feels before, during and after a workout? One of the reasons why you should always perform some form of warm-up is so that you have an opportunity to scan your body and notice how you feel during movement. The last thing anyone wants to do is to go into a workout with compromised joints or muscle tissues and end up getting injured.
Take a few minutes to notice your energy levels, how strong you feel, if there is any specific tightness within the body and the amount of mobility that is available to you at that time. If you feel that something is off, there is a chance that your body may not be recovered from your previous workout. While most individuals will never experience this, it is possible to overtrain. This is when you train too hard too often and instead of feeling stronger and having more energy, you actually feel worse every time you workout.
A more likely scenario is that you are training with some form of imbalance that may be due to fatigue. This increases the risk of injury because you are unable to recruit the appropriate muscles during an exercise. An example of this is when athletes strain one of the muscles around their neck during a pull-up.
So, before you workout, pay attention to the signs that are present within your body. If you are still noticing soreness or tight muscles a week after your last workout, it may different issue, separate from your active recovery.
This process continues during your workout as you progress through different movements. How does your form look? Once again, if you are lacking mobility at that time, you may be unable to perform an exercise correctly. Just because you are able to perform the movement without any pain, doesn’t mean that you are doing it correctly. Are you able to perform a deep squat without compromising your form? Do you even know what this feels like or should look like? If your glute muscles aren’t active enough during a squat, you can imagine that other muscles in the body are working harder than they should.
We often see this occur when someone experiences back pain after squatting under load. Pushing yourself too hard while you're still recovering from yesterday's leg workout can damage your body, delaying recovery further. Now, instead of just waiting for your legs to recover, you also have to deal with some lower back pain.
After a workout, it's normal to experience some soreness. This is more prevalent after resistance training. If you are exercising from home without any equipment, your workouts will only involve moving your own bodyweight. While these workouts can be intense and leave you feeling sore, you should never experience so much discomfort that you aren’t able to workout within the next day or two.
There are many ways to mange this discomfort and the more that you do to recover, the sooner that discomfort will dissipate. It can be difficult to identify what your body needs. So, I recommend always trying to implement as many strategies as possible to increase your chances of recovery. This includes the following:
- Break up long durations of sitting by frequently stretching or going for a walk
- Consuming carbohydrates after a long cardio workout
- Consuming protein after resistance training
- Staying hydrated throughout the day by drinking water
- Performing stretches and mobility drills every day
- Getting quality sleep
- Paying attention to your average resting heart rate
- Staying active during days-off
- Maintaining a well-balanced diet
We can see that just as much, if not more, time and energy can be spent recovering compared to actually working out. This is the secret behind the success of so many great athletes. You need to take care of your body both in and out of the gym. If you plan on working out hard week-after-week, you must be prepared supplement exercise with active recovery.
When we talk about active recovery, we aren’t just talking about being physically active but actively thinking about what you’re doing outside the gym that is either helping or hurting your recovery. There are times when we struggle with this because of lingering soreness or lack of energy. Use the nine points mentioned above as a checklist to see where you can improve.
Lastly, I wanted to clarify the point about paying attention to your average resting heart rate. This is a great indicator for how recovered you are in days following a hard workout and this is especially true for cardiovascular exercise.
When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you’ll want to do is to take note of your heart rate, preferably while still in bed. This can be done with a smart watch, a fitness tracker or by finding your pulse and counting your beats-per-minute. Doing this every day will give you a good idea of what your average resting heart rate is.
Once you know your average resting heart rate, you can then use this tactic to determine if your recovery is lacking. For example, if your average resting heart rate is somewhere between 55-60 beats per minute - and the day after a hard workout you find that your heart rate is at 70 beats per minute - you should assume that you need more time to recover. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t exercise; it means that you may not be able to work at a greater capacity.
There is a lot to consider, but try not to feel overwhelmed. Focus on one thing at a time and practice it until it becomes habitual. Remind yourself every day of what your fitness goals are and what you have to do to achieve them. Trust the process and remember the road to success will be that much smoother the more you invest in the process.