What is the best strategy after a hard workout? More exercise, or a complete rest? We look at the evidence, and provide suggestions on how best to recover between workouts.
When you're feeling wiped out from a hard workout, the temptation is to just take it easy - for a few minutes, a few hours, even a couple of days. However, research makes it clear that doing some gentle exercise - active recovery - is actually a far better option.
Active recovery has a whole range of benefits. Chief amongst them are:
- Decreased fatigue
- Accelerated recovery.
- Enhanced adaptation (i.e. more rapid improvements)
- Decreased risk of injury
One of the main ways active recovery works is by removing lactic acid - a by product of hard workouts - from the blood stream. A gentle workout will get the blood pumping without fatiguing you, and will speed up the removal of waste from your muscles.
Extensive research has demonstrated that accumulation of lactic acid is one of the main constraints on performance, and therefore flushing it out of your system is crucial for your recovery and subsequent performance.
Active recovery is crucial at two times:
- At the end of your workout(cooldown)
- On days between hard workouts
Everything that we'll discuss applies to both of these times.