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Active Rest and Recovery; Why it is Important to take rest in your Training Program.

What is Active Recovery and how do you include this into your training regimen.

We all know how it is; you have a hard work out the day before and in the morning, you are paying for it. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the culprit with a side of small, microscopic tears, inflammation, and fatigue. Might think that this is it and you are just going to have to deal until you heal right? You decide to take a plop on the couch and relax, a few hours later you realize that you are even stiffer and are miserable. How do you combat this?

The best way to reduce the symptoms above is to move. You might think this is counterproductive, but it really does help. The activities that you would want to go for is walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, yoga, or dynamic/ active stretching, self-myofascial release. The idea is to find a low-intensity activity to keep your heart rate at 30-60% of your maximum heart rate.

If you are unfamiliar with tracking your heart rate another alternative is the “talk test”, based on your ability to talk during an activity will determine the intensity. If you can hold a decent conversation with someone or yourself, the intensity is right around your active recovery zone. In general, a good way of thinking about this is getting 30 minutes of general movement and exercise daily. This can also have some variables based on the individual’s health level and age, not everyone is the same so start of at an appropriate level.

Some people will feel guilty for taking it easier during the week on the active recovery days. You need your body to recover and return to homeostasis. If we are going hard 6 days a week, this applies strain on your parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system. Constant high intensity will over time lead to injury and cause over training.

Signs of overtraining:

1. Decreased performance over 7-10 days.

2. Increase in resting heart rate & or blood pressure.

3. Decreased body weight.

4. Reduced appetite or loss of appetite or nausea.

5. Disturbed Sleep patterns and inability to attain restful sleep.

6. Muscle soreness and feeling irritable.

7. Reduced motivation.

Some solutions to combat overtraining and still be able to get gym time in:

1. Deloading – reducing training load and volume 1-2 week ( 50-70% )

2. Offloading – stop training for a short time up to a week.

3. Change activity or movements to reduce movement overload up to 1 to 2 weeks until symptoms subside.

4. Include RICE and CAM into your training regimen; ( rest, ice, compression, elevation & compression, activity , & massage)

5. Monitor breathing – There is an easy way to determine if you are consuming a greater amount of carbon dioxide. A simple method is the Buteyko Control Pause (CP) test, created by a Ukrainian doctor, Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko. Over breathing forces bicarbonate in the blood and over time decreases the capacity for high- intensity exercise. The test measures the time between the end of one normal expiration and the start of the next breath taken. This delay is called automatic pause. Longer pauses are associated with slower, deeper breaths that oxygenate more effectively because more air is reaching the alveoli & and stabilizes blood levels of carbon dioxide. Which we want to maintain to keep a balanced level of pH in the blood.

1. Perform the test in the morning after waking and sit upright.

2. At the end of one normal breath (exhalation), start a stopwatch.

3. Sit quietly with out interruptions until the next breath is needed (this is not a deep breath or gasp; you want it to be like your normal breathing). Stop the stopwatch.

4. The point at which another normal breath is needed should occur approximately 40 seconds, though many people tend to over breath, resulting in the range of 15-25 seconds.

Parasympathetic & Sympathetic Overtraining:

Symptoms of parasympathetic overtraining included depression and decreased heart rate, fatigue, and decreased performance. The type of training also effects how your body adapts; high volume of aerobic activity can over time cause the symptoms above. Progressive overload is necessary to achieve specific adaptation to achieve optimal training, but imbalance in rest and recovery will over time place to much strain on the body and can lead to pattern overload and injury.

Symptoms of sympathetic overtraining deals with anaerobic activity like higher volume of weight training. Your performance can decrease, you might have unusual restlessness or excitability, inadequate sleep, accelerated resting heart rate, weight loss, and slower recovery time.

Strategies to combat both sympathetic and parasympathetic overtraining:

- Sympathetic tactics to reduce overtraining is to include parasympathetic recovery techniques like meditation, massage, hot tubs, and deep water floating. Taking a short nap through out your day will help with recovery as well. For training you would want to stick with light intensity resistance training like working with resistance bands or body weight movements that are performed at a controlled pass.

- Since parasympathetic overtraining is linked to high volumes of aerobic fitness you would want to focus on; you guessed it, sympathetic recovery techniques like low intensity recovery options such as a walk, light bike, or an easy swim. You may also want to use a (EMS) electric muscle stimulation to help speed up the recovery process. There is also cold-water swimming to help reduce inflammation on the nervous system, saunas, and cryotherapy, and cold baths.

Monitoring recovery is important as well. Getting a good night’s sleep paired with proper nutrition and staying fully hydrated will restore homeostasis and help with recovery. Studies have shown active recovery after intense exercise result in faster recovery compared to someone who just rested for the full day (Ahmadi et al. 1996). Another study following high intensity work with active recovery persons performed at 60 -100% of lactate threshold helped muscle recover faster than passive 0-40% of lactate threshold (Menzies et al. 2010).

Listening to your body and checking in daily to make sure you are feeling, and function well is just as important as getting those 5x5 of deadlifts or that 3-mile run. Balance is key and if that balance is not established it can lead to issue in the future. Be kind and always do a self-check in on how your body is feeling. Listen to what you have to tell you because that’s its main job!


1. Comnana F. “ Exploring the science of Recovery”. (2017) American Fitness magazine.

2. Burnstein D. B. MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, NASM-CES, PES, FNS, USAW. “Sympathetic VS Parasympathetic Overtraining – selecting the proper modality to maximize recovery.” ( 2017 SEP.)

3. Mahaffey K. “Active Recovery Workouts: What to do on your Rest Day.” (2021 Jan.)

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