I know, I know, rest day and workout aren’t supposed to go hand-in-hand, but active rest – as in, doing some form of moderate-intensity exercise that promotes blood flow without overly taxing your muscles – is actually an excellent way to help you recover and repair.
Programming an Active Rest Day?
Even if you’re working out regularly – hitting the gym four or five days a week, lifting more and running harder, chances are you’re still not working so hard that you need to spend a full day lying on the couch like a sack of potatoes.
Rest days aren’t meant to give you carte blache to live like a sloth. Rather, bodies are meant to move, and they’re meant to move every damn day.
This doesn’t mean, though, that you need to go all out all the time. The benefit of lower-key workouts on rest days is that, when done correctly, they can actually help your muscles repair.
If you spend rest day simply lying on your couch while your heart does the bare minimum to pump blood effectively through your system, you’re not actually helping facilitate faster recovery.
When you get active, though, your heart pumps nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles, feeding them with the supplies they need to repair while buffering away waste products. As a result, your low-key active rest days can actually help reduce soreness and help prepare you for your next tough workout.
A Simple Recovery Workout
This quick and effective, five-move workout won’t bring you to tears or make you want to vomit, but it will target every major muscle group while increasing your heart rate. Perform each exercise for 60 seconds, and repeat the whole circuit three times through.
Nothing gets the blood flowing faster than a minute of jumping jacks. Don’t feel the need to push yourself too hard – going fast and jumping high aren’t the goals. Rather, think “moderate intensity” as you hop your legs out laterally and swing your arms over your head.
If you’re recovering from a particularly tough run or leg routine, you don’t even have to do the jump. Step one foot out as you swing your arms over your head, and step it in as you bring your arms back to your sides. Continue, alternating sides, for a low-impact version.
Again, the goal here isn’t how fast you can go or how low you can lower your back knee toward the ground. The goal is to fire up your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves without reaching a point of exhaustion.
Take your time and focus on form. Keep your feet hip-distance apart on each step, maintain an upright and tall torso, your core engaged, and keep your weight in your leading heel as you bend your knees. Only lower yourself as far down as you feel comfortable – even a half lunge works.
Inchworms target the hamstrings, core, chest and shoulders, making it an excellent way to target your upper body and core without overdoing things. Like the walking lunges, think of inchworms as a slightly more strenuous stretch.
Start standing and lean forward, rolling your body forward vertebrae by vertebrae as you reach your hands to the ground. Once your hands touch, begin walking your hands forward, taking on more support of your body’s weight as you go, until you reach a high plank position.
If you can, try to extend the inchworm farther by stepping your hands just in front of your shoulders. Once you’ve stretched as far as possible, reverse the movement and walk your hands back toward your feet, then roll yourself back to standing.
Crab walks target the back of your body – your back, shoulders, triceps and core. Simply start in a seated position, your hands behind your hips, your heels planted on the ground. Engage your core and lift your hips from the ground as you support your body with your hands and your feet.
“Walk” backward, alternating steps as you go. If you have a lot of space, you can simply walk backward, but if you’re limited, take a few steps back, then a few steps forward and continue.
A classic yoga pose, the chair pose is a bit like a static squat, but it requires greater engagement of your core and upper body as you reach your arms up into the air over your head. Focus on your breath during this pose – try to take long, slow breaths through your nose, as you keep your core pulled in.
Start standing, feet together, toes pointing forward, your weight in your heels. Take a slow inhale and raise your arms over your head. As you exhale, press your hips back and bend your knees, as if sitting down in a chair.
On each subsequent inhale, try to reach your arms higher, and on each exhale, see if you can sink your hips lower. If you need to return to standing every 15 or 20 seconds, do so, then return to chair pose.