The Only Thing You Should Do for Active Recovery

There are so many “shoulds” when talking about rest and recovery from everyday life, regular workouts, and once-in-awhile competitions. You should sleep 8 hours, you should drink your body weight in oz of water, you should take electrolytes, you should foam roll, you should stretch after you workout. I’m going to say it early: the only thing you really should be doing for active recovery is to figure out what works for your body and then do it. You could say that I’ve been resting and recovering from workouts for many years – about the same amount of time that I’ve been working out. I’m pretty practiced in doing nothing on my days off, but that’s not the same as recovering. It’s taken me a long time to sort-of-figure-out what to do in the recovery department, so I feel you when you’re just not sure what’s going to work for you. Now, the recovery I’m talking about isn’t the fix for the torn this or the separated that or the sharp-pain-in-my-blank (consult your physician), it’s about active recovery from simply using my body. We call these the aches and soreness-es, the I-just-need-another-20 minutes-of-sleeps and the grab-me-that-heating-pads.

In college I plunged my entire-self-sans-head into a bath of ice with the intention of making my aches go away. My training partner and I didn’t love this type of recovery, but we did come out of those tubs red as a beet with blue lips. It was also during college when I learned the benefits of massage. I went in for weekly sessions to deal with a nagging knee issue. I learned about the foam roller, the tennis ball, more stretching, and days off, but I still don’t think I really understood what recovery meant and definitely didn’t respect it as part of my training.

Fast forward a few years and many tough workouts of various modalities later. I’ve learned through empirical methods what works for me and also, what doesn’t (even if I try really hard to want it to work!). I’m not an expert on recovery and a lot of times fall short of my own recommendations. for. myself. There are things I do consistently and there are the times when I play fire fighter – ready with an action when I feel x, y, or z.

The list below is a living document and always changing – mostly because I read about something new and want to try it. Things fall off because let’s face it, there’s only so much time in the day. When part of the list below becomes even too stressful to make happen, I simply let. it. go…and, boom (well, let’s be real, after I convince myself that it’s ok) I let it go. Those are the moments when I take rest – I Just Shut It Down. There’s a lot that goes into those moments, but that’s for another post TBD – it’s not as simple as I made it seem. The point is, I’ve found things that work for me.

Without further delay, here are the things I try to do, and in the order that they are important for me.

Inside help

  • Get enough sleep: I tested it out and found that I need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep based on my activity level. This has become my single most important recovery tool and rightly so – it’s the most important thing you can do for your body.
  • Drink enough water: I don’t know how much this is, but I drink until I feel hydrated and then I stop.
  • Do my physical therapy exercises: as a result of injury, I have a list of many stabilizing exercises for my shoulder that will remain in rotation even after I’m “healed”. I also have become fascinated with all the small muscles in the body and working those to stabilize my major joints – think hips and shoulders.
  • Do mobility & stretch: based on how I’m feeling I’ll add or take away mobility. I include it in my warm up, I do it randomly on my way to the bathroom, before bed, etc. Stretching just feels good – I’ll add or take away, again, based on need.
  • Eat well: I try to limit foods that don’t make me feel good – foods that when I eat them I get puffy or bloated, or anxious.
  • Supplement accordingly: I’m not going to go into too much detail, but I do incorporate supplements and vitamins.
  • Workout: Am I not recovering from working out? Well, yes, but I workout because I enjoy it and it’s good for my body and mind. Do I have to do more recovery because of it? Yes, but I also consider it a part of recovery…and now you’re wondering why you’re reading this…

Outside help

  • Acupuncture: If there is only room in your life for one practitioner go see a respected acupuncturist. I’ve gone into sessions not being able to activate muscles and on the way out I’m able to flex that muscle. Truly, it’s amazing.
  • Massage: My muscles need kneading! Not only does massage re-hydrate my muscles, it helps with soreness and, if you go to the right place, will re-structure your body (think about sitting at a desk all day with your shoulders hunched over – go to the right therapist and you can come out less hunched over).
  • Chiropractic care and A.R.T.: I do this as needed. There are a lot of feelings about chiropractors. I have positive ones towards mine, as I find real benefit in seeing him.

A list of things I sometimes do, have seen positive results from and would like to include more consistently:

  • Hatha and Yin Yoga
  • Increase my electrolyte intake
  • Meditate
  • Journal

If you ask my husband, he will tell you that I spend a lot of time, money and effort on recovering. It’s true. But, if you notice, the recovery I find the most beneficial is me being diligent about my life – sleeping, eating, self-care rehab, mobility, etc. I also didn’t come into all of these methods all at once; they built upon themselves and not necessarily in the order above. What I do might not work for you. Should you take hot baths? Or long walks? I don’t know. Are you do what’s right for you? That’s really the only thing you should be doing. Go figure it out and report back.


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