Active Recovery

Active recovery – it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot. If you follow any CrossFit Games athletes, it’s not uncommon to see their “recovery day” workouts. To the lay person, the amount of work seems ridiculous. And with good reason. A good method of defining something is by denying its opposite. Keeping this in mind, active recovery IS NOT a typical workout done at an “easy pace.” Active recovery IS purposeful movement, and the volume and intensity are largely based on the individual.

Before delving into specifics, the general principle for active recovery is that you to perform the movement pattern(s) that made you sore/tired in the first place, at a MUCH LOWER intensity. So, the higher the caliber of the athlete, the more they can handle. For example – Mat Fraser frequently hops on the Assault Bike after each workout to clear fatigue from his system. Because he spends so much time on the bike, a 20-minute recovery ride (easy pace) is nothing for him. For our average member, a 20-minute ride would constitute a second workout. Most of us would be better served going for a walk.

Again, the goal of active recovery is to clear fatigue and soreness from our bodies – to flush it out, if you will. Motion is lotion, after all. (If you hate yourself/are interested in the mechanisms that cause fatigue, click here) So, here are some very basic ways to clear fatigue based on where you’re sore:

Pecs/Chest – PVC/broomstick floor press

Quads – SLOW air squats

Hamstrings – PVC/broomstick Romanian deadlifts

Low Back – PVC/broomstick good mornings, or toe touches

Upper Back – PVC/broomstick bent over rows or light band lat pulldowns

Triceps – light band triceps pushdowns or extensions

Biceps – light band biceps curls

Active Recovery
Courtesy of Joey Dussel

As your strength and muscular stamina improve, you can upgrade from PVC to a 15 lbs training bar, then a 35 lbs bar, then a 45 lbs bar, then light weight added, etc. You can also increase the band thickness over time.

Sore from running/biking/rowing? Walk/light bike/light row. As your aerobic capacity improves, the walk can become a light jog, and your recovery pace will increase. The main thing with ALL these movements is to keep things feeling light and slow, almost to the point of boredom. Most CrossFitters struggle with this, because we want to move fast and hard – it’s ingrained in us as we focus on high intensity.

Couple this active recovery work with some mobility drills and you have a recipe for improved progress in your fitness. This is low hanging fruit that most of us neglect, instead opting for complete rest. Or we ramp up the intensity too much and our “recovery” becomes another workout. We can only handle so much training volume, so improving our ability to recover allows us to push harder in training. This will create a positive feedback loop that will greatly improve your performance in the gym. The hard part is just doing it. Need suggestions on what to do? Ask a coach. See you in the gym.

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