Active Recovery: The next piece in getting back to sports

I wrote last week about some simple strategies to ramp back up  to fitness and sports activity after a COVID-19 layoff. This week I’ll briefly discuss another important concept in your road back: active recovery.

Active recovery is a process through which you use light exercise, tissue mobilization techniques, and even sleep to improve your recovery from more intense exercise sessions.

When done correctly, active recovery will lessen muscle soreness and improve your energy levels heading into the next day.

Active Recovery vs. Passive Recovery

When you completely shut down from activity for a day or two we’d call that “passive” recovery. That’s essentially total rest. Sometimes that’s necessary, such as when you have an illness, but if you’re otherwise healthy then active recovery is a better option.

“Active” recovery means that you use low intensity exercise and tissue mobilization to improve blood flow and tissue healing. This type of exercise should be vigorous enough to increase your blood flow but light enough to allow your muscles, tendons, and joints to heal.

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For guidelines and best practices for WHEN AND IF your local authorities have deemed it safe to return to the practice field for team training, check out U.S. Soccer's PLAY ON home page HERE.
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What Should Happen With Active Recovery

Ideally, an active recovery program should have the following elements:

Improve joint mobility.

A slight elevation in your heart rate.

Low impact, so it does not create joint or muscle pain.

Increase tissue mobility, especially to muscles and tendons.

Prepare you for the next day of more intense training.

The result of using an active recovery program is that it should help to reduce post-activity muscle soreness and increase muscle resiliency. When used consistently it will allow you to train more effectively than you would if you train while sore.

Examples Of Active Recovery Exercises

An active recovery session usually ranges from 15 minutes to an hour. Here are some examples of common active recovery techniques:

Low impact steady state cardio. I’m a big fan of using a stationary bike for this, but you could also use an elliptical, rower or treadmill. Outdoors you could do a brisk walk or a light jog, swim or hike. Stay in your heart rate zone 1 or 2.

Foam roller, especially a motorized/vibrating foam roller. These are great for trigger point release and increasing muscle elasticity. I especially recommend a vibrating foam roller, once you try one you’ll never go back to a standard roller.

Traditional yoga practice is about mindfulness as much as it is about muscles and tendons, and each of those elements can be a great aid to active recovery. Here’s a beginner’s guide for at-home yoga basics.

Dynamic stretching, especially hip and core.

These are just a few simple and easily accessible examples. If you haven’t been using active recovery, pick something above and try it out for a few weeks on the days between your training sessions. I think you’ll be really happy with how it makes you feel.

Key Points:
Active recovery is a process through which you use low impact light exercise to improve recovery from intense training or practice sessions.
The active recovery techniques should be used in the days between regular training, and should help you recover faster.
Some examples of active recovery include low impact cardio, foam roller, yoga, and dynamic stretching.

(Dr. Dev K. Mishra, a Clinical Assistant Professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University and Medical Director of Apeiron Life, is the creator of the online injury management course and the Good to Go injury assessment App for coaches, managers, parents and players. Mishra writes about injury recognition and management at blog, where this article originally appeared.)

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