Whether you’re talking about recovery from an injury or just from a hard day’s training, your body needs downtime in order to repair damage and restore muscles. This is common sense. Unfortunately, as so often is the case, common sense can be taken too far. You see, too much downtime is not a good thing. In fact, when it comes to healing, it can do the opposite of its intended purpose: all that rest could be causing a setback in your recovery.
First of all, we should point out that we’re not suggesting that an injury needs no rest, nor are we saying that after a tough workout you should resume your regular training without time off. What we are saying is that you should think of the time after an injury, or the moment after heavy training has finished as the beginning of recovery and that it may be a mistake to abstain from physical activity for too long.
Indeed, staying immobile can be very detrimental to healing. Prolonged inactivity post injury will cause your muscles to atrophy, make your joints stiff, and negatively affect your range of motion. And you’re not doing yourself any favors by long periods of crashing on a sofa after a hard workout either. Muscle soreness will set in due to inflammation and acid buildup that could otherwise be minimized simply by moving your body a bit. Additionally, remaining inactive for too long may eventually lead to depressed moods, which can only negatively affect your physical ability to heal as well as your mental ability to keep motivated
Your body is a complex machine with all sorts of built-in processes. Physical activity is essential to keep these mechanisms running optimally. And whether it’s simply walking, jogging, swimming, etc., any kind of physical activity will be beneficial to recovery. In fact, just the simple act of inhaling and exhaling stimulates circulation, digestion and other vital bodily systems. So you can see how just increasing your rate of breathing can increase your rate of recuperation.
Active recovery is not the same thing as rehabilitation. Rehab is about employing targeted exercises to redevelop your injured area and should be overseen by a professional, while active recovery is finding safe ways to keep the body moving to help your body heal, which can be done on your own. Basic exercise can even enhance any rehab you undergo too.
...get off the sofa, get outside, get to the gym and just get moving.
Your body will thank you and you’ll feel a lot better, a lot sooner.
Of course, depending on the severity of an injury, you’re going to have to modify your usual training regimen. The last thing you want to do when you’re down and out is aggravate any damage or reinjure yourself. You may need to simply drop the intensity for a bit, or you may need to completely change things up with low impact movements for a while. Likewise, for post-workout recovery you’ll want to lower the volume and do different things from what beat you up in the first place. Either way, try to introduce a variety of loading exercises to use as many muscles as possible. Pace yourself and progress safely.
If you have access to a swimming pool you’re in great luck. There’s a myriad of activities you can do in a pool that are effective in getting the heart pounding without your body taking a pounding. Swimming is great exercise anytime and can be as challenging as you need it to be. And if you need to take it easy on a specific area you can find easy ways to move in a pool that allow you to rest certain body parts. Float around and just use your arms to move or maybe walk some laps and keep your upper body immobile. In the end, just being submerged in water is very soothing mentally and physically.
Something important to pay attention to in any kind of recovery is regaining range of motion. This doesn’t mean performing static stretches. By moving your limbs and torso gradually through a full range of motion you’re encouraging more blood flowing through those bodily tissues, which in turn flushes out bad stuff, brings in good stuff, and keeps muscles from getting stiff.
Yes, it goes somewhat against common sense to think that the best way to heal an injury is to actively move, but as many studies show, indeed, low intensity activity for a moderate amount of time helps speed up recovery. So forget the ice bath, heating pads, and ointments… get off the sofa, get outside, get to the gym and just get moving. Your body will thank you and you’ll feel a lot better, a lot sooner.