The Recovery Workout Explained

An Airman finishes up his workout in the treadmill room at the Rosburg Fitness Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jet Fabara)
An Airman finishes up his workout in the treadmill room at the Rosburg Fitness Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jet Fabara)

When people think of a “recovery day,” many take a day off from physical activity. This is better known as a “rest day” in most circles. A “recovery day” is still a workout, but arranged in a way to help you loosen the body’s aching joints and muscles with a focus on mobility and flexibility. As you will see below, it is not a day off — nor easy:

Recovery Workout

Warm up 5 minutes with walk, jog, bike, etc.

After a solid warm-up, using some form of movement, add a 5-10 minute session of dynamic stretches to thoroughly move the joints in a full range of motion, gradually getting faster and faster each time through.

Now you are ready to do some non-impact aerobic activity. We recommend non-impact options just to rest the body from any running or rucking or heavy lifting for a day. Typically, you should place this day in the middle of your training week – like Day 3 or Day 4. You will find that the Day 5 and Day 6 of your training week will be much more productive with an active recovery day.

You can make this non-impact activity (bike, elliptical, rowing, swimming) anaerobic if you prefer, with workouts like Tabata Intervals (20 sec sprint / 10 sec easy), or Pyramid Sets, where each minute something gets harder than the previous minute (i.e., speed, resistance, incline on cardio machines). If you feel like working your lungs harder on your recovery day, go for it. However, if you prefer 5-minute sets of easy to moderate-level intensity, keep your heart rate down with aerobic level intensity (lower heart rate):

Repeat 4 times

Row, Elliptical or Bike using TABATA interval (20 sec fast / 10 sec easy) — 5 minutes

5 minutes stretch and/or foam roll

*The key to this recovery day is that you get some form of cardio activity followed by 5 minutes of stretching and foam rolling sections of your body. You can opt to do nothing but stretch or just foam roll for each set if you prefer, or mix both in the five-minute off-the-cardio window.

Another addition is to add in some pool time. You do not need to swim, but treading water and doing all your dynamic stretches in chest-deep water is one of the most therapeutic movements you can do — even if recovering from injury.

Dynamic stretches: 5-10 minutes (pool or ground)

Conclude the day with a series of static stretches either immediately following the workout or later in the day. Staying flexible, especially after sitting or standing for several hours of the day will help with your recovery day and the days following.

Static stretches: 5 minutes

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