I previously introduced the concept of recovery workouts and explained how they can improve your long-term health and fitness success. If you read that or similar articles, you already know why they are important. This article goes a step further and gets into more of the practical information and explains how to design recovery workouts and incorporate them into your overall training program.
As with all forms of exercise, the use of recovery workouts varies from person to person and is influenced by your overall program goals, current physical fitness, genetics, and the overall demand you put on your body. Therefore, you can have many different types of recovery workouts, depending on the situation. I previously stated that recovery workouts can also be regularly scheduled into your workout plan, but explaining that would involve discussing all the specifics in an entire workout plan, so for now I will focus on explaining how to add recovery workouts to your existing exercise program.
There are basically two different ways to incorporate recovery workouts into an existing program and you can use either or both ways, depending on your particular needs. The first way is simply to replace an existing workout with a recovery one. The second way is to keep all your existing workout schedule the same and add recovery workouts on top of your current routine. Each approach can be useful, but one approach will work better than the other in certain situations.
When replacing an existing workout with a recovery one, you are essentially causing a small decrease in exercise volume (total amount of work performed) and ultimately lowering the overall difficulty of your exercise routine. This can be a good thing if you do many challenging workouts in a week, especially if you find yourself getting run down or experiencing higher than normal amounts of muscle soreness and stiffness. On the other hand, if your routine is not very demanding, decreasing the overall volume and difficulty could be a bad thing, particularly if your body is not being challenged enough by your regular workouts.
If you keep all your current workouts the same and add new recovery workouts to the mix, you will be adding to the total volume in your program. Even though recovery workouts are designed to make your body feel better, increasing the total work of a training program that already has a high volume may not have the desired positive effect. If you are already pushing your body too hard and doing too much total work, adding more exercise may make you become run down even faster. In addition, adding new workouts will increase the amount of time you spend exercising, which could be a problem if you have a busy schedule.
There are obviously a number of things to think about before using recovery workouts in your routine, but with a few tips and a little planning, you will see that it is really not too complicated. It all starts with simply paying attention to your body and being aware of how you feel, both in general and after different types of workouts. Everyone recovers from workouts at different rates and when you understand how your body responds to exercise, you will learn how hard you can push yourself and figure out when you need to cut back on your training and incorporate some recovery workouts.
I should also point out that it is not only your workouts that determine how much recovery you need. Nutrition, stress, sleep, stretching, hydration status (water intake), your fitness level, and other factors also have a significant impact on your ability to recover from exercise. As a result, your ability to recover may change over time, depending on what is going on in your life. The good news is that even though things change, the signs that tell you when to include recovery workouts should be fairly constant and I will give you some tips to help figure out what to look for and what to do in certain situations.
Some of the most common signs that you need to add recovery workouts are increases in muscle soreness and/or joint stiffness. Increasingly stiff joints and sore muscles can be caused by performing a lot of challenging workouts or performing workouts that are too long, incorporate too little rest, or are too intense. The problems are compounded when the use of heavy weights is combined with a lack of stretching. In these situations, a good strategy is to take a day of heavy weight training and replace it with a workout using light weights (around half of the original weights).
Or better yet, you could stay away from weights altogether and perform a workout primarily using cable exercises. Cables or other types of resistance tubing/bands are great for recovery workouts, because they cause minimal joint stress and still provide a decent stimulus to your muscles. They will not have the same effect as lifting heavy weights, but your goal with this workout is to recover and not to increase maximal fitness attributes. Using cables will help your joints recover faster, decrease muscle soreness, and make your body feel much better than if you constantly push yourself with heavy weights.
Another great alternative for a recovery workout, if available, is swimming or performing other exercises in the water. A pool is a great environment for recovery workouts, because water significantly decreases the impact on your body. This is particularly useful when you are trying to minimize the stress on your joints. As with using cables, exercising in water provides a stimulus to your muscles, while allowing your joints to recover. Cable and water workouts not only prevent further stress to your joints, but they actually increase the speed that your body recovers, hence the name recovery workouts.
Sore muscles and stiff joints are not the only reasons why you may need to use recovery workouts. Many people, especially those who have exercised for a long time, can start to feel the effects of burnout or mental fatigue. These problems are often due to a lack of variety in a training program, so a recovery workout should involve performing workouts or activities that are significantly different from your normal routine.
For instance, if you typically lift weights, then just doing some new exercises or using lighter weights may not be your best bet. A better idea would be to do a completely different type of activity, such as biking, jogging, or swimming. If you prefer, you could also play a sport or other physical activity instead of doing a more traditional type of exercise. When training to prevent burnout or mental fatigue, your goal is really to perform a workout that you can enjoy, which should take your mind off your regular routine.
Regardless of the type of exercise or activity you use for your recovery workout(s), the important thing is perform a workout that suits the type of recovery you need. For example, if you are feeling run down from doing too many hard workouts, then replacing your normal workout with a completely different type of exercise will not help much if the new workout is just as challenging as your original one. Just remember to keep the purpose of your recovery workout in mind.
Another important point is that a recovery workout can serve a purpose in addition to simply promoting recovery. Recovery workouts can be used for working on weaknesses or improving things that may not be addressed by your regular exercise program. For instance, you could create a recovery workout that is made up of injury prevention or rehab exercises. You can also use the workout to work on attributes such as balance and stabilization, which are often ignored in traditional training programs.