These days, fitness is truly a lifestyle. There are new fitness trends popping up constantly that provide ample opportunity to switch up our routines with new workouts that are more efficient and advanced than ever. For the past few years, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been the most popular type of workout, and according to the American College of Medical Science’s recent fitness trend report, it’s not going anywhere. But a newcomer on the scene that could steal a little of HIIT’s spotlight? Active recovery.
You might have heard a trainer or group class instructor mention this term before in reference to foam rolling or dynamic stretching before or after class. But now, there are entire classes that focus on just these activities. So why should you go to a workout class where you’re not really going to be sweating it out? Turns out, the work you do during this kind of workout is JUST as important as those burpees.
What is Active Recovery?
To understand what active recovery does for your body, you have to look at the big picture. Lauren Roxburgh, alignment expert and author of the best-selling Taller, Slimmer, Younger: 21 Days to a Foam Roller Physique, explains that “Real health is all about balance, and recovery is the Yin to the Yang that is working out.” In other words, you need both in order to be truly fit. “One of the most essential parts of recovery is what we call active recovery — basically doing anything that is restorative and healing. That might include a relaxing walk, a slow bike ride, a calming Yin Yoga session, stretching or, of course, foam rolling,” she says.
Rebecca Kennedy, NYC trainer and creator of ACCESS, a class focused on active recovery, defines it as a “low intensity workout that involves soft tissue work through foam rolling, trigger point work, stretching (both dynamically and statically), joint stabilization and core activation.” That’s a lot going on for a class where you’re not technically “working out.” “The goal is to learn more about your body, assess any asymmetries and increase range of motion,” she adds.
Why Should You Do It?
Okay, so stretching and massaging your muscle tissue probably sound pretty good, but what are the actual benefits? “Active recovery prevents injury and prepares your body to perform optimally,” explains Kennedy. If you incorporate it into your routine, you’ll probably notice that you’re getting faster and stronger at your other workouts. “Including this in your regular exercise program will also help you improve your posture, become more educated about your body and form, learn how to move in a way that’s more functionally sound, decrease DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), develop spatial and body awareness and potentially avoid an overuse injury,” she continues. Overall it’ll help you perform better not only in your workouts, but also in your daily life.
Another reason active recovery is becoming so popular has to do with something in your body called fascia, which Roxburgh says we are just starting to understand the full function of. “Fascia is a thin layer that lies under the skin and wraps around every muscle and organ,” she says. “Fascia helps connect the muscles to the bones and joints, so it plays a key role in our structural integrity. In a way it’s like the scaffolding of the body.” This tissue is found all over your body and is also where your lymph nodes are located. “When fascia becomes tight, thick, dense and plasticized (like a dried-up sponge), movement becomes restricted and the alignment and efficiency of the body can be compromised, causing pain, poor posture and other physical problems,” she notes. “But active recovery techniques like foam rolling are fantastic for rehydrating fascia, breaking up blockages and stimulating the lymphatic system.” The more we learn about the role of fascia in our bodies, the more important active recovery seems to become.
How Often Do You Need It?
Many people think that active recovery is what you should do on your days off from working out, and while that’s certainly a great time to do it, Roxburgh and Kennedy both suggest doing it a lot more often. “I actually think you should find some time to fit in active recovery every day,” says Roxburgh. “As strange as it might sound, I recommend doing it before your workout, as it’ll set you up for a more efficient and connected workout. Or aim to spend five to 10 minutes on a foam roller before bed to have a deeper and more restorative sleep,” she says.
Kennedy agrees, explaining that stretching once a week for an hour in an active recovery class isn’t enough, although it’s a great place to learn how to do it so you can incorporate it into your other workouts. “Consider the practice of active recovery like a college course,” she says. “If you cram for your exam, you’ll forget all the material, but if you study every day, you’ll remember it forever.” She recommends starting by adding 15 minutes of mobility training daily, and if you can do it before and after your workout, even better. “Try it for a month and watch your body transform with the right corrective exercises for yourself,” she says.
Where Can You Try It?
If you live in NYC or LA, you’re in luck. Stop by Kennedy’s class in New York or book a session with Roxburgh in LA. If not, chances are you can find a foam rolling class in your city on ClassPass or by connecting with your local physical therapy centers. Many of these centers use foam rolling as part of their therapy, so they’re some of the best places to learn how to do it properly. If you want to try this out at home instead, grab a foam roller that’s on the softer side (the super hard ones are too harsh for beginners!) and check out Roxburgh’s YouTube channel, where you can learn some basic moves to incorporate into your daily routine. Happy rolling!
Do you already include active recovery into your workouts? If not, would you try it? Tell us what you think @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)