finding balance: intense vs active recovery workouts

Happy Monday, and happy new week everyone! I don’t know about you all, but last week was so insane, I really needed the weekend to recover! Daylight savings has hit me hard this year…I keep waking up at 5:30 a.m. naturally (even over the weekend) and by 4:30 p.m. I’m making my dinner. My body is so thrown off, so when I have to stay up “late” for class or anything, I feel so much more tired than I really am.

One of the things I’ve been trying to implement over the past year, and really came in handy last week and this past weekend, was finding balance in intense versus active recovery workouts. I must admit, I’ve gotten a lot better at listening to my body and how it wants to move each day, as opposed to forcing it to do something it doesn’t want to do. Some days I’m so sore and tired, but I still want to move, so a nice long walk or easy elliptical is what works. Other times, I just need a day off. Some days, I plan to take it easy and wake up wanting to go to SoulCycle or go get a track workout in. Working with my body as opposed to against it has actually resulted in some of my best workouts ever, in my humble opinion of course.

I wanted to share some of the advantages, both that I’ve found and that I read about, of balancing easy and hard days. Of course, social media makes us feel like we need to be burning every muscle to its core every day, but that just isn’t productive and isn’t healthy either. Your muscles need rest, and that’s okay! It’s been a journey teaching myself its okay to take an easy day and focus on active recovery instead of sweating a bunch, but it has paid off in the long run.

1) Taking easy days easy has allowed me to take my hard days, harder

Personally, I’ve found that if I take my easy days easy (no heavy lifting, no speed work, keeping my heart rate moderate), when I do want to go harder in the gym, on the track or on the bike, I can! Giving my body a few days to recover and just build some aerobic fitness as opposed to anaerobic or strength, really helps in the long run (literally). If I’m too sore or too tired from something the day prior, I find it harder to have a good training session again.

2) Keeping the blood flowing on rest days helps in the recovery process

Some days I want complete rest, like sitting in bed eating ice cream, and other days I still want to move while allowing my body to stay calm. Active recovery days – doing an easy bike ride or elliptical, or walking around town – helps keep blood flowing throughout the day. The more blood that flows, the shorter the recovery process! I remember my coach in high school telling me when I was sore to do general strength or bodyweight exercises and go for a walk, light jog or easy bike ride, and I thought he was crazy! But I was always less sore if I did do something to keep the blood flowing. Think about it…if you just sit there, you aren’t using any muscles, so they don’t get a chance to breathe!

3) Working different/opposing muscle groups while letting others rest keeps the body balanced

I have a lovely habit of going really hard when I feel like going hard, to the point where I cannot walk or lift my arms to the microwave the next day. I’ve found that if I hit my lower body really hard, it helps if I hit my upper body the next day, or vice versa, in order to balance my strength while letting what I just worked rest. Maintaining overall strength and not just focusing on one part of the body day after day allows each muscle group to rest, but also allows me to become overall stronger, and handle more, so I can continue pushing my limits.

4) Improved sleep, mood and hunger

Learning to slow down ultimately helped me sleep better, regulate my mood and my hunger levels. If I wasn’t ever taking it easy and I just destroyed my body day in and day out, leading to extreme stress, fatigue and injury. My hunger levels would be all over the place…I wouldn’t be hungry because I worked out so hard, but because I didn’t sleep well I was experiencing extra cravings.

It was so easy to look at others on social media in the gym and working out and compare myself and make myself feel guilty. But what I didn’t see was the rest day they took the day before, or that it was their first time working out in a while, or that they didn’t push themselves that hard. Comparison is the thief of joy, and in this case, the thief of sleep and happiness too! Instead of building muscles, overworking can lead to breaking down which is harmful in and of itself. It’s still a journey and I still struggle with slowing down, but I always find myself more relaxed, more regulated and well rested.

What are some of your favorite things to do on rest days? Do you like active rest days? Let me know in the comments below!



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