During any kind of training, whether it be triathlon, running, professional dancing or even if you are just going to the gym to get fit, down time is always important. The human body is designed as such that inactive recovery is beneficial to a certain extent. However, a word of caution, taking too much time off from training can be as detrimental as not taking enough. There is a delicate balance, which seems to be a common theme these days, and too much rest means you are losing fitness whereas not enough and you are fatiguing your body and damaging your muscles. Your rest day, or days, will be determined by your ultimate goals and the activities you are participating in. For me, my goal is to reach six days a week of physical activity. Not all six days are activity intensive days, but all six days I must be doing something that furthers my triathlon training. There are two types of recovery, active and inactive, and each type has its place. When I have an entire day off, that is referred to as inactive recovery and when I have a day where I may run a long distance, at a slower speed, then that is called active recovery. Since today is my day off, let's focus on inactive recovery.
As I mentioned above, no matter your goal or activity, an entire day must be given too inactive recovery. Now, when I use the term "inactive" I don't mean you are not allowed to do anything and must sit with your bum planted on the couch; it simply means, you are not to do any activity that may over exert your aerobic system. That said, if you feel the need to just sit and do nothing, go for it, but make sure to eat properly and hydrate while you do nothing. If you decide that you have house cleaning to do or that you need to walk the dog, go for it, but again, eat properly and hydrate. The point of an inactive recovery day is to give your muscles the chance to heal and in order to do that, you must give them the fuel-nutritional foods and water-to do so.
There are other ways to improve your recovery on an inactive recovery day. For example, take a long hot bath. The hot water will help relax hyper tonic, or taut, muscles and also decrease your brain activity. To assist with muscle soreness and recovery, add some epson salt to the water. I never used to think epson salt was all that important until I tried it for myself and was amazed at the results. The epson salt helps to draw out the toxins in your system-byproducts of your work intensive exercising-and the magnesium from the salt seeps into your muscles, aiding in recovery. To make it a bit more luxurious, buy epson salt with a scent or add your own essential oils to the water. If you feel a glass of red wine goes well with that bath, don't deny yourself, but make sure to drink a lot of water during and after the bath. The hot water will make you sweat, even if you are unaware of it, and you will lose fluids that way. Also, if you use epson salt, you will become a bit dehydrated because, well, you are laying in salt. Not to mention, wine also dehydrates the body. The biggest thing to be aware of, not only on inactive recovery days, but all of the time, is what goes into your body; but that is for another post. If you do not have a bath tub, as I do not, pouring epson salt into a basin or bowl with hot water and soaking your feet can also be beneficial. Sure, it cannot work on all of your muscles, but if you are involved in a sport that impacts your feet/legs, such as triathlon, then you could benefit from a good foot soak, complete with epson salt. I know I do.
Another way to assist with healing on inactive recovery days is to stretch. Realistically, you should stretch every day that you are active as well, but inactive recovery days can be used as a good stretching day. If you are feeling particularly tight, or lazy, go to see a good massage therapist. A good massage will aid in the recovery process by loosening tight muscles and relaxing the body. Massages also push toxins out of the muscle tissue, so make sure to drink plenty of fluids after the massage. This will allow you to dispel the toxins through your urine and hence, aiding the recovery process.
Although the name of this type of recovery, "inactive," would suggest that you shouldn't do any kind of physical activity, walking is another good way to help muscles recover. Perhaps "walk" is not a good word: let's say "stroll." A nice, leisurely walk also provides all of the same benefits as the methods outlined above. Walking is one of the activities that uses nearly every muscle in the body and will help loosen the body. Again, make sure to hydrate and also to be aware of how fast you are walking. It is an inactive recovery day, so don't power walk; keep your heart rate low and enjoy being out in the fresh air. Also, perhaps avoid walking ten kilometres. The point of inactive recovery is to give your body a chance to do just that, recover, and if you are walking fast and/or far distances, you are defeating the purpose. This brings us back to that balance I like to talk about.
How ever you decide to spend your inactive recovery day(s), the most important thing to remember is to enjoy it. You want to wake up the next day, feeling rested and ready to workout hard.