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What Should I do on Recovery Days?

August 17, 2022 by

I’ve found that many athletes don’t know what to do on their active recovery days, so they err in one of two ways…

One, they don’t have a specific workout or game plan in mind when they go to the gym so 20 minutes later they end up going full send in a workout that was supposed to be easy.

Or two, since they don’t know what to do, they opt to do nothing and their active recovery day turns into a complete rest day (or more like a “lounge on the couch day”).

Obviously, neither is ideal.

Trying to figure out what to do can be complicated for an athlete, and too often coaches or online training programs don’t provide a specific, detailed plan for recovery days. 

Typically -at best- some general guidelines are given…

“stay below 70% effort”
“do 15-20 minutes of mobility work”
“spend some time doing easy aerobic work”

These guidelines might have good intentions, but the bottom line is if the athlete isn’t very experienced and the coach hasn’t spent time educating them on the specific of what this means, the athlete is still confused and won’t take full advantage of what a recovery day has to offer.

Translation: You’re leaving performance on the table.

Benefits of An Appropriate Recovery Day

When strategic and calculated, a recovery day will provide you with the following benefits…

(1) Improved Circulation, Mood & Alertness
(2) Reduced Inflammation & Joint Irritation
(3) Increased Parasympathetic Tone
(4) Improved Range of Motion & Movement Quality
(5) Improved Aerobic Function & Muscular Endurance

The goal of a recovery day should be to take advantage of as many of these aspects as possible.

Rather than providing a bunch of guidelines as to what program design on a recovery day could look like, I’m going to provided two different samples from our recovery day program and explain some of the intention behind them.

Sample Recovery Day 1: Aerobic Accessory

Upon Wake-Up
-5:00 Supine Breathing @4080 Cadence

AM (or) PM
Aerobic Accessory
[30:00 Clock]
-20 Calorie Row @ Zone 1
-20s Wall-Facing Handstand Hold
-20s Goblet Squat Hold 35/26lbs
-20 Calorie Row @ Zone 1
-20s T-Spine Opener
-20s Bent Over Double Kettlebell Hold at Chest* 10kg / hand
*focus on squeezing your shoulders at end range

Before Bed
A. Seal Stretch (1:00)
B. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (1:00 / side)
C. Couch Stretch (1:30 / side)
D. Elevated Cat Pose (1:00)
E. Seated Biceps Stretch (1:00)
F. Chest Stretch (1:00)
G. Bully Stretch (0:30 / side)

Sample Recovery Day 2: Movement Maintenance

Move Through…
3:00 Supine Breathing @4-0-10-0 cadence
(Recovery Breath 60s)
Breath Hold to RPE 7
(Recovery Breath 60s)
Breath Hold to RPE 8.5
(Recovery Breath 90s)
Max Breath Hold
A. High Plank Hold: Accumulate 3:00
B. Rear Plank: Accumulate 2:00
C. Seated Biceps Stretch: Accumulate 2:00

4 Rounds
-2:00 Cyclical of Choice @ Zone 1
-6 Reps of Seiza Sit → Half Kneel → Stand (3 per leg)
-8 Squatting Sky Reaches; with exaggerated thoracic twist (4 per arm)
-10 Forward Shoulder CARs (split b/w arms) 5-7s / rotations
*perform as (5L + 5R) taking about 10s per rotations
-12 PVC Dislocates @ Slow Tempo
A1. Kettlebell Arm Bar (2 x 5 / side) light to moderate
A2. Elbows-in-Rings Chest Stretch (2 x 1:00)
A3. Deficit Hand Release Push-Ups (2 x 8-10) 
*place your hands on a 1-3″ bumper plate, chest goes to the floor
B1. T-Spine Opener (3 x 1:00)
B2. Hanging Arch Pulses (3 x 10)
C1. Hanging Hollow Pulses (3 x 10)
C2. Banded Lat Row (3 x 15-20)
D. Passive Squat Hold; Accumulate 5:00

Before Bed
-2 x 2:00 Stretch of Choice: Your Top Priority Area
4:00 Supine Breathing @4060 cadence

Related: A Training Model for Recovery Sessions (Podcast)

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