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Eat, Sleep, Do: Active and passive recovery


We all know the feeling of being tired and sore after an intense training session. The question is, how do we recover from it best? Some will say lie on the couch and take the next few days off. But actually, we’ve got a better idea. When athletic performance is involved, there are many ways our actions can influence our quality and speed of recovery. In this article we aim to uncover the reason behind your body’s need for recovery and the difference between active and passive recovery methods.

Distress of the body’s homeostasis - understanding the need for recovery

Let’s first explore the process within the body which leads us to require recovery in the first place. For your training to have an effect, you need to distress your body’s homeostasis. This means that during training, your body needs to adapt to a new and different, external stimulus (stress). With this, the so-called “homeostasis” within the body is distressed. Incase you don’t know, homeostasis is defined as the maintenance of the biochemical state within the human body. This means all energy storages are filled up, the hormone balance is at equilibrium and so on and so forth.

Through the external stress (training) on the body, degrading metabolic processes take place. With the redevelopment of the homeostasis through anabolic (building) processes, the body adapts, especially in the area of cell and muscle structure. So, with training you always go through the following stages: stress on the body – disorder of the homeostasis – adaptation – increased physical performance. Through the positive training effect, the baseline for your body’s homeostasis changes and your physical performance increases.

Basically, during training, you put your body and its balance under stress in order to create a disbalance. This leads to your body having to adapt, a process required in order to enhance your athletic performance.

Active and passive recovery - enhancing your body’s adaptations

Recovery is the sum of all actions undertaken in order to fully regenerate the body which is distressed through physical and mental strain. In every recovery phase the following adaptations happen:

  • refill of the body’s energy storages
  • cell renewal, especially in your muscles
  • adaption of the neuronal system as well as optimization of movements that are triggered through the neuronal system
  • adaption of the body’s cardiovascular system

These adaptations can, and should be supported with different active and passive recovery methods.

Passive methods can include things like enough sleep, the right nutrition, physiotherapeutic methods such as a massage, foam rolling, sauna sessions, warm and cold showers and relaxation exercises.

Active recovery is often done right after training sessions (cool down), or can also be a full active recovery day. A cool down usually consists of easy running or slow rowing and static stretching (maximum of 30 minutes).

An active recovery day can include the following:

  • easy and low intensity exercises like jogging, gymnastics or mobility movements
  • easy cycling, swimming or other light aerobic exercises
  • any type of active game that will especially relax your cognitive and mental processes since it’s not related to your actual daily training

The aim of active recovery is to support the blood flow and therefore enhance the supply of important nutrients throughout the whole body. This will actively make the body’s recovery faster, supporting the redevelopment of homeostasis.

Let’s recap

Both, active and passive recovery is crucial within training cycles in order to adapt to an external stimulus and allow the body to find its balance over and over again. We recommend you always cool down, especially after high intensity training as well as having a recovery day once or twice a week. Not only is this crucial for your health and wellbeing, it’s also a vital factor when it comes to maximum performance. #RestToBecomeYourBest