What is Active Recovery? How Can it Positively Change My Life?

by Eric Bostrom November 20, 2020 4 min read

What is Active Recovery? How Can it Positively Change My Life?

After a sports-related or training injury, your physician may recommend you stay away from certain activities that involve using the injured or worked muscles. 

But instead of staying inactive for days, weeks, or even longer, it pays to remain active to recover. Here’s why along with some ways how. I am a firm believer in active recovery, a practice that has allowed me to recovery quicker and return to action stronger following various motorcycle-racing crashes.

What is Active Recovery? Can it be applied to back pain?

Active recovery is something you may be familiar with already. Many athletes set up a routine to remain active during their rest days, allowing their bodies to recover more quickly. 

Active recovery can and should be applied when you have back pain and, even when in spasm. 

The concept is to keep the body moving with alternative exercise or less intensive versions of their primary routine. While they may be getting a workout in, they allow sore muscles to stay in a state of rest and recover. As an example, a cyclist may go for a swim on a day following an intense session because it works the whole body without providing an intense focus on sore muscles.  

It works because even though they are “resting,” they are still increasing blood flow. Getting the blood flowing helps remove lactic acids and increases the supply of oxygen throughout the body. In doing so, fatigue and soreness in the muscles reduce while the range of motion increases much more quickly than they would at a state of total rest.

Not surprisingly, this is why active recovery is a beneficial practice for treating some injury and chronic pain disorders. Naturally, the process is a lot different because you must avoid specific movements, but the fact remains that increasing blood flow is beneficial to recovery.

What is Active Recovery? How Can it Positively Change My Life?

Passive Recovery is Important Too

Passive recovery can be difficult if you are dealing with an injury. It removes you from your social life, doing the things you love, and keeps you inactive for long periods. However, it may be necessary for the initial phases of recovering from an injury.

Your body needs time to restore through periods of ample relaxation. But restorative sleep isn’t your only option. Meditation and grounding are two other techniques you can work into passive recovery periods to help keep yourself stable and balanced.

Also, don’t undersell the benefits of passive recovery days as you begin to work active recovery days into your routine, especially if you are still recovering from an injury.

Active Recovery Routines  

When recovering from an injury, you must pace yourself by starting with light workouts and gradually increasing intensity as your body allows. 

For recovery, particularly when the back is in spasm or pain, I highly recommend putting the Backmate system and our Power Massager to work in the early phases. Both are affordable, safe, all-natural, and easy to use and will help you release tension and increase circulation, ultimately propelling you toward your goal.

The Backmate system allows you to target areas you cannot usually reach, such as your neck and spine and the power massager is excellent for working muscle tissue in your arms, legs, and shoulders.

When you are ready to start an involved exercise, keep in mind that you never want to exceed half of your maximum effort to avoid reinjury.

In some instances, athletes can return to lighter variations of their primary routines much more quickly than others. But that isn’t always the case. Chances are you will need to begin with alternative forms of exercise long before you can get back into the swing of things.

But don’t worry, lighter and alternative workouts can be just as engaging as your primary form of exercise. You can use this as a period to help strengthen other parts of your body and sharpen your mind. Here some popular alternative exercises to consider during your recovery:

  • Tai Chi/Yoga: Both forms of exercise are excellent for active recovery because they keep you in a state of relaxation as you stretch and exercise muscles. These are also both known to help reduce pain and stiffness and can significantly improve recovery rates. 
  • Swimming: Swimming is a low impact form of exercise that is highly beneficial. Water pressure helps improve circulation throughout the body while being weightless allows you to relax. You also have the opportunity to stretch the body in ways you usually cannot. 
  • Weight Lifting: You can use light-resistance workouts to improve your recovery process. It is best to use around 30% of the weight you could usually lift and perform a full-body routine. In doing so, you are improving blood flow to focus muscles without tearing them or overexerting yourself. 
  • Steady-State Cardio: Performing a cardio exercise at a sustainable rate for a particular period can help you break a sweat without ever engaging in high-intensity intervals that may provoke your injury. Even without going over the top, you are still elevating your heart rate and increasing blood flow to vital areas. 
  • Myofascial Release: This involves applying gentle sustained pressure to the myofascial connective tissue to reduce pain and fatigue. You can achieve this through massage therapy or by putting foam rollers to work.
  • Backmate: The Backmate is an excellent tool that you can use to provide relief to muscles throughout your neck and spine without forcing you to overextend yourself by having to get on the ground or staining to reach the areas of concern.
Backmate is ideal for active recovery

Is It Right for Me? (more than just your mind)

Remaining active as you deal with an injury can be highly beneficial to you in more than one way. It will help speed up the recovery process and also help you maintain a healthy mental state.

Many athletes fall into a deep depression when they are injured because it prevents them from doing what they love and impacts their social lives. The people you train, exercise, and even compete with are a part of your social circle, and an injury may pull you away from them.

But because active recovery plans are beneficial to anyone, you can still engage with them and form a support group to help you along the way. This factor alone can boost your mental state and drive you toward a safe and healthy recovery.

Eric Bostrom
Eric Bostrom