Mindful Movement: Why Active Recovery Is The Secret To Becoming Fitter, Faster

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Mindful Movement: Why Active Recovery Is The Secret To Becoming Fitter, Faster

Words by Mr Ryan Willms | Photography and Film by Ms Natalie Mattozzi

30 June 2020

While recovery techniques have existed for years, it’s only recently that athletes have begun to place them at the heart of their workout regimens, putting a far greater emphasis on massage, foam rolling, cold exposure, yoga, breathwork and sleep. This new focus on recovery represents an acknowledgement that however fit we are, our energy resources are not unlimited. In order to function at maximum capacity, our bodies need to be nurtured and given regular opportunities to regenerate. Passive recovery – taking the occasional day off – is vital. But fast, efficient recovery demands that we incorporate active techniques, too.

Active recovery is the engagement of low-intensity exercise after completing a heavy workout, race or competition. As paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to recover from a marathon or other sports competitions is not to remain still, but to follow it up with low-intensity exercise. It’s important on multiple levels that we explore this idea in our lives and in our workout regimens.

If you’re used to running 80 to 100km a week, then active recovery could include swimming, cycling and yoga. If you’re on a strength-training programme, then those could apply as well, but you might also think about hiking, rock climbing or foam rolling. As ever, a holistic approach is best. Incorporating a variety of activities into our practice encourages the idea of “Beginner’s Mind”, which allows us to be more playful, take some of the pressure off of ourselves, not only regenerating our tissues and muscles, but also our minds.

Using a rebounder or a mini trampoline has become one of my favourite ways to incorporate active recovery into my day. Often, I’ll spend five to 10 minutes on my rebounder in the morning outside, letting the sunlight turn on my circadian rhythm and trigger the release of serotonin. Just a few minutes will leave me feeling refreshed, awake and ready for the day. On days off, I’ll also use my rebounder for longer sessions.

A gentle warm-up on a rebounder not only loosens muscles, joints and cartilage, but also lubricates discs and vertebrae, giving you a wider range of motion. Since most exercises on a rebounder involve moving your arms and legs in opposite directions or twisting your torso, you’ll be engaging your core muscles from abdominals to chest while stretching them at the same time.

Lastly, one of the benefits of the rebounder is moving energy. The simple action of bouncing up and down pumps blood through your body, sharpens your focus and can help with emotional blockages. Often, after my men’s group or a coaching session, I’ll spend five minutes on the rebounder to help alleviate stress and clear my mind.

a) Straight bounce and high knees

The best way to warm up is to stand straight forward and begin jumping. As you get your balance and engage your core, you can progress this by lifting both of your knees together every other bounce to increase your heart rate and pumping of energy through your body.

b) Running form

I like to mix it up over the session and bouncing on one leg, two legs, twisting, bouncing higher, lower, make it fun and do a little something different. Try running on the spot and finding a rhythm bouncing from one leg to the other. This will help with your running posture. Make sure to engage your core!

c) Bouncing jack

The classic jumping jack, but with a bit more bounce. Moving your arms as you bounce helps move energy and creates more of a full-body workout with very little impact.

d) Jack-knife bounce

As you get more comfortable on the rebounder start to bounce forward and back, using your arms to generate momentum and balance. It’s important to engage your core here, too, as you work on hip and shoulder mobility.

When it comes to bang for your buck, the skipping rope is one the best recovery tools that money can buy. Regular skipping sessions can help to improve coordination, stabilise your ankles, knees and core, build bone density and develop breathing efficiency.

Breathing is a key factor in efficient skipping rope workouts. Try to keep your tongue at the top of your mouth, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep your eyes looking forward as much as you can. Focusing on one spot with your eyes and concentrating fully on your breathing will help you fall into a natural rhythm and pace where time and calories will melt away.

For the movements below, start with jumping for 30 seconds straight, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Use all three types of jumping, rotating through them with each set. Aim for six sets to start and as you build endurance, strength and comfort with the rope, increase your sets to 60 seconds of jumping with 30 seconds of rest, doing eight to 10 sets in total. As you increase the movement-to-rest ratio while maintaining good form, you’ll improve your aerobic capacity, explosiveness and endurance.

a) Running on the spot

Take a couple of jumps with both legs and then go into a run, focusing on getting your knees up. As you settle into the movement, go faster and slower. Depending on what you’re after in your workout, you can find a calm pace or really go for it as if it’s a sprint interval.

b) Heel-toe jump

This one is all about rhythm. You’ve likely done it before if you’ve taken a boxing class. It’s a great way to utilise each leg, integrating the foot, ankle, knee and hip on each side as you go back and forth.

c) Double-under

This one is a bit more challenging, and I often mess up, so be OK with doing that. Part of active recovery is being gentle with ourselves. For the double-under, you can do larger jumps and do the double-under with every jump, or as I’ve done here, find a rhythm of a normal jump followed by a double-under by swinging the rope a bit harder and jumping a little higher.

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