How to accelerate your recovery with stretching and light aerobic training


What separates the training program of an elite athlete and an average gym rat? Besides intensity differences, the main difference is balance in the choices of loading intensity. Elite athletes do a lot of active recovery training. This kind of training accelerates mental and physical recovery from high intensity training and can really accelerate your gains as well.

What is active recovery?

Active recovery refers to various active methods that are used to accelerate natural recovery processes. Passive recovery just means that you don’t do anything specific to accelerate your recovery; you just lay on the couch and do necessary daily activities. Although there is a huge variety of methods to use, ranging from massage and cold water immersion to ultrasound and electromyostimulation, in this article we’ll concentrate on two easy-to-use and low cost active recovery methods: Aerobic training and stretching.

Recovery parameters can be measured in various different ways. Very obvious for a gym enthusiast is measurement of strength. Muscle soreness ratings can also be used as an indicator of recovery. Various biochemical markers, such as creatine kinase, indicate the level of muscle damage and inflammatory process. When using RecoApp, you can directly estimate your recovery through muscle soreness rating and also strength level recovery (training loads). This way you directly translate the benefits you get from active recovery to your training. You get to recover quicker, train more and develop faster.

Aerobic exercise as a recovery tool

Many athletes do low intensity aerobic exercises to facilitate recovery. It is believed to enhance muscle blood flow, thereby delivering more nutrients to muscle and bringing metabolic waste away. Aerobic cool down improves lactate removal from the muscle and blood. Some research has questioned its effect on short-term performance. Perhaps the most significant benefits of aerobic exercise are the following:

Improved aerobic fitness base. Improvements in aerobic capacity help you to recover faster between sets and between workout bouts. Improved oxygen delivery and lactate removal capacity allow you to perform more work in the long run, thus improve more.

Improved balance between energy system work. Doing only high intensity strength training or high intensity interval training (HIIT) taxes only anaerobic energy systems. This can soon drain the body and lead to staleness and overtraining. Alternating sessions of high and low intensity work helps the body and also the mind to recover from stressors.

How to do it?

As a recovery tool, low intensity aerobic work should be done at 55–60% of maximum heart rate (Hrmax). If you don’t know your Hrmax, use the following equation: 220 minus your age. For a 25-year-old trainee, this equation yields 195. Multiply this by 0,6 and in this case the upper limit for heart rate in recovery training would be 117. If you don’t own a heart rate monitor, make sure the intensity is so low that you can easily carry on a conversation in long sentences without gasping for breath.

These sessions don’t have to be very long, often 30–45 minutes is sufficient.

Exercise choices. It’s best to match the exercise choice according to your recovery needs. If you have done a lot of upper body training, low intensity rowing can be a good choice. And if your legs are sore from the previous training, try walking or cycling. Walking increases circulation in upper arms as well, but the increases are not as big as in e.g. rowing.

A word of caution:

Make sure the duration and intensity of these sessions does not get out of hand. Too long or too intense sessions attenuate glycogen recovery and may impair strength development.

Stretching as a recovery tool

Static stretching can also be used as a recovery aid. It has received some bad rap during recent years, but some of the critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. Static stretching is no-no before a strength training session. But it can offer following recovery benefits done after training and in between gym training sessions.

Range On Movement gains (ROM). Many gym rats are stiff as boards. Lack of ROM and mobility seriously impact their exercise technique and makes them injury-prone. Chest, hip flexors and hamstring are typical examples of tight muscles. Stretching helps to gain ROM and also make antagonist muscles work better. Stretch your chest and your upper back development will speed up too! Stretch hip flexors and suddenly you start to grow some serious mass in you glutes. 

Potential strength gains: It seems that a static strength-training program combined with static stretching improves strength more than a similar program without a stretching session. Reasons for this are unknown. One explanation is that stretching itself is a potent simulator for muscle repair and strengthening process, like protein synthesis.

How to do this:

Stretching is best done in a separate session. Do a 10-minute low intensity warm-up and then stretch tight muscle groups doing 3x60 seconds per muscle. Do this 3 times per week and you’ll realize fast gains in ROM. It’s also OK to do light intensity stretching without warm-up. Just pick a tight muscle and stretch it for 60 second during a coffee break. However you choose to do it, make sure to get 9–10 minutes of stretching time for a tight muscle group per week.


Data analysis for your smart clothing

Wearing smart clothes would help you to analyse the intensity of the aerobic exercise in real time. This combined with RecoApp's methodology will give you the optimal recovery times which will lead to optimal supercompensation.

RecoApp’s efficient, visually pleasant and quickly readable way of the data interpretation is a user-friendly experience. Smart clothing is a rapidly growing business and manufacturers need more efficient ways to interpret the data. RecoApp’s patent covers using an image of a human figure in a form of traffic light color coding for receiving and displaying optimal training information regarding muscle recovery times. Therefore it is a significant asset for smart clothing manufacturers to protect their smart clothing portfolio.

RecoApp has demonstrated the function of the patent through MVP mobile application. RecoApp's MVP has over 10 000 users.

Learn to listen to your body - and discover your ideal supercompensation times with the help of RecoApp. The U.S Patent Pending. Global PCT Patent Pending.

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Timo Haikarainen, MSc, Finnish personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

Markus Mäntynen, the CEO and founder of RecoApp Oy.


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