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  • Adam

Stay Active and Recovered

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Exercise bike at JagFit in Chicago's West Loop

So, you’ve been to the gym 4 or 5 times this week. Maybe you were feeling a little extra beast mode or your gym crush was there for all of your training sessions… regardless, you ended up lifting HEAVY all week and you’re feeling it. A little pinch in your shoulder, or tightness in your hip has you feeling a little anxious about what you’re going to train that day. Resident bro-scientist Chad would say, “just suck it up brotein shake no pain, no gain!” To a certain extent this is true but as usual Chad hasn't gotten it totally correct.

Too much unaddressed pain or cumulative strain can prevent gains if, or more realistically when, they evolve into a full-fledged injury. Most of us know that a day or two without smashing an intense workout is beneficial but that doesn’t mean we can’t still get to the gym for some movement and a good sweat.

Queue the active recovery day

This day has tons of benefits and can be applicable to runners, power lifters, CrossFit athletes, and everyone in between. What is an active recovery day? It has a bit of an ambiguous definition and lots of things could qualify such as a long walk, or a yoga session, but mine consists of three things: taking extra time in the warm-up to do some corrective flexibility or mobility work, keeping the heart rate elevated but not red-lined, and staying away from heavy weights.

The warm-up

A warm-up on an average gym trip should take around 10-15 minutes to get your blood pumping, joints mobile, and muscles activated priming the body to handle some load. On recovery days take some additional time and check in with your body. We aren't so much looking to activate the body but instead correct anything a little haywire. Remember that pinch in your shoulder and that tightness in your hip that you were pushing through (or maybe pretending it wasn’t there)? Address those issues. Break out that foam roller and a mat to take the extra time to work on some self-myofascial release (foam rolling) and mobility work.

Mobility training at JagFit in Chicago's West Loop

Foam roller

I would like to take this time to correct a fault I see all the time. When it comes to foam rolling the roller SHOULD NOT be constantly moving up and down the muscle you're trying to release. It takes 30 seconds MINIMUM for your muscles sensory receptors to begin to release under pressure. Find the spot on the muscle that makes your face pinch up like you just ate a warhead, apply the most pressure you can tolerate, and stay there! See... Chad was right, no pain no gain.

Mobility Work

JagFit is Kinstretch facility. Kinstretch is the absolute best way to unlock new ranges of controllable motion, hands down. Just because Kinstretch is the Cadillac of mobility training doesn’t mean that the classic dynamic and static stretching won’t be beneficial. The active recovery day is a perfect opportunity for static stretching in particular. Recent studies have shown that static stretching prior to high-intensity workouts can hinder strength and power outputs and even increase the risk of injury. On the other hand, if you have a muscle that's chronically tight or overactive you're movement patters can be seriously altered, preventing you from performing movements or lead to an injury. Like chronically tight calves limiting your ability to get into a full squat because they are reducing range of motion in your ankle. You aren’t even going to look at a heavy barbell today so give those extra sore or chronically tight muscles an nice long stretch so you aren't a half repper. This extra time will pay big dividends the next time you decide you slap that extra set of 10’s on the barbell.

Work Load

For the actual workout we want to keep the heart pumping while minimizing the stress on your cardiovascular and skeletal muscular systems. When talking about cardiovascular stress it is best to classify intensity by heart rate. Zone one is 65-74% of max hear rate, zone two 75-84%, and zone three 85-95%. To find your max heart rate subtract you age from 220, it’s not a perfect calculation but gets the job done. The goal here is to come in and out of zones one and two throughout the workout. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor your M.O. is to not find yourself gasping for air like your grandfather does after a bout with a flight of stairs. This moderate level of cardio strain promotes circulation and vein dilation allowing fresh blood full of nutrients to flow through your body delivering your muscles with the building blocks it needs for protein synthesis and recovery. The best news is that this elevated circulation continues after your workout while EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) is active to repay the oxygen debt you’ve just created in your body. A running clock workout, an EMOM (every minute on the minute) cycling through a few different movements, or a jog with some walking paced in are perfect to produce these responses.

Extra credit: Utilize peripheral heart action (PHA) by alternating lower and upper body movements. This keeps the blood circulating throughout your entire body, making you a blood-circulation-station and giving you a better bang for your buck.

Lastly, stay away from the heavy weights! I PROMISE you that your gains won’t go *poof* without touching a loaded barbell for one workout. “But Adam all the pro athletes I follow on Instagram train hard every day, even twice a day.” They do…. they are also PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES. I hate to break this to you but you aren't Lebron James and you aren't going to catch Mat Fraser's times in the open this year. They are granted endless resources and methods of recovery, supplementation, medical support and it's their full time job that they get paid handsomely for. Unfortunately, we (regular people) do not have cryotherapy in our garages or six-figure checks coming in the mail for being jacked so our bodies need a rest.

Stop freaking out… you can still get a pump, it’s actually encouraged. The trick is to get that nutrient rich blood to the muscles while keeping excessive stress to them and other connective tissues low to avoid a spike in cortisol. Cortisol is our main catabolic hormone and signals our bodies to break down stored macro-nutrients for energy and repair. Cortisol like the worst frenemy you’ve every had. We need it to facilitate energy transfer during exercise, and to help rebuild bone and connective tissues post exercise. It becomes problematic if it hangs around too long. Due to over-training the high levels of cortisol will lead us to eventually stop recovering all together. It will continue to breakdown body structures for energy. Not only will this eat away at your hard-earned muscle but it also keeps blood sugar levels elevated for extended periods of time; triggering our body to store more and more energy as adipose tissue.

Stick to body weight, light weight low impact movements, or cardio machines like the rower or air bike. I know as you get fired up you may want to but don't take anything anywhere near failure. Oldies but goodies like push-ups, air-squats, unweighted abdominal movements, and light kettle bell swings are great ideas.


The prescription

That’s a lot to digest so listed below is a sample workout that can be used to still get your post workout euphoria and/or your gym mirror selfie. Anyone who comes to JagFit with any regularity knows there there are days to push the body beyond what you think it's capable of but if that is all you do you wont be able to play this game very long. Remember to keep your effort moderate. You shouldn't feel sore or exhausted after this gym trip. Get in, move, feel good, and get out.

This workout is a template and should be modified to where you are at with your physical fitness.

20 minute warm-up/ mobility work

20 minuites MINIMUM! Set a phone timer to keep you honest if you have to but you can easily fill this time with proper foam rolling then static stretching.

32 minute EMOM (Every minute on the minute)

1st min: 6-12 push-ups

2nd min:8-12 air squats

3rd min: 40 seconds GHD sit-ups

4th min: rest

Written By:

Adam Powles

Trainer and Coach

Jaguar Fitness and Nutrition Chicago

770 N Halsted St. in River West, Chicago

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