Hopefully you read part 1 of the series on active rest. Today, in part 2, I thought that we would discuss some of the science behind the idea of active rest.
The concept of active rest originally came from the system called periodization that was developed by Russian sports scientists. The system was primarily used with weightlifters. It was used with great success during the Soviet Bloc years and led to many Olympic medals. The basic idea was that a training plan was laid out for an athlete that adjusted the volume and intensity of their workouts over time. By going through these different training phases it was believed that the athletes would get better results and be on track to peak in time for competitions. The phase after a competition was called the “transition” phase. In the American terminology this began to be called the “active rest” phase.
Now to the real details about the science behind it. I know, if you really hate lots of scientific stats and info you just want to get to the conclusion. Guess what? As much as people including myself believe in the concept of active rest, there isn’t a lot of scientific proof that shows how effective or ineffective that it is. There have been some studies done testing the results of active rest right after a workout. While these have shown a improvement in the amount of lactate in the blood after exercise, the studies were only looking at the immediate effects. Two studies have been done that look at possible longer term effects – one on rugby players and one on soccer players. The results of both studies found that active rest didn’t really help the athletes to recover any better than complete rest. The rugby study noted that the players who participated in active rest did feel better psychologically than their teammates who rested completely.
Since there isn’t a lot of evidence to prove the benefits of active rest, should you still include it in your program? I think that you should for three reasons:
- Active rest will help to circulate blood through the body. This helps to clear waste and deliver more oxygen to the cells, which is always good.
- Active rest will help you to feel better psycholgically
- Active rest will allow your body to heal up many of the little sprains, strains, aches, and pains that we all pick up while training hard
So, there are some definite benefits to active rest. I encourage you to give it a try. Just pick a 1-2 week period and try some lighter workouts. Your goal should be to do about 50-70% of your normal workout. That percentage should apply not only to the amount (volume) that you do, but also to the intensity. When planning your training, try to do exercises and activities that you don’t normally do. It’s a good opportunity to change things up. It’s also a good chance to spend a little time rehabbing an injury or focusing on a “weakness” (e.g., flexibility, core strength, etc). Let me know how it works for you.