Support muscle growth on the days you aren’t in the gym.
By Kris Gethin
Active recovery describes the activity you do when you're not crushing your muscles with resistance training. Hiking through woodlands, cycling down mountains, swimming laps, or taking a yoga class are all examples of active recovery. For this purpose, we don't want anything so strenuous that it taxes your central nervous system, immune health, or muscle fibers. It needs to be submaximal yet just intense enough that your body has to respond by increasing core temperature and blood flow.
Traditionally, the only two benefits that people credit this type of exercise for is energy consumption and cardiac health. They couldn't be more wrong! Active recovery can help you build muscle.
1) Nutrient Transport
The food you eat gets processed through the GI tract until it’s broken down and ready for transportation to the relevant place. Being active helps speed up nutrient transportation because it encourages quicker digestion. With more movement comes faster blood flow. This also contributes toward nutrient transport around the body.
This benefits your muscle-building aspirations because in order to recover and ultimately develop muscle, you must be able to sustain a fast rate of nutrient absorption. It's no good eating the nutrients you need and experiencing sluggish nutrient uptake.
2) Lactic Acid Removal
When you exercise intensely, lactic acid is produced, and over time it accumulates within the most active muscle fibers. If your body doesn't remove the lactic acid salts from the muscle fibers, they can cause damage, slowing down the recovery process. If the metabolic waste is not cleared, it can form painful muscle adhesions and trigger points.
Doing less intensive active recovery outside is the perfect way to flush your muscles with oxygenated blood that cleans the fibers of all lactic acid. This is one of the reasons why low-impact cardio after your excruciating workout is a great idea for enhanced recovery. It is this heightened state of recovery that can help unlock more muscle growth.
3) Muscle Elasticity
Sustaining muscle elasticity is really important for long-term recovery and muscle growth. Too often bodybuilders are left unable to break through a plateau because their range of motion is insufficient to work their muscles properly. Active recovery encourages muscle elasticity by preventing them from becoming too stiff. As a result, when you lift weights you're able to work that muscle harder through flexion and extension.
The other aspect to this is that by moving more outside of the gym, you're going to cause blood to move more freely to every corner of your body. Lots of people do experience resistance from various muscles, especially in the lower half of their body because of poor blood flow. Active recovery can help fix this, which is why you see so many cyclists with sick calves!
It's important that your active recovery is submaximal for this purpose, otherwise the muscles will become overly fatigued and tighten. Even after less intensive exercise it is still good practice to stretch for even further elasticity!
4) Improved Blood Flow
Throughout this article I've referred to the value of improved blood flow for lactate buffering and nutrient transportation. However, there are also other benefits to encouraging the flow of blood throughout your body with active recovery, specifically for muscle growth.
In the gym when you're doing one of my crazy Dramatic Transformation Principle (DTP) workouts, you need an extreme level of cardio conditioning to cope, which means your capillary network needs to be in good working order. With age, you can experience a gradual buildup within your arteries, and increasing blood flow can help “cleanse” your capillary network of this blockage. For that, your cardiac health will improve, which makes for better performance in the weight room! To help further assist with this, even at rest, I suggest taking Kaged Muscle Pure Citrulline, which acts as an optimal blood vasodilator. I like to take around eight grams daily.
5) Cortisol Regulation
Active recovery done outside is very relaxing and mentally stimulating, which can increase the level of endorphins in your blood stream. This goes some way to improving your overall mood. It is this response that helps reduce cortisol (your stress hormone) because by feeling happier your body feels less stressed!
What has this got to do with muscle growth? Cortisol can be highly catabolic in high amounts, which is why it is so important that you gain control of it. Lots of highly stressed people suffer with poor recovery and catabolism because of this.
The benefits of active recovery are clear, especially for muscle growth. The important thing to nail is frequency through finding something you enjoy doing regularly. It's always good to get outside when you can because there are other benefits to be had by being in the great outdoors. But above all else, you should be doing three to four active recovery sessions per week that last anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes long.
If you're not confident enough to take the plunge yourself, then join a local sports team or club that participates in the discipline you enjoy. Experience has shown me that the impact active recovery has on your muscle growth is undeniable. IM