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The Recovery Day



foam rollerRecovery is a critical component of any sound training program and there are many ways it can be implemented. One can recover more passively via total rest or getting bodywork done (i.e. massage), or more actively through a variety of low to moderate intensity activities.

Personally speaking, passive recovery days have rarely worked well for me. They always tend to leave me feeling physically and mentally sluggish. Over time I’ve found that I received more benefit using an active approach that combines a low intensity resistance training circuit along with different flexibility techniques. This “Activation Session” creates a full body stimulus without placing too much stress on the musculoskeletal or bioenergetic systems.

I highly recommend doing this type of session away from the gym environment to avoid the temptation of morphing this activation session into a full-blown workout (i.e. “I’ll just do ONE set of Bench Press”…. and then its “off to the races!”).


Here the basic 5-part format which you can modify to suit your preferences.

1. Dynamic Warm-ups: These consist of dynamic movement patterns to create active flexibility, increase blood flow, and cause a slight elevation in tissue temperature. Examples are marching in place (with knees forward, as well as externally and internally rotated), stepping side to side etc. I also perform shoulder rolls, shoulder abduction, and various other upper body movement patterns.

2. Movement Prep: These are more athletic style warm-ups that are performed moving across the floor at a moderate pace. Examples are “Toy Soldiers”; high knee marching, skipping, knee hug walks etc.

3. Self Myofascial Release (SMR): Though traditionally performed first in a training session, I prefer SMR after some gentle movement to get the initial “kinks” out. I begin by rolling a tennis ball under my feet to release the plantar fascia. This is followed by foam rolling the Calves, Hamstrings, Glutes, IT band, Quads, Lats, and Rhomboids/Mid Traps.

4. Activation Resistance Training Circuit
This is the heart of the “Activation Session”. I primarily utilize bodyweight and elastic resistance using a door anchor for many exercises. Besides being extremely portable and versatile, elastic resistance is very easy on the joints. Since this is a recovery day you want to minimize joint stress while still activating the muscles.

Here is a sample Activation Resistance Training Circuit. You can substitute or eliminate any of the exercises to fit your specific recovery needs:

Note: Anchor Resistance Bands on hinge side of door and lock the deadbolt.
1. R.B. (Resistance Band) Wood Chops
2. Kneeling R.B. Straight Arm Pull-downs
3. Split Stance R.B. Chest Flyes
4. COMBO: Bodyweight Squat w/ R.B. Rows
5. COMBO: Alternating Forward lunge w/ R.B. Chest Press
6. R.B. Curls
7. R.B. Reverse Grip Triceps Kickbacks
8. R.B. Side Delt raises

The key is to use just enough resistance to feel a mild contraction while focusing intensely on each movement to create a strong mind-muscle connection. I typically perform between 15-20 total repetitions per exercise and work through the circuit one time only.

The above circuit works all of the primary movement patterns of push, pull, rotation, bilateral lower body, unilateral lower body. Additionally there is elbow flexion, elbow extension, and shoulder abduction.

Besides stimulating the muscles and enhancing blood flow throughout the body, this type of circuit also produces active flexibility through a neurological process called “Reciprocal Inhibition”. This occurs when the prime mover muscle (the agonist) contracts causing an inhibitory response of the antagonistic muscle. For example when you do a biceps curl the triceps is essentially “turned off”.

5. Static Stretching: I use this part of the session to focus on whatever needs the most attention. If I did a tough lower body workout the day before I will tend to focus on stretches for that area of the body and so on.

So next time you have a recovery day but want a more active routine that will leave all of your muscles feeling balanced and energized you might want to take this activation session for a spin!


Scott Fishkind is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer/NESTA Certified IMPACT instructor near Nashville TN

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