It’s something you are already doing. Here’s why you should be doing more of it. What you need to know about walking for active recovery.
The workout is complete.
You limp from the change room, grab your things, and limply sit in the car for ten minutes before summoning the energy to turn over the ignition.
As you slowly cruise home, so tired that you can’t even get angry at the waffle-tit that just cut you off, there’s one thought that keeps bubbling up…
How on earth am I going to go back to the gym tomorrow and do another workout?
When it comes to recovering quickly after those brutal workout routines there are the things you already know you should be doing. Eating for performance, is one. Another is making sure you are sleeping like a champ each night.
Of course, the only kind of recovery you are thinking about right now comes in a large pizza box and is to be consumed while prone on the couch. Turn off the phone, cancel all appointments—and be as immobile as possible until some life energy slowly returns to you. (In other words: passive recovery.)
But active recovery, in its many forms, has been shown to drastically cut recovery time over and over again in studies. Whether that means less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or quicker neuromuscular recovery, active recovery gives you the initiative after those pummeling sessions in the gym.
And the one kind you are already sort of doing, but can leverage even more, is walking.
Here’s the deal on why you should start walking for recovery.
The Benefits of Walking for Active Recovery
When it comes to forms of active recovery, walking might not always be the first thing to come to mind.
We tend to take the very act for granted—it’s the form of locomotion that gets us to the kitchen, down the aisles of the grocery store, down the driveway to get the mail.
And because it’s so easy we immediately discard it as a form of athletic recovery.
But some pretty legit stuff happens when we use walking as a weapon for faster recovery:
Clears waste and reduces inflammation. When you are putting one foot in front of the other you are initiating blood exchange between the lower limbs and your heart, which is promoting lymphatic drainage and clearing out systemic waste in your legs and feet.
Helps you recover faster. This is the biggie. As an athlete you know that the real key to success is being able to bounce back after crushing practices quicker than the competition. Walking increases blood flow, helps reduce stiffness, and will help those sore muscles feel a little less sore.
Easiest way to build a bigger cup. Intense conditioning work is usually the way we go when it comes to building a bigger foundation for our training. The fitter we are, the more we can handle the really intense training. But there is so much interval training we can do before we start to get run down. It’s almost impossible to ruin your nervous system by walking too much as it adds very little stress to your body. Walking helps you build a bigger cup, so that you can pour more of the super valuable, high intensity training into it later.
No equipment. Walking requires your legs. That’s it. If you are on the road you can walk up and down the halls of the hotel. If you are miles away from the nearest gym you can go outside—you know, that nature thing?—and walk it out. You don’t need a hot tub, a foam roller, or an EMS machine–just your two feet.
Great for de-stressing. Vigorous exercise is a form of stress. Walking, particularly outdoors and with good company, is a way to reduce stress by gearing down and enjoying some quiet time. I’ve found that walking is a great vehicle for solo reflection. No matter what is going on in your life things will feel a little rosier after a walk.
Helps curb those cravings. For a lot of athletes it’s not the workout routine that is difficult—it’s keeping a grip on their nutrition, especially in the moments after a hard workout when their willpower is basically on fumes. As a result, they turn to supplements, keeping a food journal, and meal prepping in order to stay on top of things in the kitchen. As powerful and proven as those things are, walking can further help the cause by helping to ease those gnarly cravings we all experience. Research out of England’s University of Exeter found that even just a 15-minute walk done daily helped to curb sweet intake by about half.
Your brain appreciates a good stroll. The benefits of walking for physical performance are one thing, but its ability to improve cognitive function is pretty impressive:
- Your working memory is stronger. You might notice that you feel more clear-headed after a short walk. This is your working memory operating more efficiently.
- Reduces anxiety sensitivity. If you are the kind of person who is high-strung, and likes to workout like a madman, life is a bit of a wound-up gongshow. Moderate exercise like walking has been shown in research to drastically help in reducing anxiety and even depression.
- Getting outdoors is good for your brain. As a swimmer I spent years training indoors in dark, chlorinated pools. On the rare occasion we’d get to train at an outdoor pool I simply felt happier. There was something about having the sun on my shoulders that not only made the workout more palatable, but my mood improved. Getting outside is an awesome benefit of walking, and research has even shown that walking outside has been shown to increase self-esteem.
Walking It Out
The only downside to walking is that it can relatively time-consuming. For athletes who are already training 20ish hours a week the thought of having to walk for an additional 20-40 minutes per day feels like a crushing addition to an already crushing schedule.
That being said, if you have time to watch 2-4 hours of television each night, you have time to go for a 30-minute walk.
The next time you step into the house after one of those gangster workouts, once you’ve fueled up with your post-workout shake and meal, hit the pavement for 20-30 minutes with your partner, your dog, or your favorite podcast and walk your way to faster recovery.
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