Warming Up and Active Recovery: Critical For Weekend Warriors and the Aging Athlete

Athletics have always played an important role in my life. I have consistently found a way to stay competitive throughout my clinical training and even now with current practice demands. One thing I have begun to notice, especially with impending real world obligations, is exercise is harder to recover from. Some of the most important strategies I have sometimes reluctantly started to practice are properly warming up, cooling down, and participating in active recovery. Now, I rarely gave this much time or thought in my younger days but more recently I have found this to be helpful in muscle soreness and energy levels for future training sessions. I find that beginning your exercise routine with light range of motion movements that mimic the activity you’re going to perform. This helps prime the muscles, tendons, and ligaments as well as the nervous system. After you’re done your training session, static stretching can help lengthen tissues that are typically shortened during exercise. This approach does not have to be lengthy or arduous. This will only typically add 10-15 minutes to your routine and keep you injury free in the long run. Typically, I like to utilize a circuit approach to my warm up. In order to put together a proper circuit, pick 5-7 movements and perform each for 5-10 repetitions. This can include many different exercises. We have broken them down based on skill and impact as follows:

Beginner: Arm circles forward and backward, raising the arms overhead repeatedly, hip circles in both directions, and marching in place. 

Intermediate: Squats, jumping jacks, large arm circles, trunk twists from side to side, and hip circles while the arms are supported.

Advanced: Leg swings forward and backward, leg swings side to side, fire hydrants forward and backward, cat/camels, lying press-ups, and twisting forward/backward lunges. 

As with any exercise program, start conservatively and progress as tolerated by your body. Remember, this is only to warm-up! You should break a light sweat and feel more mobile after this routine. It should not leave you exhausted. 

But what about the days where you’re pressed for time or are too sore from a previous, tough workout?

These can be the days where active recovery is utilized. Active recovery can be any form of exercise but generally entails submaximal loads, progressions, or movements. Historical thinking leads us to believe that increased blood flow to injured tissues (the muscles you work are a considered “injured”) leads to the reduction of metabolic waste and quicker recovery. While this may not be completely wrong, there are other mechanisms at play that revolve around the immune system including the white blood cells.

Previous studies have detailed the negative, immune suppressing effects of rigorous training in both endurance athletes and footballers leading to a high rate of infections in both. This is a critical portion of why adequate rest and recovery are so important in enhancing physical and mental recovery. In the healthy, everyday trainee, complete rest from activity may not be any more or less beneficial than staying active.

Neutrophils are white blood cells that typically act as a “first defense” mechanism against microorganisms. They also help maintain balance or homeostasis by reacting to various forms of stress, either induced by exercise, outside pathogens, or lifestyle factors. The study we looked at primarily detailed rugby players and their mental and physical response following a tough match. It showed that there was no difference in returning the neutrophil markers back to normal when rest vs. active recovery was detailed. This study also demonstrated that typically with active recovery, the player’s mental health markers improved. 

Recovery encompasses many factors. It is important to properly warm up and cool down from exercise to prevent excessive tissue damage and lingering muscle soreness. In the event vigorous exercise leaves you sore, an active approach to your rest days may be more beneficial, but primarily from a mental perspective. Keep your training smart!

Source: Suzuki, M et al. “Effect of incorporating low intensity exercise into the recovery period after a rugby match.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004; 38: 436-440

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our sports medicine experts, please call us at 609-588-8600 or email pssmnj@gmail.com. We are centrally located in Lawrenceville, NJ, right off Rt 1 and about 1.5 miles from the Quaker Bridge Mall. We serve the Mercer County area including Princeton, West Windsor, East Windsor and Hamilton.

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