Written by: Holly Haas
Are your muscles sore and achy from a long run, maybe a HIIT workout, an intense day at the gym or sports event? Workouts and activities such as these, and many more, place heavy pressure and demands on our joints, muscles and connective tissue. Give your body the gift of an active recovery day.
Rather than just taking the next day off to relax on the couch, incorporate some low intensity movement to help muscles repair and recover more quickly. Recovery exercise is meant to be slow and gentle enough for muscles to heal. Do not push past 30% of your maximum effort.
Active muscle recovery helps you to:
- prevent injuries
- flush lactic acid to reduce soreness & release tension
- speed up the muscle-rebuilding process by increasing blood flow to muscles and joints
- train smarter overall
Here is a short yoga sequence to enjoy on your active recovery days. No props are required. Just grab a yoga or exercise mat and let’s begin. Use your breath to guide you through each Pose.
1. Child’s Pose
Come to your knees. Bring big toes together to touch. Take knees as narrow or wide as is comfortable. Sit your hips back toward your heels, lay your torso between your thighs, and rest your forehead to the mat. Reach and extend arms overhead, resting forearms on the mat.
Stay here anywhere from 30 seconds up to a few minutes. Now take the bend out of your elbows, crawl fingertips forward and sink back in the hips. Walk both hands to the right, root back through the opposite hip for a nice side stretch. Repeat, walking hands to the left.
2. Cat/Cow & Thread the Needle
Move through several rounds of cat/cow adding in any additional movements that feel good. Suggestions: barrel rolls, hovering child's pose. Come back to a neutral tabletop position. Take your left hand behind your head. As you inhale, reach your elbow to the sky; on your exhale, tap your left elbow to your right forearm. Repeat 3 times. On the last round, reach your hand to the sky (arm straight) and then thread your left arm through and under the right. Come down onto the left side of your face/temple. Crawl your right fingertips forward. Press into the pads of your fingers to spin your chest open, and stack your shoulders. Repeat on the right side.
3. Downward Facing Dog
From hands and knees, spread fingers wide and press firmly and evenly through hands. Tuck toes and lift your hips up and back to downdog. Roll your sitting bones up so your lower back arches into its natural curve, lengthening your spine. Press thighs back; keep knees bent and heels lifted if hamstrings are tight. Release your neck and let your head hang naturally. Shake your head yes and no. Pedal your feet, bending one knee and then the other, slowly press one heel down at a time.
4. Low Lunge with Side Stretch
From downdog, step your right foot forward so knee stacks over ankle, and drop your back knee down coming into a low lunge. Walk your hands up to your front knee. Find a 90/90 lunge where both knees are bent at 90 degrees. Press down through the back shin and top of foot, engage left glute, draw frontal hip points and low ribs toward each other to engage your core. Keep this engagement, and reach arms high. Grab left wrist with right hand. Reach up tall and then side bend to your right to feel a nice stretch through the left hip and side body.
Take hands down, wiggle front foot forward for a longer stance, and then pull hips back to a half splits. Work front knee towards straight and keep hips stacked over back knee. Reach your tail back behind you (think cow spine) and lead with your heart as you fold over your front leg.
Keeping hands to the ground, lunge back into your front knee and reach your heart forward; then pull hips back straightening the front leg into half splits. Flow this 3-5 times. Go back to downdog and repeat on the other side.
Come down to lie on your back. Hug your knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around your shins and curl up into a little ball. Press shins up into arms and arms back into shins. Roll side to side to stretch the low back.
6. Hamstring Stretch
Take your left foot to the floor keeping your knee bent. Interlace your hands behind your right hamstring. Relax your shoulders and gently press your thigh into your hands. Circle your ankle a few times in each direction, point and flex your foot and then bend and straighten your leg several times. Repeat on the left side.
7. Reclined Pigeon or Figure 4 Stretch
Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Gently press your right knee away from you, keeping your foot flexed. Keep your arms by your side and use your left knee to give your right leg a “ride”. Bring legs in towards your chest, rock them side to side - move around and see what feels good. Repeat on the left side.
8. Spinal Twist
Hug your knees into your chest again. Bring knees to stack over hips, shins parallel to the earth. Drop your knees over to the right. Cactus your arms, press your shoulders into the mat, and gaze towards your left hand. Repeat on the left side.
9. Happy Baby
Hug knees into your chest and take them out wide towards your armpits. Reach for the inner or outer edges of your feet. Take soles of your feet toward the sky so shins are vertical. Draw your knees down while you rock side to side.
10. Legs up the Wall
Sit sideways with your hips up against the wall. Swing your legs up the wall as you lie down. Turn your palms to face upward and allow your arms to rest away from your body. Let your legs relax. Legs up the wall helps relieve swollen ankles and varicose veins, restores tired feet or legs, and will leave you feeling amazing!
Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
The great thing about this simple yoga sequence is that you don’t have to wait long to notice the benefits - you’ll feel noticeably better immediately after you’ve finished.
About Holly Haas
Holly, 500-hr RYT, co-owns and operates The Barefoot Haven Yoga Studio in the greater-Milwaukee area. After more than ten years in the Interior Architecture field, she has been lucky enough to switch gears and pursue her passion for yoga through teaching, running her studio and her Instagram page @yogaandchaigirl. In her free time, Holly loves to play tennis and spend time with her husband, two boys and puppy.