ACTIVE Recovery

Gabriel J. Wilson, M.S., CSCS and Jacob M. Wilson, M.S., CSCS

Maximizing Performance and Recuperation for Bigger Gains

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Boxing legend George Foreman was unique in the sport in that he would stand between rounds. Some may consider that counterintuitive—if the goal is to recover between rounds, why would George expend more energy by staying on his feet?

 

His method is known scientifically as “active recovery” and involves performing light physical activity between sets or workouts. It’s the opposite of “passive recovery,” which involves relaxation, such as sitting down in a chair.

Both techniques are meant to improve performance and recovery. Evidence indicates, however, that active recovery between rounds may have given George an edge over his opponents. Active recovery can work for bodybuilders as well, at three distinct times: between sets, postworkout and between workouts.

Active Recovery
Between Sets

The classic “burn” you feel between sets is caused by an accumulation of lactic acid, a by-product of anaerobic metabolism, which results in a decrease in weightlifting performance and, finally, an end to it. Decreasing pH reduces the activity of enzymes, lowers white blood cell count and nutrient transporters, and slows muscular contraction and ATP production.

It follows that in order to optimize performance, the goal should be to maximize lactic acid clearance. The most effective way to do that is through aerobic metabolism, providing ample oxygen to the muscles so they can clear lactic acid from the blood.

Studies indicate that the most effective way to accomplish that is with low intensity exercise—30 to 40 percent of your VO2 max.1,2 Exceeding that intensity risks crossing your lactate threshold and actually producing more lactic acid; lower intensity will minimize oxygen delivery to the muscles. So if you feel a deep burn in your muscles during active recovery, you likely need to lower your intensity.

The effectiveness of active recovery over passive recovery between sets has been demonstrated in sprinters and weightlifters, among other athletes. An excellent example was an experiment reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Fifteen experienced resistance-trained males performed weight workouts consisting of six sets of parallel squats at 85 percent of their 10-repetition maximum. The participants recovered for four minutes between sets with either passive sitting or low-intensity exercise on a stationary bicycle. After that workout participants performed a maximal-repetition squat test using 65 percent of their 10-rep maximum. The athletes engaging in active recovery were able to do 20 percent more repetitions than athletes who engaged in passive recovery between sets. No wonder George was able to smash all his opponents.

The typical bodybuilding workout involves taking short rest periods—less than one minute between sets. For variation, however, many bodybuilders implement a “heavy” day in their split or focus on progressive resistance with a few key lifts, such as squats. During those days maximal loads are lifted—greater than 85 percent one-rep maximum—and longer rest periods are taken, usually three to five minutes between sets. On heavy training days, when the primary goal is to increase your strength, active recovery will prove most helpful.

Optimally, you perform active recovery specific to the muscle group trained. For example, if you’re training legs, you might walk around between sets or use a stationary bike. If you’re training delts, you might use the elliptical, or lightly shake your arms around between sets.

Active Recovery Postworkout

The goal of postexercise active recovery—commonly known as the cooldown—is similar to active recovery between sets: lactic acid removal. The half-life of lactic acid is normally 15 to 25 minutes after physical activity; however, lactic acid may return immediately to baseline after a single cooldown session. That’s important, as a cooldown performed immediately after exercise can reduce the decline in white blood cell count by a whopping 30 percent, effectively promoting a healthy immune system. That’s particularly applicable to the bodybuilder whose high-volume workouts may impair immune function in the hours following training. Lastly, active recovery can be very useful for bodybuilders training twice daily, so they recover faster for their second session.


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In-the-Gym GH Blast

Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson

In-the-Gym GH Blast

Power partials done at the end of a regular set, six-inch pulses right at the semistretch point, can give your workout a whole new feel—for example, pulsing near the bottom of a chinup when no more full-range reps are possible. Those end-of-set X Reps force the target muscles to continue to fire after the nervous system balks. That’s what makes X Reps such a powerful muscle-building tool, ultimate intensity and overload. Plus, the muscle burn you get is one of the best ways to stimulate surges in growth hormone.

Clean Machines?

Jerry Brainum

Clean Machines?

Since disease transmission in the gym seems possible—sweat could serve as a car­rier of pathological microbes and viruses—a recent study checked equipment in two gyms for disease-causing organisms. The machines examined were disinfected twice a day.

The study revealed the presence of bacterial contamination on both aerobic and weight-training equipment. The good news, however, was that none of the bacteria had any pathogenic potential; in short, none could cause disease. The situation with viruses wasn’t as uplifting. Fully 63 percent of hand-contact equipment showed the presence of rhinoviruses. Weight-training equipment was significantly more contaminated than aerobic machines (73 percent compared to 51 percent). That was because less disinfectant was used on barbells and dumbbells than on machines. In addition, viruses persist longer on nonporous surfaces, such as the steel of weights, than on porous materials.

Belt Up to Blast Off?

Jerry Brainum

Belt Up to Blast Off?

When I began training more than 40 years ago, it seemed that every person in the gym wore a lifting belt—even on exercises that didn’t require extra lower-back support. Maybe wearing the belt constantly was a way to avoid leaving an expensive leather belt behind—or maybe it was because by cinching the belt tight, the user appeared to have a smaller waist than he really did.

Get a Grip

Charles Poliquin

Get a Grip

Q: You always talk about using different grips. Trouble is, I don’t have the imagination to think of them. I would like to know what these different grips do. For instance, what grips can I use while doing dumbbell or barbell curls? How about pull­ups and pulldowns?

A: You have basically nine permutations of grip positions per upper-body exercise and three forearm-orientation positions: supinated (palms up), neutral (semisupinated, anatomical, hammer) and pronated (palms down). You can multiply them by the three grip widths: narrow, medium and wide. However, not all grips are ergonomically correct; for example, you couldn’t do narrow supinated bench presses or wide pronated barbell curls without seriously compromising the joint integrity of your elbows and wrists.

Young Jedi of Nutrition

Ron Harris

Young Jedi of Nutrition

In the Internet age, word spreads lightning-fast. In less than two years Justin Harris has gained a loyal following and earned a reputation as a man who can get anybody in shape. Just 26 years old and himself a national-level superheavyweight competitor, Harris has amassed a stable of athletes who have been consistently showing up shredded, from first-timers competing in local shows to seasoned veterans at the national level vying for professional status.