The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. You can’t really plan to avoid injury. If only that were possible.
What you can do is plan your exercise routine to minimize the chances of injury, but minimizing that risk is really all you can do. You can’t truly plan to avoid injury. However, Plan Your Exercise Routine to Minimize the Chance of Injury was a bit much for a post title, thus you get the misnomer at the top.
Yesterday I posted about how I was intentionally taking a day of active recovery. I took a couple of short walks (probably 3-4k in total over the course of the day), and I completed a bodyweight exercise workout of moderate intensity, but aside from that, I took it easy.
After reading that post a colleague commented that, in effect, they were a little relieved to see me taking a recovery day because I’ve been pushing pretty hard, and at a distance it seemed like I could probably use one.
For starters: they were right! I had been pushing hard, too hard. In particular, getting an exercise bike and then using it 4 days in a row was a bit much, especially when compounded by the swimming I did on two of those days.
That comment reminded me of a principle I try to follow (obviously imperfectly) but have never really talked about: active recovery is built into my exercise program as designed.
How Do I Think About Active Recovery
First, I should say that I’m not an exercise physiologist. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. What follows is my opinion based on experience and some limited reading I’ve done on the subject. So please don’t take the following as medical advice or even an expert opinion. It’s just the opinion of some guy who likes to exercise and has hurt himself enough times to have built in some safeguards to try and minimize that risk.
I think of active recovery as intentionally giving specific muscle groups and joints a chance to rest while engaged in exercise that targets different muscle groups and joints.
For example, if I run one day, then swimming the next day would be active recovery. Similarly, if I do a hard pull-up workout, then I’ll avoid other “pull” exercises for a day or two, instead engaging in core, leg, or “push” exercises.
So that’s the gist. The idea of active recovery is to (a) allow specific muscle groups and joints a chance at recovery while (b) remaining active by exercising different muscle groups and joints.
How Do I Plan Active Recovery
The workouts that make up my exercise plan can be broken into two groups:
- Bodyweight exercise workouts: ~30 minute workouts I complete 5 days a week, largely based on the workout programs in Mark Lauren’s book, You Are Your Own Gym.
- Cardio: 30-60 minute workouts I complete 4-6 days a week, consisting of either spinning (indoor cycling), swimming, or running.
So how do I build active recovery into the process? Simple: I avoid doing the same thing two days in a row. Let me explain.
The bodyweight exercise program I use breaks exercises into four groups:
- “Push” exercises, the most classic example of these being the standard pushup.
- “Pull” exercises, the most classic example of these being the standard pull-up.
- Leg exercises
- Core exercises
The way You Are Your Own Gym is set up, you only complete exercises in one of those four groups each day. So, my 5-day-a-week workout program looks like this:
- Monday: Push exercises
- Tuesday: Leg exercises
- Wednesday: Pull exercises
- Thursday: Core exercises
- Friday: A quick HIIT workout that hits my entire body.
I then rest Saturday and Sunday (usually). So as you can see, active recover is built into my bodyweight exercise program. I am working out 5 days a week, but I don’t target the same muscles any two days in a row (with the exception of Thursday and Friday where I am likely to hit core exercises on both days).
Next, let’s talk cardio. For cardio I run, swim, or bike. While my bodyweight exercise routine is established, my cardio routine is very much a work in progress.
Historically, the only cardio I’ve done over the past 18 months has been to run once per week. I decided to add biking and swimming within the past month or so, but only added them in earnest in the past week.
Conceptually, what’s going to happen is that I’m going to do cardio 5-6 days a week, but never repeat the same exercise on back-to-back days. Thus, within 30-60 days, I expect my cardio program to look something like this:
- Monday: bike or swim
- Tuesday: run
- Wednesdsay: bike or swim
- Thursday: run
- Friday: bike or swim
- Saturday: run
- Sunday: rest
I suspect in a typical week, I’ll miss one of those days due to whatever is going on in my life, and as a result, I’ll likely only actually get in 5 days.
So when you put the two programs together you end up with a program where Monday-Friday I’ll be doing a ~30 minute bodyweight exercise workout and 30-60 minutes of cardio, but where I don’t repeat any exercises on back-to-back days, and then I’ll toss in a long run on the weekend.
Listening to My Body
In the end, my body is going to be my ultimate source of truth about how much recovery I need. While I have a plan in mind, my body will have the right to overrule my plans if they’re too ambitious.
I think the plan I’ve come up with is a good balance of recovery and variety and really only amounts to 60-90 minutes of time spent working out every day. I think the key for me in the next 30-60 days is to take it slow and be really careful about not overdoing it as I ramp up my cardio frequency. The bodyweight exercise portion I’m not concerned about, I’ve been doing that for 18 months, but the cardio is new, and something I need to bring on gradually and at low intensity.
Biking 4 days in a row (as I did between Sunday-Wednesday) is a pretty direct affront to my stated plan of not doing the same cardio exercises on back-to-back days. On top of that, on two of those days I layered on swimming as well. That’s why yesterday was an active recovery day. I biked again today, but I’m going to force myself to stay off the bike this weekend and then pace myself a little more evenly beginning Monday and make sure I stick by my plan to build active recovery into my normal routine.
Photo by Benedikt Geyer on Unsplash