Active Rest? It makes no sense to me!
Counter-intuitive is a cool word. It’s also a funny word because it really means, “This crap don’t make no sense.” The sports term active rest, is both counterintuitive and paradoxical; how does one rest actively? The term has two specific meanings for us runners.
1. If our training is starting to wear us down, we need to rest without losing our fitness;
2. If we are injured, we need to keep base fitness as we recover (and not make things worse).
In both cases, active rest is a beautiful and logical idea.
Let’s go back about 15 years, before I knew about active rest and see how stupid I was. I hurt my hamstring. I don’t know why. I received no warning. I wasn’t doing repeat sprints on a frozen lake in the middle of the winter without warming up! I simply wrote a cheque that my hamstring – that long muscle down the back of our thigh – couldn’t cash.
I took two weeks off running, thinking I would be healed, wrong! Damn, apparently I needed a lot more rest. Since it was winter, I got a great idea. I’ll rest the hamstring for two months and start fresh in the early spring.
Hallelujah, and pass the mashed potatoes!
It was early March when I went out for an easy jog to test my hopefully newly healed leg. I made it 200 yards before I felt the same tightness and soreness as before. The hammy had not improved at all. I walked home and started to whimper, when my leg began talking to me. “Of course I’m not any better, you cretin! I need exercise. I need range of motion. I need blood flow. I need (ta da!) active rest!”
My problem was that I had simply put my injured leg into suspended animation, and it came out exactly as it had gone in, hurt! My leg needed accelerated blood flow, WHILE it was being used, without reinjuring it. Blood is full of nutrients and junk, y’know? Hold on – I’m going to Google the word, blood…
Okay, I’m back. There was a bunch of big words I didn’t understand, but blood contains oxygen and eliminates waste products. That sounds good!
Active rest can’t fix every ailment. For a bone on bone knee problem or a torn ligament, solutions lie elsewhere. But for a soft tissue boo-boo, active rest is where it’s at!
I am now going to produce the worst analogy in written history. My last article for RF was about the love affair between running and beer, so this analogy fits.
Active rest is a lot like the ol’ hair-of-the-dog. Let’s say you have ruined your morning by drinking too much the night before. You have “hurt” yourself. Some would argue the best solution is some “hair of the dog that bit you.” In other words, a little more booze. This life-saving concoction usually takes the form of a drink called the Bloody Mary. Is it a coincidence that this healing cocktail has the word blood in it, the exact same ingredient in active rest? I don’t think so. It’s all about blood, baby. (I told you it was a sketchy analogy, but you get the drift.)
All of the vampire runners who read RF have just perked up? Vampire runners never get injured, and they owe it all to a steady diet of blood. You know that jogger you see running, but only at night. Isn’t it odd he never shows up at any morning road races? You know why? Because he’s a vampire that’s why. He’s a menacing monster in shorts, he’s the running undead!
Of course, I must admit he could also be just a guy who runs at night, but I digress...
So when your calf blows up, or your hammy explodes, or your I.T. band snaps, have a pity party. Get drunk, eat some cheese and take a couple days off from any exercise. Draw a bubble bath of regret and take up residence in your tub with an assortment of chocolates, crisps and beer. But then pick yourself up off the floor and start some active rest!
When you can walk without pain, walk. When you can mix a few light jogs in, do so. When it doesn’t hurt to stretch, stretch. Isometric rubber bands will help you exercise your hurt hammy: tie one end of the band around a heavy sofa-leg and the other around your ankle. Lie on your stomach and slowly, carefully pull your ankle up to your rear-end. Congratulations! You are on the mend and on your way back... But, please don’t make the mistake I did by sitting on me bum and expecting a miracle. It won’t work!
Mysterious Coach Carvey lives in the USA and has never actually been seen by anyone. Investigate him further at: www.carveyrunningtips.com