Without a doubt, one of the one of the biggest and hotly debated topics on the website, and one of the most frequent questions at LBEB seminars is the subject of "active rest" days and their role in a program. We have a very concrete outlook on active rest days and we catch a lot of flak for it, but we know what works for our athletes, clients, and ourselves: We don't believe in active recovery.
I feel very strongly that active recovery days do not have a role in a true strength program, especially a program for athletes that compete in strength sports. I have found that the Crossfit community is the biggest proponent of active recovery days, ironically, they are usually the athletes that need true recovery the most. let me break it down: The standard Crossfit weekly scheme is 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, one day off. These 2 "off days" are put in there in order for athletes to recover and grow from their workouts, while charging them up for the next few days of training. What we have found is that many gyms prescribe "active recovery" on these rest days. Because of this, athletes go into the box and "hit a quick 15 minute metcon" or "do snatch drills for an hour" (actual quotes). Does that sound like rest to you?
I am a firm believer that people do this two reasons. The first reason is that they are afraid that a day of actual rest will make them lose all of their gains. The second reason is that they do it to simply feed their exercise addiction. That is one of the differences between "exercising" and "training". Exercising usually means you go to the gym and do what you feel like doing, whereas training is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Training involves structure and planning, and actual rest days are part of that plan.
Our most successful athletes and clients are those that can mentally take a break from the gym and be OK with it. We always say that if you WANT to go the gym on your rest days, you aren't hitting it hard enough on your scheduled days. I personally look forward to days off as the week goes on, because I am beating the hell out of my body, and I want to continue to make progress. Some folks do active rest days to "keep their muscles fresh", when in reality the opposite occurs. Your muscles are already beat up, adding more exercise will not make them more fresh, but you know what would? Eating and resting big!
My biggest PR's have come when I have taken days off from the gym, in fact when I went on a cruise in December, I came back and added 25-55lbs to literally ALL of my lifts! That is what true rest can do for you, constantly battering your body and denying it of rest will not get you what you want. You need to become OK with not lifting every day in order to make yourself better.
Now to be clear, active rest is not the same as mobility, we do feel that mobility should be done every day, whether it involves lacrosse balls, foam rollers, flossing bands, or simple body stretches. For some, I recommend doing these at home simply because doing it in the gym is too much temptation and they give in to a workout, or their friends talk them into it (Friends don't let friends skip rest day).
Now I am sure someone is going to come along and say "But but but Rich Froning something something Bulgarian Method", and that's great. Are you Rich Froning? Are you on the gear that the Bulgarians were on? Do you want your body to break? If not, try taking actual rest days in your training, we have all of our athletes and clients do it and it has never brought anything but bigger lifts and recharged bodies. I promise you that.