Soccer Recovery: Train Hard, Recover Harder
Rest is an important exercise. Recovering faster means you can train harder, while maintaining peak performance, and staying injury free.
No, I’m not trying to get philosophical on you – although this concept will help you heal.
Specifically, I’m talking about a type of rest that will help your body heal in ways that it won’t when you spend your off day doing as little as possible.
But don’t worry, this “active rest,” which we’ll refer to as an active recovery, isn’t just another workout.
In fact, an active recovery workout will leave you feeling energized, loose, and ready for another week of soccer training, instead of stiff and unable to move on toward your Goals.
Read on to find out why.
Benefits of an Active Recovery Workout
While becoming a vegetable on your couch on your “off” days might seem like the best thing for your achy body, research suggests otherwise (sigh … I know).
In fact, if you’re experiencing intense soreness from a week of workouts, the best thing you can do to ease the soreness is to keep moving.
This is because being active has been shown to help our body clear out lactic acid – a byproduct of energy production – from our muscles.
Lactic acid is essentially produced as an alternative energy source during intense exercise when the muscles have run low on glucose and oxygen. It’s the reason you get a burning sensation at the end of a set during a workout.
When this lactic acid hangs around, you’re usually sore for 1 to 2 days after a workout. That’s why anything that helps clear it out (like active recovery) will help with post-workout pain.
In addition, active recovery days also increase the circulation of lymph and blood through your body, shuttling much-needed oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells to promote faster and better recovery.
They also help keep your joints lubricated and improve mobility, especially when you add in foam rolling and other stretching exercises, which we’ll get into below.
How to Do an Active Recovery Workout
So what exactly is a recovery workout, and how is it different than a regular bodyweight or interval workout?
Foam Rolling/Self-Myofascial Release
Self-myofascial release (SMFR) and foam rolling are hugely beneficial in helping you get rid of stiffness and soreness.
In essence, foam rolling targets connective tissues between muscles and ligaments called fascia, which become tight when your muscles tighten up. If you’ve ever felt tense little knots deep in your shoulders, you know what I mean.
Loosening and breaking up these knots helps increase mobility and flexibility, improve performance, improve circulation, speed up recovery, and ease soreness.
Stretching is obviously a big component of any active recovery workout. Both static (long hold) stretches and dynamic stretches help decrease soreness and improve range of motion and flexibility.
You can switch up stretches you perform during active workouts depending on how stiff you’re feeling in certain areas, or you can focus on your personal “trouble” areas, like tight hip flexors or glutes.
Bodyweight Exercises and Light Cardio
Bodyweight exercises and light cardio get our blood circulating during our active recovery workout – shuttling much-needed nutrients to sore muscles.
Light cardio also warms up our muscles enough to allow for deep static and dynamic stretches. In a typical active recovery workout, this type of cardio is kept at around 40 percent to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Remember, the Goal here isn’t to push, but to lightly get things moving in the spirit of regeneration.
The Off Day Vs. The Recovery Day
You might be wondering if you truly need an active recovery day or not. While the final answer largely depends both upon your body and training regime, there are a couple guidelines you can follow.
If you’re an avid strength trainer regularly lifting heavy throughout the week (and you’re used to can’t-get-out-of-bed soreness), an active recovery is probably your best bet to continually see strength and metabolic gains.
However, if you’re an endurance athlete going heavy on the cardio, your off day should literally mean off from activity. This will allow your body to regenerate fuel stores and maintain hormonal balance – a must to keep yourself from burnout or adrenal fatigue.
The Best Active Recovery Workout Routine
This active recovery workout combines dynamic stretches with foam rolling and light cardio to get your blood pumping and your muscles nice and refreshed. Be sure to get in a 5-minute dynamic warm up of light bodyweight stretches like lunges and leg swings before getting started.
Step 1: Dynamic Warm Up – 5 minutes
Step 2: Total-body foam roll (if you have time) or high-priority foam roll (sore areas or large muscle groups only) – 2 minutes on each muscle group
Step 3: Exercise & Stretch
Exercise 1: Jog in place – 1 minute
Stretch 1: Low lunge – 1 minute hold on each side (picture below)
Exercise 2: Mountain climbers – 1 minute
Stretch 2: Shoulder and triceps stretch – 2 minutes (1 minute each) (picture below)
Exercise 3: Skater hops – 1 minute
Stretch 3: Seated hamstring stretch – 1 to 2 minutes each leg (picture below)
Exercise 4: Burpees – 1 minute
Stretch 4: Quadriceps-psoas stretch – 1 to 2 minutes each leg (picture below)
Exercise 5: Bodyweight lateral lunges – 1 minute
Stretch 5: Goblet squat hold – 2 minutes (picture below)
Short Active Recovery Workout
If you don’t have much time but still want to squeeze in an active recovery workout, this routine will get the job done. It’s not as thorough as the workout above, but it will hit all your major muscles and leave you feeling refreshed and limber.
Step 1: Dynamic Warm Up – 5 minutes
Step 2: Exercise & Stretch
Exercise 1: Run in place – 1 minute
Stretch 1: Low lunge – 2 minutes (hold 1 minute each leg)
Exercise 2: Mountain climbers – 1 minute
Stretch 2: Seated hamstring stretch – 2 minutes
Exercise 3: Jumping jacks – 1 minute
Stretch 3: Standing hip stretch -1 minute each side. (picture below)
Exercise 4: Skater hops – 1 minute
Stretch 4: Quadriceps-psoas stretch – 2 minutes
Exercise 5: High knees – 1 minute
Stretch 5: Seated groin stretch – 2 minutes
Active Recovery Workouts At Home
Keep in mind that even if you can’t get in a full active recovery workout, just power walking with a few stops in between to dynamically stretch can be considered “active” recovery.
Another great way to speed up your body recovery and alleviate soreness after rigorous matches and dry-land workouts is swimming and deep water running for about 30 minutes after each soccer match. This will not only help loosen your muscles but also increase your core strength and maximize your balance and overall stability.
Aerobic conditioning is crucial for soccer players, and swimming places less stress on joints and muscles than running.
By reducing the friction on joints and the hard impact of running on the ground, deep water running allows players like yourself to train at maximum intensity and avoid further stress on the body.
You can also mix and match exercises and stretches that can be done anywhere, such as running in place/jumping jacks followed by a low lunge stretch.
Follow these up with some self-myofascial release using your hands, as in the video below:
The key is to get your blood pumping and loosen up intense stiffness so that regeneration can occur, so whatever activity does that for you, by all means go for it!
When To Perform Recovery Workouts
If you’re working out 5 to 6 times a week, try making one of those days an active recovery workout day, especially if you’re feeling a lot of soreness.