“Soft Workouts”: Using Workouts to Recover From Workouts

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“Soft workout” is a name that I gave to movement sessions that follow a more intense movement effort from the previous day.  Ideally a person will find a way to move around every single day, no matter how significant that movement is.  Just find a way to get up and get the blood flowing.

Today, my body is feeling the effects of yesterdays Thanksgiving Day Workout.

I have to admit that besides the high volume, it was a phenomenal training session.  It reminded me of my college hockey days when we would have “bag skate” conditioning sessions.  Your lungs were in your throat and it was hard to bend your knees beyond the lockout position, but finishing the practice strong gave you a sense of accomplishment.

725 reps is an accomplishment (at least I think it is)

Here is how long it took me to finish the workout:

Thanksgiving Day Workout Time

A shade over 24 minutes.  Not bad in my mind.

A few observations things:

  1. Multiple breaks were needed to gather myself and ensure exercise technique was satisfactory.
  2. Vertical Pulling (chin ups) were the weak exercise, which is why I ordered them first in the sequence.
  3. 10 pistols on each leg is draining.
  4. Push Ups were the easiest of the exercises.
  5. Keeping the kettlebell swing rep scheme below 10 reps allowed for focus on aggressive hip extension (“hip snap”).
  6. Push Ups and kettlebell swings felt like filler exercises.
  7. Full burpees will jack up your heart rate as fast as any other exercise on the planet, and all you need is your body and a motivated attitude.
  8. One ascent through the rep scheme is more than enough.
  9. My muscles failed me before my cardiovascular did.
  10. This kind of training is too much to sustain over the long-term, or ever.  Special occasions only.
  11. Hardly any equipment was needed, almost completely portable.

The ascending reps was kick ass.  Early on in the workout I  enjoyed transitioning from movement to movement, turning my mind off to the exercise that I just finished and turning it on to the next exercise.  It kept the session fresh and interesting.

As the reps continued to increase beyond 5+, it began to feel more like a traditional training session where a certain amount of time is spent at a station/exercise before moving on to the next.  By the time  I arrived at 8, 9, 10 reps of pistol squats, my body was showing serious signs of fatigue.  Most of the rest breaks that were taken during pistol squats.

When you’ve accumulated massive amounts of fatigue, the execution of pistol squats (which is takes balance, strength and alignment for successful completion) becomes extremely challenging.  Each rest period last no longer than 15-20 seconds to regain composure and move forward.

All in all, it was a burn out session.  As I mentioned in the previous post, most of my workouts are nothing like yesterday’s massacre.  Typically they are short burst but well managed in the fatigue department.  However, testing will power is also important to me and the human body is capable of withstanding a lot more stress than we think.

I deemed the structure of the workout to be safe for my fitness and technical know-how, so the only thing left was mental will power to keep going despite being wiped.

Now let’s talk “soft workouts” for a second.

For me, soft workouts are sub-maximal physical efforts that are a full body experience with the intent to recover, repair and restore.

Again, they are heavy in taking joints through a full range of motion and contain movements that address all planes of possible movement.  Since stumbling on Ido Portal’s ground based tumbling drills, I tend to crawl around for the majority of these sessions.  Alignment and bodily tension at key points make the drills serve a valuable purpose, not to mention I am typically sore from the previous days effort.

Also, I have to say that low load Turkish Get Ups are amazing the day after a tough workout.  The Turkish Get Up accomplishes so much in one exercise.  It really packs a massive punch.  Joints are taken through a wide range of motion through several planes and the core is constantly under tension and challenged in these same planes of movement.  Low load Turkish Get Ups will give you a chance to focus on technique.  It gives you a chance to slow the drill down and be in the movement, every single segment on the way up to the top and on the way back down to the bottom.

Each phase of the movement can be held for a brief period of time to re-train strength and stability in various positions.  It’s important to be strong and stable throughout a wide range of motion.

Again, I consider low load Turkish Get Ups to be a perfect “soft workout” exercise.

Although you may be sore heading into a “soft workout”, you’ll find that engaging in full range of motion movement will relieve much of this soreness and deliver nutrients where it’s needed.  Nutrient delivery equals repair and recovery.

A soft workout can also include other movements like push ups, dive bombers, bodyweight squats, jump rope, inverted rows, resistance bands training, walking, etc.

If you have a suspension trainer, adjust your body position so that the angles are less vertical to your anchor point, which reduces the amount of load for each rep.  Take each exercise through a full range of motion with this lightened load.

Aerobic activity is also great for “soft workouts”.  I leverage my Schwinn Airdyne all of the time to serve this purpose.  Biking is low impact and mindless.  If you have access to an Airdyne, you get the benefit of dual action upper and lower body engagement.  Now you can flush your upper extremities also as you push and pull the arms.  During an aerobic bike session, my heart rate elevates to a manageable level (as verified by my Polar HR monitor) and I can watch hockey on my iPad while I do spin to pass the time.

What’s better than that?

The only rule is keep the volume and intensity low, which is essentially the opposite of what took place in the previous days workout, right?  Keep the volume and intensity low.  You’re recovering actively so that you can engage yourself in purposeful workouts once again in the coming days.

“Soft workouts” also include a boatload of soft tissue work using the foam roller, lacrosse ball and tiger tail hand massager.  High volume/high intensity workouts can cause significant muscular damage, so working to increase blood flow to these areas will speed up recovery and reduce soreness.

After soft tissue work, I highly suggest a quick session of yoga or static stretching to change the length of the muscle after we worked hard to change the density during massage.  I continue to value static stretching, despite the digital fist fights breaking out all over the internet about it’s effectiveness.  I feel better after long duration static stretching.  At this point post-athletic career, if it makes me feel better, I do it.

If you find value in something, do it.  If it’s important do it every single day.

Unless you’re using athletics to earn your living, static stretching is probably also a good choice for you.  Any reduction in muscular power from holding stretches for longer periods of time will probably go unnoticed in your performance.

If you’re stiff and stretching makes you feel great afterwards, why the hell not?

After a “soft workout” I hydrate like a maniac.  Cold ass water and lots of it.  Actually, let me rephrase that, I hydrate like a maniac before, during and after a “soft workout”.  I also make sure that I consume a protein based shake at some point.  The shakes that I leverage are similar to what Precision Nutrition has designed.

There is a ton of nutrition in these shakes, and quite frankly, I am thankful that I am aware of how effective they are because nutrition is the foundation of all.

If you’re thinking about getting into liquid nutrition, I suggest getting a decent blender.  I prefer mine so thick they are one level before the need to use my teeth to consume.  If they are thick, it feels like they have substance.

I use a Ninja blender, which works great (yes I know it’s an “as seen on tv” product).  A lot of liquid nutrition advocates and professional chefs recommend blending with a Vitamix.  If you have the money, go with the Vitamix.  The Vitamix is industrial strength and will blend anything with ease.  You could probably liquify a Ninja blender inside of a Vitamix if you wanted to.

Bottomline:  If you just want a kick ass blender and need to allocate money elsewhere, buy the Ninja.

“Soft workouts” are an essential piece of the fitness pie.  But they need to remain soft.  It’s important that we don’t take unnecessary steps backward because we seek the adrenaline of insane workouts all of the time.  Give your body a chance to repair itself instead.  Work low load movements and make sure that your nutrition is on point.  You’ll be fine.

Cheers to recovering from 725 reps!



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