Ask an Expert: Balancing cardio workouts with active recovery

Q: Would it be a bad thing to do daily cardio workouts without any days off? I've been doing about 20 to 50 minutes of cardio a day for the past three months in hope of getting results quickly. I don't want to delay getting my new body, but I also don't want to cause any problems.

Answer from Mike Boggs, BS, MBA, CSCS (certified strength-conditioning specialist), fitness specialist, Providence Fitness Services: 

Nice job on sticking with your cardiovascular program all this time! Your consistency is admirable. However, you asked, is it a bad thing to do a cardio workout every day? The answer is yes, for most people, it is.

I would not recommend repeating an exercise routine without a recovery day or two each week. When incorporated correctly, the recovery component of an exercise program keeps you physically and mentally prepared for your next workout, reduces the chance of overtraining, and decreases the risk of injury. This doesn’t mean that you have to sit on the couch and do nothing all day. Recovery can be active, as long as it gives your body a break from the previous activity.

For example, if you run hard on Monday, let those running muscles recover by lowering the intensity level and doing something different on Tuesday, such as going for an easy walk or taking a yoga class. Active recovery is just that: staying active while allowing your body to recuperate from your previous workout.

Without knowing your exact workout program, it’s difficult for me to give you specific recommendations. However, here are three general guidelines to follow when working out as frequently as you do:

1. Alternate your cardiovascular activities and intensity levels. 
For example: tempo-run on Monday; cycle on Tuesday; run intervals on Wednesday; do an easy walk on Thursday; go for a long run on Friday; do something fun on Saturday (ski, hike, snowshoe); clean house, walk the dog and play with the kids on Sunday.

2. Cross-train with strength and flexibility sessions. 
You didn’t mention whether this was part of your routine, but it should be. To get that “new body,” all components of fitness need to be included in your routine: cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and recovery.

3. Pay attention to nutrition. 
Eat well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water. Nutrition and fluid replacement are as important as active recovery in helping your body recuperate from workouts.

Many people struggle to start an exercise routine or to find time for just three exercise sessions per week. I commend you for finding the time and sticking with your program (loud applause!). However, taking a day or two off each week for active recovery will be more beneficial to your overall health and fitness than doing a strenuous cardiovascular workout every day.

February 2008