The best evidence of how much New York City’s current fitness scene needs Rebecca Kennedy’s approach to “active recovery” is the noise that erupted in the room during a recent class when she introduced an exercise that involves using your knee to knead out the knots in your other leg’s calf. Imagine sounds like “Ughhhh!” “Ahhhh!” “Owww!” and, my favorite, “Mommy!”
In a fitness community that increasingly celebrates pushing your body to its physical limits—which can be alternately inspiring and dangerous—the ACCESS method (AKA Athletes’ Connection to Core Endurance Strength and Stretching) is the insider secret to staying in injury-free, flexible shape.
In a fitness community that increasingly celebrates pushing your body to its physical limits, this is the insider secret to staying in injury-free, flexible shape.
It’s where you’ll find Kennedy’s fellow Barry’s Bootcamp instructors stretching out their tight hamstrings alongside marathon runners and Cyc instructors opening up their chests after spending multiple hours a day hunched over a spin bike. “At the end of the day, this was my answer to the question that existed in the industry: Where do we go from here?” she says. “If you want to run faster, lift heavier, stand up taller, not plateau, and avoid injury, ACCESS is that answer.”
Here’s what you need to know about ACCESS—and Kennedy’s method.
It’s all about “active recovery”
Kennedy, a Barry’s Bootcamp star and Nike master trainer, started out as a dancer, and she originally developed and tested ACCESS, in 2014, with dancers in mind since they work their bodies for long, arduous hours. But she quickly realized it could also be helpful for those in the fitness industry who teach and take multiple classes a week and the growing population of workout enthusiasts who hit tough classes (sometimes twice) every day and then sit at a desk for long hours.
She calls the method “active recovery,” and it combines elements like dynamic and static stretching, corrective exercises, joint mobility, and core strengthening to help you move efficiently and prevent common issues related to tight muscles and joints. “I’m making sure people are mobilized for their workouts and not picking up injuries on the way,” she says.
All of the elements have existed for a long time, she explains, but “I’m giving them to you in a class that’s easily digestible and is fun and feels great.” Kennedy thinks the athletic approach especially has value for those who shy away from yoga for one reason or another, and it’s meant to be done before or after a workout—or as a substitute for a recovery day. “This is your new day off,” she says.
What it’s really like
The first half of class, you’re mostly laying on a mat working on core activating exercises that also incorporate stretching and mobility. Think being on your back and dropping your knees from side to side without moving your shoulders off the mat, or variations on bridge pose. There are a few tough ab moves and also more flexibility-focused aspects that open up your hips and chest, for example.
You can also expect exercises that specifically address areas you likely never stretch, like your wrists, ankles, and front of the feet. Or ones tailored to common ailments, like a foot stretch designed to prevent plantar fasciitis. Then of course there’s the self-calf massage, which is basically like using your own body as a foam roller (genius!), and more static stretches you hold at the end.
I felt stiff and sluggish going in and like a new person after—limber and open and just generally leveled out.
Throughout, Kennedy’s sequencing is seamless, with expert cueing and a motivating playlist to distract you from how tight your quads really are.
One of the times I dropped in for the class, I had just returned from a whirlwind trip to California that involved two full days of traveling within three days. I felt stiff and sluggish going in and like a new person after—limber and open and just generally leveled out.
Will recovery finally be cool?
I could also feel how much people in the room appreciated what they were getting, which made me think Kennedy just may be the person to finally make recovery cool, in a way many fitness pros have struggled to do in the past. And either way, she’s setting up lots of runners, lifters, rowers, and cyclists with a set of tools they’ll be able to incorporate into their regular routine in smaller chunks, too.
“In class, I’ll always say, ‘This is something you should do before a run, this is something you should do every time you get off a plane, this is something you should do when you wake up in the morning.'” The question is: Are super-committed athletes ready to listen?