Active Recovery

Why you should always be moving, even on your rest days from the gym.

What is Active Recovery?

Don’t waste your rest days just sitting on the couch. Active recovery helps you bounce back from your workouts faster and perform stronger going into your next workout.

Active recovery is a low-intensity activity that promotes blood flow to the muscles helping you to recover. While binging on your favorite Netflix series may sound enticing, it may not be the best answer for your body. Although it sounds contradictory, being active can help your achy muscles recover from an intense workout better than no movement at all.

High-intensity activity and strength training can result in stiff and sore muscles or muscle fatigue the next day. Active recovery can help relieve soreness, and may also improve performance.

What causes post-workout muscle soreness (DOMS)?

Muscle fatigue is caused by accumulating lactic acid in the tissue. Additionally, inorganic phosphate increasing during fatigue as creatine phosphate in the tissue is broken down is a major cause of muscle fatigue.

The stiffness you wake up with the day (or two days) after a workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is the pain and stiffness that begins a day or two after a workout. Your muscles feel tender to the touch or have a reduced range of motion. Other symptoms of DOMS are swelling, fatigue, and short-term loss of muscle strength. It’s caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Your body responds to these tears by increasing inflammation, leading to the next day’s achiness. DOMS happens to almost everyone, from beginners to elite athletes. It strikes most often when you increase your workout intensity or try new kinds of exercise your body isn’t used to.

Benefits of active recovery:

Active recovery workouts offer numerous benefits to your body. The goal is to mix medium-to-high-intensity training with some low-intensity active recovery days throughout the week. A 2018 study analyzing post-workout recovery techniques found that active recovery has numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased blood flow through the affected muscles
  • Eliminating metabolic waste such as lactic acid and hydrogen ions
  • Reducing soreness
  • Maintaining your exercise routine without burning out on intense training
  • It may also help to prevent injuries

Active recovery vs Passive recovery.

Planning active recovery on a rest day is a good way to give yourself a break without laying out on the couch.

Active recovery after a workout (going for a walk, rowing super slow, continuing to pedal slowly on the bike) allows the heart rate to slowly decrease. Doing it on a rest day will elevate your heart rate, slightly, but doesn’t add joint stress that comes with strength training, cardio, or HIIT.

Passive recovery, on the other hand, is the days for binge-watching. Taking it easy helps you bounce back on low recovery days and it helps injuries to heal. Passive recovery may be more helpful after short, repetitive high-intensity exercise, such as CrossFit, but active recovery may be a better option after other types of workouts, like running, swimming, or an athletic event/competition. 

Types of active recovery:

There is more than one way to look at active recovery. It’s something to do on a rest day, between interval sets, and during cooldowns. Some light activity between workout days, such as going for a walk/hike, taking a leisurely bike ride, or doing yoga, will help increase blood flow without the intensity of a workout.

Interval recovery (things like walking/dancing between intervals) can help you recover faster. The American Council on Exercise found that athletes recover faster when continuing to move between sets than standing still or sitting down during the recovery interval.

Cooling down after a workout means not halting immediately after a workout. A cool-down walk/row will allow you to gradually return to a restful state. Cooldowns include dynamic stretches, walking, cycling, and foam rolling.

Seven active recovery workouts:

  1. Steady-state cardio such as walking or jogging are easy ways to slow down your heart rate after a workout, or to warm up stiff muscles on a rest day.
  2. Swimming is a low-impact activity that may help reduce inflammation.
  3. Biking/Hiking increases blood circulation without challenging sore muscles.
  4. Yoga lengthens muscles and tendons and helps develop better mobility.
  5. Light resistance training using small weights or bodyweight (air squats, lunges).
  6. Dynamic stretching and mobility workouts for hips and core can help prevent soreness by helping to flush lactic acid (Saturday Mobility class, ROMWOD).
  7. Self-myofascial release with a foam roller is a way to massage overworked muscles and increase blood flow to the area in order to alleviate soreness.

In Conclusion, we recommend taking 1-2 active rest days per week and one FULL rest day. On your active rest days, go for a hike, play baseball with your kids, take a stroll on the lake walk, or go for a swim. On your full rest days, relax, watch a movie, perform daily tasks without worrying about being active or “getting a workout in”. Typically, most people use Sunday as their “rest day” and use the extra time to prepare meals, read, journal, spend time with their families and prepare for the week. 

Active Recovery

Set Up Your Free Discovery Call

What Would You Like To Explore?