Why Active Recovery Should Be Part of Your Workout Routine
You already know that recovery is an important part of any workout plan. Recovery can include foam rolling and stretching, proper post-workout nutrition and hydration, and rest (both in the form of days off and adequate healthy sleep). But not all recovery is passive. Some of yours should be active recovery.
Don’t let the seemingly paradoxical term fool you — active recovery is a legitimate fitness tool. And if you want to optimize your workouts (and feel better doing them), you need to make time for active recovery. What is active recovery? And how do you know if you’re doing it? Keep reading for those answers and more.
What Is Active Recovery?
Active recovery is any low-intensity physical activity that you do after more vigorous exercise or between workouts. The goal of an active recovery workout is not to burn a ton of calories, build muscle, or challenge your endurance.
The purpose of active recovery is to reduce soreness and support mobility.
The Benefits of Active Recovery
In the long run, interspersing active recovery days with more intense training days can help prevent overtraining and overuse injuries. Your body wasn’t designed to test its limits seven days a week. But active recovery workouts offer more immediate benefits, in the form of helping your recovery, says Michael Julom, CPT, founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com.
“Active recovery increases the flow of blood to the muscles and the release of synovial fluid to the joints,” he says. “In both instances, this aids mobility and recovery.”
So, if you’re dragging a bit the day after a particularly tough workout, try a bit of light movement.
Active vs. Passive Recovery
Of course, at times, passive recovery is more appropriate than active recovery. “Passive recovery involves not doing much at all — think old-fashioned bed rest, or as near to it as possible, in a bid to stay as still and stationary as possible,” Julom explains.
If you’re dealing with an injury or illness, passive recovery is often preferable, as even a very gentle active recovery workout could potentially exacerbate an injury or slow the healing process. That’s why you should always consult with your doctor when dealing with an injury or illness to find the appropriate solution.
However, you don’t need a doctor’s note to prioritize passive recovery. We all know the feeling of being run down, burned out, and exhausted. If your body is demanding pure rest, honor its request.
Can You Run on Active Recovery Days?
If running is your sport of choice, you may be wondering if an easy jog counts as active recovery. For some people, it can. Avid runners, especially those who train for long-distance events, may schedule a “shake-out run”— a mile or two at a very easy pace — between more intense workouts.
However, if you’re not already a conditioned runner, running at even a slow pace may be too strenuous to offer the benefits of active recovery. For new runners, a brisk walk is a better option. “It will get the blood pumping and warm the joints up with minimal impact or stimulation,” Julom says.
When to Do Active Recovery
One of the most effective ways to incorporate active recovery into your fitness routine is to plan it in relation to your most challenging workouts. “The day after you’ve trained, head out for a walk or swim,” Julom says. “You will recover more quickly.”
However, if your schedule allows it, there are benefits to doing a small amount of active recovery every day (even on training days). Julom recommends tacking on a cool-down walk or a 10-minute yoga sequence to a regular workout whenever possible. “This will keep you limber and fluid, will stop you from aching too badly, and will make your recovery that much more efficient,” he says.
What Are Some Ideas For Active Recovery?
Looking to incorporate active recovery into your fitness routine? Here are some ideas to get you started. If you’re following a program like 4 Weeks of Focus, you can do active recovery on your rest days.
One of the simplest and most accessible forms of active recovery is walking. You don’t need special equipment, and you can do it pretty much anywhere. The Every Step LIVE walking program is a great way to add some structure and fun to your strolls. Each instructor-led walk includes an energizing playlist, trivia, games, and other interactive content.
2. Stretching and mobility
Few of us spend enough time stretching, so why not dedicate an entire active recovery workout to stretching and mobility? If you’re looking for some guidance, Andrea Rogers’ XB Stretch program offers classes that stretch you out from head to toe in just 15 minutes.
For active recovery purposes, skip power yoga or any vigorous styles designed to rev your heart rate and get you sweaty. Restorative and slow-flow yoga classes (find some in our Yoga52 program) are ideal for active recovery.
If you have access to a pool, swimming a few gentle laps is an excellent active recovery option — but take it easy and stick to the slow lane.
5. Light resistance training
If cycling is your go-to sport, feel free to hop on your bike for active recovery. Just be sure to keep the miles and the total volume of the ride low.