What is Active Recovery?

We’ve long maintained the benefits of rest days in between workouts, giving the body a chance to recover and come back stronger. Whether that comes in the form of passive or active recovery is up to you – they both have their place in your fitness regime! – but in our humble opinion, active recovery workouts are the key to unleashing your body’s healing powers.

Active recovery refers to low-intensity movement done on days following an intense workout. Examples of active recovery include walking, swimming and yoga. Rather than giving your body a complete break, you keep it moving – but in a gentler way. This allows muscles to repair while still staying active, and also provides a number of additional benefits for your body and overall health.

Active Recovery Workouts

Active Recovery vs. Passive Recovery

Passive recovery is exactly what it sounds like. It’s all about giving your body a break from movement. Think naps, bubble baths, meditation, or Netflix time. It’s a chance to recharge your batteries and let your body relax and unwind.

Active recovery involves gentle, mindful movement designed to get your muscles and joints moving, but without exerting too much effort. Active recovery days are not a time for setting new personal records (PRs). They’re designed to keep your body engaged, but at a lower intensity than normal.

In a nutshell: Active recovery = movement. Passive recovery = little to no movement.

The rest day mode you choose could depend on a number of factors, including soreness, your overall schedule, current fitness level, and so on. Both active and passive recovery are beneficial in their own right, but for the purpose of this blog, we’re going to dive into all that active recovery brings to the table.

Benefits of Active Recovery

There are a number of things that take place in the body after an intense workout, including fluid loss, muscle tissue damage, and energy depletion. While it’s tempting to maintain our gym habit with daily power workouts, overtraining can lead to poor sleep, overall fatigue, increased stress, and more – all of which can actually work against you when it comes to your fitness, strength or weight loss goals.

To come back stronger, and get the full benefit of a strenuous workout, our body needs adequate time to repair itself.

The key benefits of active recovery workouts include:

Improved Circulation

By enhancing blood flow to your muscles, your body can more easily flush out the metabolic waste that is created as muscles break down during a strenuous workout. This greatly reduces muscle stiffness. Improved circulation also helps to send more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, allowing them to repair and recover more quickly. All of this means you can get back to your workouts sooner – and your subsequent workouts will be more effective!

Improved Flexibility

Active recovery workouts go a long way in keeping the body flexible and improving overall range of motion. Activities such as stretching, yoga, or Pilates help lengthen and strengthen muscles, allowing the body to move more freely over time. This benefits not only future workouts, but everyday life!

Injury Prevention

Active recovery workouts play a key role in injury prevention. Giving the body a chance to move and stretch on rest days helps prevent muscle imbalances, tightness, and potential injuries that can occur when we go from the extreme of an intense workout to excessive sedentary behavior.

Active recovery workouts provide many additional benefits, including:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Stress relief
  • Reduced post-workout soreness
  • Improved endurance

Types of Active Recovery

Active recovery workouts can come in many forms. Whichever type you choose, just remember that you want these workouts to be lower-impact and slower-paced than your typical workouts.

Examples of active recovery workouts include:

  • A leisurely walk or hike
  • Gentle jogging
  • Cycling
  • Pilates or yoga
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Swimming
  • A dance class (we love Zumba!)
  • Foam rolling or self-myofascial release

Effective Active Recovery Workouts

Below are a few of our favorite active recovery workouts that can be done at home, in nature, or at the gym, depending on available equipment.

1. Swimming: Lap Pool Workout

Maintain a steady, relaxed rhythm as you flow through the following exercises:

  • Backstroke: 4-6 laps
  • Breaststroke: 4-6 laps
  • Side Stroke:4-6 laps, alternating sides after each lap
  • Flutter Kick: 2-3 minutes, holding onto the pool wall or a kickboard
  • Water Walking: 2-3 laps

2. Swimming: Wading Pool / Hot Tub Workout

Maintain a strong posture as you flow through the following movements:

  • Arm Circles

    • With feet shoulder-width apart, extend arms out to the sides.
    • Complete 30 seconds of small, slow circles forward.
    • Reverse direction for 30 seconds.
    • Complete 30 seconds of larger circles forward.
    • Reverse direction for 30 seconds.
    • Repeat for 2 more rounds.
  • Leg Swings

    • Hold onto the side of the pool for support.
    • Standing on one left, swing the other leg forward and backwards, slowly increasing the range of motion with each swing.
    • After 10 swings, switch legs.
    • Repeat for 2 more rounds on each leg.
  • Torso Twists

    • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Slowly and gently twist your upper body from side to side, allowing your arms to swing.
    • Complete 10-20 twists on each side.

3. 30-Minute Light Cardio Workout

Choose the cardio equipment of your choice, or simply walk or jog in nature.

  • Warmup (5 minutes): Start slow, gradually increasing to a comfortable pace you feel you can maintain for the full workout.
  • Steady pace (20 minutes): Maintain your pace for 20 minutes. You want your heart rate to be up, but not so high that you can’t complete a conversation. Breathlessness is not the goal here!
  • Cooldown (5 minutes): Slowly lower your pace, coming to an end after 5 minutes.

4. Active Recovery Yoga Flow

Mountain Pose

Stand at the top of your mat, with feet hip-width apart. Engage your core, stand tall, and relax your shoulders. With your hands by your side (palms facing forward), take a few slow, deep breaths.

Forward Fold

Fold forward from your hips. Bend your knees as much as you need to to maintain the stretch. Letting your arms hang freely, relax your head, neck, and shoulders. Take a few deep, slow breaths.

Cat-Cow Pose

Lower yourself onto your hands and knees, into a tabletop position. As you inhale, lift your chest and tailbone, arching your back and looking upwards at the ceiling or sky. As you exhale, round your spine, tucking your chin to your chest. Flow between the two poses with each inhale and exhale.

Child’s Pose

From tabletop position, lower your hips back towards your heels, extending your arms forward. Rest your forehead on the mat, allowing your entire body to relax into the pose. Take several slow, deep breaths.

5. Jump Rope Interval Workout

  • Jump rope for 20-30 at a slow, steady pace.
  • Rest 30-60 seconds (or until heart rate lowers significantly).
  • Repeat sequence for 10-20 total rounds.

6. Do Something Fun!

Active recovery days provide the perfect excuse to get outside and play! A few of our favorite playtime activities include:

  • Frisbee
  • Kickball
  • Golf
  • Playground outing with your kids
  • An exploration walk in a new city or nature trail

7. Foam Rolling Sequence

  • Place foam roller on floor or mat, under any areas of pain or discomfort.
    • Commonly tight areas include calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply as you roll tight muscles gently over the roller.
  • Need help with a routine for each area of tightness? Check out this detailed self-myofascial release workout flow (with photos!) from The National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Find Your Perfect Workout Method

Whichever type of active recovery workout you choose, just remember to keep it gentle! Low-intensity is the key to effective active recovery. And if you need help creating the perfect workout plan, we’d love to help! At Method Gym locations in Dale City, VA, Leonardtown, MD and California, MD, our personal trainers provide customized workout plans tailored to your unique goals. Plus, the feedback, motivation, and accountability to help you get there faster! Learn more about personal training and contact us to get started now.