What is Active Recovery and Why You Need It
Learn what active recovery is, the best time to do it, and some of the best active recovery exercises to add to your routine.
September 9, 2021
4 min

Rest and exercise. You can’t have one without the other. But rest doesn’t always mean passive recovery on the couch watching TV. Active recovery is a vital part of any effective workout plan.

Unfortunately, active recovery is often overlooked. Many exercise beginners don’t even know what it is and skip it completely...

No sweat. In this active recovery guide you’ll learn what active recovery is, the best active recovery exercise, when the best time for active recovery is and more. But first...

What is active recovery?

Active recovery is the practice of doing low intensity exercises to promote oxygen, blood flow and natural processes of regeneration following higher intensity workouts. Some examples of active recovery are low-level cardio like walking, cycling, stretching or yoga.

Active recovery fits between higher-intensity workouts and gives you an engaging way to promote restoration while also giving your body a rest between workout days.

What’s the difference between active and passive recovery?

“Rest” activities like laying down to watch some TV, relaxing in a comfy patio chair, or swinging in the hammock for a few hours are totally fine—in moderation of course.

But these activities are examples of passive recovery. In order to get the most from your workouts, you need to understand the difference between active and passive recovery to find a balance that fits your routine.

The main difference between active and passive recovery is how engaged your body is during a certain activity. Active recovery engages your body just enough to aid important regenerative processes in your body while passive recovery does not. 

A little bit of both goes a long way in between exercise.

The best types of active recovery exercises

There’s many active recovery exercises available to you. But some of the best, most common, and most beneficial active recovery exercises are:

Stretching

It’s no secret that daily stretching is a vital part of any active lifestyle—especially if you’re keeping your exercise consistent.

When you stretch, you’re warming up your fascia. Fascia is tissue that connects your bones. When your fascia cools after exercising, it can lead to stiffness and soreness. 

Stretching lengthens and warms your fascia to help you avoid that post-exercise soreness that can limit your workout motivation and cause fatigue.

Stretching also stimulates blood flow to your muscles. Increased blood flow delivers the oxygen and restorative nutrients your body needs to recover and regenerate after exercise making it a pillar of active recovery.

Walking

Walking is one of the best active recovery exercises. It’s easy to forget that walking is exercise too. 

But when it comes to active recovery, it’s one of the best activities because it sits in between higher intensity exercise and passive rest.

Not only is it exercise, it’s also a quick, simple and easy way to get some active recovery after doing more intense exercise.

Just like stretching, getting your daily steps keeps your muscles engaged and moving to promote recovery and avoid soreness.

Yoga

Many types of yoga have similar active recovery benefits to stretching but with a few added perks…

Yoga not only keeps your muscles warm and supple, certain yoga poses provide lower-impact strengthening and flexibility too.

Focussing on the breath also gives you that important regenerative oxygenation you learned about earlier. 

The focus on breath and flow of yoga also helps you add meditative exercise to your active recovery practice which helps improve mood and wellbeing while you recover.

Foam rolling

Before discussing foam rolling, remember that equipment isn’t mandatory to find an effective active recovery practice. But if you’re interested, foam rolling provides fantastic recovery benefits.

Foam rolling uses a tubular piece of foam to apply pressure to muscles and tissues that get sore or tight after activity.

The consistent pressure from the foam roller helps to alleviate pressure and tightness caused by exercise and break down buildup of scar tissue created from consistent exercise.

Active recovery with a foam roller is especially helpful since many foam rolling positions and exercises provide low-impact muscle engagement while also alleviating muscle soreness caused by higher-intensity exercises like squats.

Active recovery schedule: When is the best time for active recovery?

The simple answer to “when is the best time for active recovery?” is: Whenever you feel like you need it.

Listening to your body and understanding when you need an active rest day is the best way to figure out the right schedule for you.

But if you’re just starting an active recovery practice, here are some good places to start:

Right after you workout

Stretching, cool-down exercises and targeted rest are perfect after a day of moderate to heavy exercise. 

Active recovery right after activity helps to prevent soreness, cool down your body and deliver yourself to an equilibrium in a manageable way.

Try adding some active recovery to the end of your workouts to see how it feels and in what ways it benefits you.

Active recovery days

If your workout routine maps out a whole week of exercises, make sure to give yourself some days off to recover before pushing it. 

Full days where you only do active recovery exercises can help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and avoid injury from pushing your boundaries too far, too quickly. 

These types of active recovery days are especially important if you’re a beginner to consistent exercise or need some extra time to recover after workouts.

Before exercising

Certain types of active recovery exercise can work as a warm-up to your regularly planned workout. 

A quick walk before high intensity exercise, or a stretching practice can really help you warm-up, stay supple and avoid injury as you move into higher-intensity movements

No matter when you decide to add it, as you build and tweak your exercise routine, remember to factor in some active recovery as well.

Active recovery mode activated

Active recovery is an important part of a well balanced exercise practice. 

Now that you know what active recovery is, some simple active recovery exercises, and when the best times to do it are, add some active recovery to your workout routine and enjoy the restorative benefits of active rest.

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