The Benefits of Active Recovery

The Benefits of Active Recovery

When it comes to crushing your goals and becoming your best self, what you do to recover from exercise can be as important as your actual workout. To help your body bounce back from tough workouts, your weekly routine should include active recovery.

Adding low-impact, low-intensity exercise to rest days is generally more beneficial than inactivity – no matter how hard you pushed in your last workout.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of active recovery, how often you should do it, and which activities count.

What Is Active Recovery?

Male runner stretching leg outside

Think of active recovery as low-intensity activity or simply low-key movement (i.e., vs an extra “workout”).

“During active recovery, you engage in non-strenuous movements such as walking, active stretching, yoga, and light cycling,” says Christine VanDoren, CPT.

“The purpose of this is to boost blood flow and warm your muscles while burning a few extra calories and putting your body under minimal stress. It also helps with reducing blood lactate that can build up and cause muscle fatigue during strenuous exercise,” she explains.

Active recovery can help you avoid overtraining and aid recovery, especially if you’re also doing intense training sessions.

Active recovery can help improve delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which peaks 24-72 hours post-exercise,” explains Jordan August, PT, DPT, CSCS.

Dedicate your rest days to active recovery or use it as your cooldown after a tough workout.

Even 6 to 10 minutes of active recovery after or between workouts has shown “consistently positive effects on performance,” according to a 2019 review.

The Benefits of Active Recovery

Woman using foam roller on upper thigh

Here’s what you stand to gain when you make active recovery a cornerstone of your workout recovery routine:

1. Keeps muscles flexible

Active stretching and foam-rolling are forms of active recovery. These activities are helpful for improving both mobility and flexibility.

2. Reduces muscle soreness

Exercise makes you sore because it causes micro-tears in your muscles (as well as some inflammation). Your body has to repair those tears to grow bigger and stronger. But active recovery can help reduce muscle soreness.

“Incorporating movement after a strenuous workout can actually be one of the best things you can do to address muscle soreness,” August explains. “This is done by increasing blood flow to muscle tissue and removing metabolic waste, which can help reduce pain.”

3. Increases blood flow

“Constant movement at lower intensities will help your body recover quicker by stimulating blood flow, increasing heart rate, and preparing your body for the next training session,” says August.

4. Helps you maintain your exercise routine

Active recovery gives your body some breathing room, to help you maintain your momentum without burning out when you perform

It helps you stay consistent without overdoing it (which can lead to overuse injuries).

That’s why BODi Super Trainer and CORE DE FORCE co-creator Jericho McMatthews includes active recovery in her Morning Meltdown 100 program.

The 100 unique workouts include a variety of training modalities such as HIIT, resistance, mobility, and active recovery.

In her active recovery workouts, Jericho leads you through yoga-inspired flexibility and mobility moves that can help optimize recovery. These flow sessions will ease tension and soothe your body.

Active vs. Passive Recovery

Man walking on nature trail

While active recovery is any low-intensity movement you do to recuperate after hard-core workouts, passive recovery is total rest.

Say you run a 5k race today — taking a walk or a leisurely bike ride tomorrow would be active recovery.

Flopping on the couch and binge-watching your favorite program would be passive recovery.

According to studies sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, active recovery comes out ahead of its passive counterpart for endurance and power.

Active recovery was superior at:

  • Clearing metabolic waste from the blood after exercise, thereby boosting endurance-related performance.
  • Preserving peak power output and average power, helping to maintain power-related performance.

So should you completely eliminate rest days from your muscle recovery routine?

“Passive recovery or total rest would be a good choice when your sleep, nutrition, or stress levels haven’t been great,” says August.

It’s also the best option if you’re recovering from an injury.

Otherwise, try to choose active recovery whenever you can.

Active Recovery Workouts and Exercises

Active recovery should never be a “workout.”

FIRE AND FLOW with Jericho McMatthews and Elise Joan is a great example of a program that focuses on active recovery.

Elise’s FLOW workouts take the best elements of traditional yoga, added a few of her own, and created a series of slow and controlled movements that challenge you physically while being aware to not overstress your body.

When doing active recovery workouts or exercises, if you’re feeling warm but can still hold a conversation easily, you’ve hit the sweet spot.

If you find yourself sweating profusely or out of breath, you need to dial it back.

Just keep an eye on your heart rate – this is about spinning your wheels or shaking out your legs, not burning calories or hitting other metrics.

“Try going on a hike or following along with a yoga video,” suggests VanDoren.

Unless you’re dealing with an injury or illness, active recovery serves you better than a total rest day will.

Getting off the couch for a walk, some yoga, or a quick ride could help you get back with more energy and less soreness tomorrow!