The Best Things to Do on Your Active Recovery Day

by Evelyn Valdez

Once you get in the groove of your workout routine it can make be hard to slow down and take a break. However, you must remember to leave room for recovery! We highly suggest you have at least one rest day a week, but if you want to recover properly in between workouts without taking a full rest day – have an active recovery day!

Active recovery is a great way to slow down from your high-intensity training to give your body time to adapt to the physical demands. That way your muscles are able to catch up and get stronger, and you avoid hitting a workout plateau!

An active recovery day looks slightly different from a rest day, but it can be just as beneficial. That said, in this article, we're going to detail the differences between active recovery and rest days, plus the best activities to do that will help boost your recovery!

Active recovery vs rest day

First things first, what is an active recovery day?

Active recovery, opposed to passive recovery (rest days), involves low-intensity exercise to promote blood flow to the muscles in an effort to speed up the recovery process in between training sessions. So, opposed to the usual rest day which involves no exercise, there is some type of workout involved at a lower intensity.

The benefits of active recovery include...

  • It increases blood flow and circulation to enhance recovery and deliver nutrients to the muscles.
  • It helps repair damaged muscle tissue.
  • It reduces lactic acid buildup which helps reduce muscle soreness.
  • It replenishes lost fluids in the body.

However, it's important to find the right balance. Rest days are important to help you fully recovery from all the movement you're doing, but also to give yourself a break and prevent you from burning out! You may not need a complete rest day every week because you;ve included active recovery days, or you might, everyone's different. The key is to always listen to your body, and take a rest when you need it!

How often should you do active recovery?

There is no right answer! Listening to your body is always key, but essentially, the goal is to have a healthy mix of medium to high intensity training with some low-intensity training. Lifters who strength train four days a week may have a full rest day, and two active recovery days (or two rest days and one active recovery day, depending on one's training intensity), while those who train five days a week may have one rest day and one active recovery day – it all depends on your workout schedule and how you feel!

Best active recovery workouts

A good active recovery day should involve an easy workout that involves between 60-70 percent of your maximum effort and not add any further stress to the joints. It's a workout that can be designed to address problematic areas (mobility work, tight hips, weak core, etc.), or simply prep your body for training without causing fatigue. But overall, it should be low-impact, low-intensity, and something you enjoy.

The point is, choose something that doesn't overwork you and decreases your exercise performance for your next scheduled workout, and keep it short (between 15-40 minutes)! The following five active recovery workouts are great examples of just that...

Mobility work

For those strength training, one of the best things you can do on your active recovery day is mobility work. Mobility exercises are similar to stretching except the involve actively moving, contracting, and relaxing the muscles through the joints range of motion. This will help to increase your range of motion, which in turn helps you reap better results from your exercise routine!

This is an excellent, easy, and beneficial workout to do when you want to improve your lifts – and it only takes a few minutes! Find a handful of mobility exercises and do a full-body mobility routine in as little as 15 minutes. If you're not sure what to do, check out our list of favorite mobility exercises that help increase your range of motion!

Yoga

A good 'ole stretching session works wonders, but don't be afraid to take things to the next level with yoga! Yoga, similar to stretching, can increase blood flow to your muscles and relieve tight areas in your body. This will help increase flexibility while also helping repair broken down muscle tissues from your previous training session. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping you clear your mind by connecting it with your movement and breath! Breath control is something necessary in strength training making it beneficial for lifters.

Core and hip activation exercises 

Your core and hips are a critical part of your body because they power your every movement, inside and outside of the gym! Working on your core and hips on your off days will help prep your body for the intense workout planned for the days ahead. Plus, doing core activation exercises will even help increase core strength which will help you lift heavier weights!

A few of our favorite core and hip activation exercises include...

  • Banded side walks
  • Bird dogs
  • Dead bugs
  • Glute bridges
  • Planks
  • Single-leg glute bridge
  • Spiderman lunges

You can do all of these exercises using only your body weight, or you can add a resistance band for some to help activate your muscles even further.

Steady-state cardio

Cardio doesn't always have to be intense! In fact, a great active recovery workout involves low intensity steady-state cardio because it helps increase your heart rate, blood flow, and can even help burn extra calories (for those wanting to achieve weight loss). Plus, it'll help you build cardiovascular endurance!

Keep it light, find a type of cardio you enjoy, and keep it short between 30-40 minutes. To help, here are a few of our favorite low impact, low intensity types of cardio:

  • Walking outdoors or on a treadmill.
  • Low intensity cycling.
  • Swimming.
  • Hiking.

Self-myofascial release

Now, if you're pretty sore and prefer something on the lighters side self-myofacial release, also known as foam rolling, is a great option! Although it requires little movement, it does still help increase blood flow to your muscles and even helps to relieve tightness, reduce inflammation, and increase range of motion.

Self-myofascial release involves using a foam roller, massage gun, or even a tennis ball to roll over parts of your body where your muscles feel extra tight. Common areas are the hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, back, and triceps. Foam rolling can be slightly painful at first since you'll be massaging over areas that are tight and have built up lactic acid, but you'll feel so much better after and it'll be beneficial for your next training session!

Improve your recovery with an active recovery day

There's nothing wrong with wanting to train hard all the time, but sometimes you have to slow things down and allow your body to recover from all the stress it's been going through. Incorporating an active recovery day is a great way to slow down from your usual intense routine, while improving your recovery and prep you for your next training session so you can give it your all!

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2 comments

  • Very informative! Will be practicing my active recovery this week!

    Liselle Sanchez -
  • great read! thank you!

    Jewel -

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