6 Active Recovery Workout Ideas
It’s easy to let muscle recovery fall lower on your list of priorities when you're seeing steady fitness progress — whether that’s because you’ve eagerly jumped into a new workout program, or you’re on track to reaching the goals you’ve been chasing.
While dedication and commitment is key to achieving your goals, it’s also important to learn how to take a step back and give your muscles time to repair and recover after consecutive days of training.
If you’re having trouble remembering the last time you dedicated a day to recovery — here’s your cue to take a break from your daily HIIT session, dust off your foam roller and stretch out your sore muscles so you can bounce back to your training feeling stronger and ready to tackle your next workout.
What is active recovery?
Active recovery involves non-strenuous aerobic or physical activity — think walking, swimming or yoga. It is typically performed on a day after high-intensity exercise, or before your next workout, and has a number of benefits, including aiding muscle recovery.
While rest days are an important part of any fitness routine, Dr. Shona L Halson from the Australian Institute of Sport, says that “active recovery is often thought to be better for recovery than passive recovery due to enhanced blood flow to the exercised area…”. Results from a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Physiology showed that active recovery may also contribute to a reduction in muscle pain by facilitating the removal of metabolic waste, such as lactate (or lactic acid) built up during exercise.
Active recovery therefore may help to speed up recovery, but it can also provide an opportunity for those who train at maximum effort or perform high-intensity workouts to reduce their training intensity and focus on technique.
Active recovery benefits
When you’re training hard, you lose fluid, damage muscle tissue, and deplete energy stores in your body. If you don’t allow enough time for your body to repair itself, this can lead to overtraining and heightened stress, which can negate some of the positive benefits of exercise.
Active recovery can help you to maintain your fitness progress — as well as your routine. According to the American Council on Exercise, active recovery benefits may include:
- Enhance recovery by increasing circulation
- Replenish fluids in the body
- Repair damaged muscle tissues
- Reduce the build-up of toxins like lactic acid in the muscles
- Stretch stiff muscles and keeps them flexible
- Increase blood flow and deliver nutrients to the muscles
Recovery is not only beneficial for overall physical performance, but it can also be a chance for you to take a mental break from your regular training.
How and when to perform active recovery
The active recovery process can begin in your cool down following your workout. According to Mayo Clinic in the US, continuing to move gently after a tough workout “allows for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure [and also] helps regulate blood flow.” As a guide, aim to perform an active recovery session at around 60%-70% of your maximum effort, or even less depending on your level of fitness.
You can even practise active recovery between circuit training or HIIT efforts. For example; you push yourself during the work phase and dial it back during rest (or active rest), where you’re training at a lower percentage of your maximum capability. Training this way can help to reduce fatigue.
If you’re planning an active recovery day, you should include a different activity from your usual home or gym workouts.
How often should you complete active recovery?
If you train most days of the week, try replacing one resistance session with an active recovery day. If you train less frequently and take more rest days, try incorporating active recovery into your rest to maintain your fitness and strength.
Stretch into these 6 low-intensity active recovery workouts
Recovery doesn’t always have to be passive. Here are some fun active recovery workout ideas you can do on your rest days to help maximise your results and get you back into your training even stronger than before!
Yoga has many benefits and according to John Hopkins Medicine in the US, a gentle yoga flow can help to open up tight areas of your body, improve your quality of sleep and promote blood flow to your muscles. There’s also the added benefit of giving you time to focus on your breath, connect your mind with your movement and clear your thoughts.
You can get started with some restorative yoga poses or select an on-demand yoga rehabilitation session from the Sweat app.
The American Council on Exercise recommends foam rolling to reduce tightness, tension and inflammation of muscle tissues, and also helps increase your range of motion which can improve your general performance when you’re ready to jump back into your training.
Walking or jogging
There’s a reason why steady-state cardio like walking and jogging makes up part of your weekly goals in every Sweat program. Doing any form of LISS, where you’re working out at a moderate, sustained pace, elevates your heart rate and helps to build cardiovascular endurance.
The great thing about LISS is that it gives you an opportunity to exercise outdoors — you can even go for a hike to work different muscle groups on uneven terrain!
According to a 2011 systematic review carried out by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry and published in the research journal, Environmental Science and Technology, working out outdoors has shown to also improve mental wellbeing.
If you’re someone who feels restless on rest days — a bonus perk with this type of active recovery is that you’ll still break a sweat if you’re going for the recommended 30 to 40 minutes.
If you need exercise that’s easier on your joints, try steady-state cycling on a stationary or moving bike — it’s a great low-impact alternative to walking or jogging.
As well as being low-impact and easier on your joints and muscles, swimming can also help to improve circulation.
The NSW Institute of Sport in Australia recommends performing a water-based recovery routine after intense exercise as “water’s hydrostatic characteristics — buoyancy (unloading of bodyweight) and temperature (cool water aids in pain relief and inflammation) — all assist the body in aiding the recovery process.”
A recovery session is a great time to work on your overall flexibility and mobility. Some dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges or leg swings, can help wake up your muscles and joints. Stretching will give you some time to focus on each movement and help you notice if there is any pain or tension.
Liven up rest days with these active recovery workout ideas
If you don’t like the idea of taking days off in between your training, or if you’re feeling limited due to muscle soreness or injury, try incorporating more active recovery days — you can do active recovery workouts almost anywhere!
Pay attention to the cues your body gives you and choose a form of recovery that suits it. Other lifestyle factors, such as getting enough sleep and a healthy, well-balanced diet also contribute to a good recovery.
And, if you’re subscribed to Sweat, don’t forget to make the most of the active recovery sessions included in your program.
What is your favourite type of active recovery? Let us know in the comments!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.