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Health Workouts

Active Recovery Workout: What To Do On Rest Days

by Power Life Team | May 06, 2022

When you’re locked in on a fitness routine, it can feel counterproductive to take a day off. There you are, watching your macros, rotating muscle groups, elevating your heart rate, and then… nothing? The truth is recovery days are extremely important. But if you’re eager to know what to do on rest days, check out these active recovery workout ideas. Here, you’ll find light workouts, gentle movements, and low impact exercise ideas to do on your days off.

What Is Active Recovery?

An active recovery workout typically involves a gentle activity that keeps your body active while your muscles recover from intense exercise.1

The Difference Between Active And Passive Recovery

With active recovery, you maintain a low-intensity movement between workouts. Passive recovery is simply resting – doing no activity at all while your body rests. There are merits to both types of recovery, and you will likely use a combination of both on your fitness journey.

In general, active recovery may be beneficial to keep up endurance. Passive activity may be helpful if an athlete is mentally or physically fatigued or dealing with an injury.2

Why Would You Do An Active Recovery Workout?

After a tough workout, it’s common for an athlete to feel different types of fatigue, including:

  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  • Muscle damage (harmless microscopic tears)
  • Muscle inflammation
  • A general feeling of fatigue
  • Muscle contraction and muscle fatigue caused by a buildup of blood lactate3

When you feel fatigued, it may be tempting to rest completely. But if your goals involve increasing endurance and power on your next workout, research shows that active recovery may be the way to go.4

The Benefits of Active Recovery

active recovery workout | My Power Life

When you do active recovery exercises, you may find they can help:

  • Reduce lactic acid buildup in your muscles
  • Reduce toxins
  • Support flexibility in your muscles
  • Support recovery from sore muscles
  • Create additional blood flow to muscles, which removes metabolic waste
  • You stay in the right headspace for your next workout5,6

When Should You Do Active Recovery?

You can incorporate active recovery exercises:

  • Between exercise sets. For example, walking a lap around the gym between weight lifting repetitions or getting in a high intensity interval.
  • Following an intense workout. For example, doing a cool-down routine after your kickboxing cardio class.
  • On rest days between exercise days. For example, going on a walk or light jog on your day off from the gym.
  • After a race, competition, or athletic event. For example, taking a gentle yoga class the day after you run a half marathon.7

What Makes A Good Active Recovery Workout?

When thinking about which active recovery method you’d like to try, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Try low to moderate intensity workouts that use 40-60% of your maximum effort.
  • If you can hold a conversation during this physical activity, it is likely the right level of intensity.
  • Try to do your active rest activity for at least 30 minutes.
  • Adjust the level of intensity to your own fitness level. For example, if you’re a runner, jogging may count as active recovery. If you’re less active, a slow walk around the neighborhood may be more your speed.8

Ideas For Active Recovery Workouts You Can Do On Rest Days

active recovery workout | My Power Life

Not sure where to start? Consult this list of active recovery workout ideas.

Tai Chi Or Yoga

Tai chi and yoga are both gentle exercises that focus on body movement, mind-body connection, and flow. Tai chi is done using slow, flowing movements, and yoga uses poses, stretches, and breathing to connect to the body.

Both are great for activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which can support a feeling of calm and ease. If you participate in mentally strenuous workouts and you could benefit from more flexibility, these activities may be great choices for you. There are plenty of free tutorials on YouTube if you’d like to try them out.9

Walking

Walking is perhaps the simplest type of active recovery because it requires no specialized equipment or knowledge. On your next active recovery day, you can simply lace up your shoes and go for a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Studies show that a vigorous walk can help support good sleep, boost memory, and support feelings of calm and ease.10

This type of active recovery session is great if you’re feeling fatigued, as you can easily control the pace and intensity. It may also help with muscle soreness, as it circulates blood to your leg muscles.11

Cycling

Hopping on your bike and going for a low-key bike ride is another great way to get an active recovery workout in. Remember, on active recovery days, try to avoid big hills or heavy resistance.

Cycling increases blood circulation to your legs. And if you keep it light and easy, it also prevents further stress to muscles that may still be recovering. Try this activity if you typically lift weights, strength train, or do HIIT exercises to change up your movement pattern.12

Swimming

Swimming is another low impact active recovery exercise idea. If you typically move your body in other ways through exercises like cycling or running, swimming can be a great way to give your muscles a break. One study found that a swimming-based recovery session may improve performances the following day.13

active recovery workout | My Power Life

Active Stretching

Active stretching is an activity that involves stretching some muscles while you engage other muscles. Here are a few ideas for what this could look like:

  • Active Hamstring Stretch. Lie on your back, and lift one leg up to the ceiling until you feel your hamstring stretch. This requires active work from your core and hip flexors.
  • Active Quad Stretch. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, bend one knee, and lift that foot behind you, aiming to reach your buttocks. You may need to hold onto a chair for balance. This stretches your core and activates your glutes.
  • Active Triceps Stretch. Stand up straight, and reach an arm up straight toward the ceiling. Bend your elbow, and reach your hand down behind your back. This stretches your triceps and activates your core.14

Other Ways To Help Yourself Recover On Rest Days

In addition to active recovery exercises, there are many other activities you can do to support your recovery on rest days.

Try A Recovery Supplement 

Recovery supplements are a great way to help give your body nutrients that can support healthy recovery from post-exercise muscle soreness.

Seek out a supplement with high quality ingredients, like Rephyll, a phytocannabinoid that supports muscle recovery; ParActin, a compound that supports healthy recovery response; and Magnesium, a mineral that supports healthy bones and muscles.15 Just make sure to get your doctor’s approval before trying any new supplement.

Treat Yourself To A Massage

Massage is a classic way to support recovery after physical exercise. Studies show that massage may alleviate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), increase muscle blood flow, and support a lowering of perceived discomfort and fatigue.16

Try Cold Water Immersion

active recovery workout | My Power Life

Cold water immersion, or cryotherapy, is a method that uses cold water (around 59°F) to stimulate potential health benefits. You can do this yourself with an ice bath, cold shower, or outdoor swim, or in a cold water immersion therapy session with a professional.

Cold water therapy may support relief from muscle soreness, swelling, and overheating. It may also support a feeling of calm and well-being.17

Other Recovery Ideas

  • Compression garments
  • Contrast water therapy (alternating between warm and cold water)
  • Cryotherapy
  • Stretching
  • Foam roller
  • Electrostimulation18

Stay Active (Just Not Too Active)

If you want to stay in the zone while also giving your body the period of time it needs to rest, active recovery is the way to go. A bonus benefit of active recovery is that it is more approachable than the intense training you may typically do. This means you can invite a friend to join you. On your next rest day, call up a buddy and go on a light jog, take your best dog friend for a hike, or go on a bike ride with your training partner to strategize your next competition. Just make sure to get your doctor’s approval before trying any new exercise or supplement.

Learn More:
-What To Eat After A Run For The Best Recovery
-Is Gatorade Good For You When You Are On A Fitness Plan?
-Beginner Workouts: How Long Should A Workout Be?

Sources
1. https://www.healthline.com/health/active-recovery
2. https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a19600157/active-recovery-or-passive-recovery/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/
4. https://www.acefitness.org/continuing-education/certified/march-2018/6919/ace-sponsored-research-active-vs-passive-recovery-and-exercise-performance-which-strategy-is-best/
5. https://www.healthline.com/health/active-recovery#benefits
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/
7. https://greatist.com/fitness/active-recovery#passive-vs-active-recovery
8. https://blog.nasm.org/active-recovery
9. https://www.self.com/story/best-activities-for-active-recovery-day
10. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/walking/index.htm
11. https://www.wellandgood.com/rest-day-workout/
12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/active-recovery#methods-and-their-benefits
13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19908172/
14. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/active-stretching#examples
15. https://mypowerlife.com/peak-recovery
16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/
17. https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-water-therapy#benefits
18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/