How to Perform Active Recovery

Ever wonder how marathoners are already walking the day after a race? Turns out— it can be good to use muscles after, well, just using muscles. This is what we call “active recovery”. 

What is Active Recovery?

Active recovery involves performing low-intensity exercises to help the body recover more efficiently by reducing lactic acid build-up in one’s muscles. This is opposed to “passive recovery”—where one sits, lies down, or is generally immobile following a workout. 

There are three contexts in which active recovery may be applied: directly following a workout (i.e., the cooldown period), between training intervals, or on one’s rest day. 

The goal of active recovery is to keep blood circulating without overexerting the muscles to give them a chance to repair themselves. 

Forms of Active Recovery

Active recovery comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are some variations to get you started:

1. Keep it Steady(-state)

I love a good HIIT-sesh as much as the next gal, but active recovery days should be steady-state and steady-state only. This includes walking, spinning on a bike, wading through a swimming pool, or even rollerblading through the park for 30-40 minutes at a low, continuous intensity.

You can read more about the benefits of steady-state training here

2. Knead to Know

“Self-myofascial release” is a fancy way of saying tool-assisted self-massage—which is another way of saying roll out your muscles with some kind of instrument, including foam rollers, stability balls, and therapy guns

It allows you to increase blood circulation to tight and overworked muscles without straining them, allowing you to recover faster. Just remember—this won’t (and shouldn’t be) comfortable. You’re targeting sore muscles, so put a little elbow grease into it!

3. The Path of Least Resistance

If you like to lift heavy, a resistance band workout may be a good way to supplement you on your active recovery days. 

Not only do resistance bands encourage you to check your form, but their constant tension also means that they engage your stabilizing and fast-twitch muscles. For athletes who perform the same exercises over and over again, resistance band workouts help balance out strain caused by repetition. 

However, be sure to pass through movements slowly—do not overexert yourself! 

4. Bring it Ohm(mmmm)

Yoga may just be the hallmark of active recovery. The combination of stretching, sweat, and low-impact movements— does the job and then some. 

To keep true to your active recovery, however, make sure you’re opting for a recovery flow (like this one) rather than a power vinyasa practice. 

When to Skip Active Recovery

For the most part, even elite athletes should take at least one total passive rest day. This will allow your muscles to recover and rebuild—and give you time to focus on other aspects of your wellness (to get the 411 on all aspects of wellness, check out this article). 

With all these choices, what do you have planned for your next active recovery day?


This article was written by Melissa Pelowski.