Every workout routine has one thing in common: Rest days. Whether it's just one day, two or three, rest days are an integral part of any good training routine. They are so important because it allows your body and muscles the time they need to recover in order to build muscle and to avoid overuse injuries!
Unfortunately, people don't use their rest days wisely. They either don't rest enough to recover after high-intensity workouts or they turn their rest days into an unproductive cheat day thus ruining their hard work. Luckily, there's a middle ground - Active recovery. Although there are days when passive recovery is what the body needs, recovery doesn't always entail inactivity. In fact, practicing active recovery can even help boost recovery after hard workouts.
I'll be discussing the benefits of active recovery and what you can do on recovery days that will help you on your fitness journey, not hold you back.
What is active recovery?
Most people use passive recovery on their rest days. Meaning they take a full day of rest without any physical activity. Active recovery is slightly different. It involves low-intensity exercises in order to promote blood flow to the muscles to help speed up the recovery process. The key is to be active enough to increase blood flow, but gentle enough that your muscles have an opportunity to heal. These types of workouts should be completely different from your usual rigorous training sessions.
So here's what your active recovery day should aim to do..
- Easy workouts that elevate your heart rate and help you break a sweat. These workouts should involve between 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort and should not add any stress to the joints.
- Address problematic areas you may have like bad shoulder, neck or ankle mobility, tight hips, weak core, etc.
- Reduce soreness by promoting blood flow to sore or stiff muscles.
- Focus on unilateral or isometric movements in order to help correct muscle imbalances and improve balance.
- Prep your body for training without causing fatigue.
Active recovery is beneficial for everyone and all fitness levels, but it is especially great for those weight-lifting because they can use their off days doing low-intensity and low-impact exercises that will help them stay active while allowing the muscle groups usually hard at work to recover.
Here are some other key ways active recovery is beneficial for gym-goers:
- Reduces lactic acid buildup which in turn minimizes stiffness and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
- The increased blood flow to the joints and muscles helps counteract inflammation.
- Increases cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
- Helps keep muscles flexible.
- Alleviates post-exercise fatigue that follows intense workouts.
- Helps reduce the chances of overtraining and the risk of an overuse injury.
- Helps maintain a workout routine and make better food choices on non-training days which contributes to a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Active recovery workout ideas
Active recovery days should consist of a low-impact, low-intensity workout between 15-40 minutes. The great thing about it is that it's not your usual structured workout session. It's more about moving your body and creating healthier habits that will help you stay in line with your goals.
The workout you choose shouldn't stress you out and overwork you to the point that it decreases your exercise performance for your next scheduled workout. Your activate recovery session should have you feeling refreshed, energized, and ready for your next training sesh!
Here are five common active recovery workout:
Light Resistance Training
If your body is feeling good and you don't need a full rest day, but still want to keep up your workout momentum without burning you out then light resistance training is a great option!
What you can do is pick 5-8 exercises to create a full-body workout. You can either do bodyweight movements or use light weights and perform higher reps. Performing high-reps with a light weight (or just using bodyweight) helps stimulate blood flow and supplies nutrients to the working tissue without straining or tearing it.
Light training workouts like this are a great opportunity for you to focus on perfecting your form. Although this might be a good method for some, this might not be the best for you. If you're too sore from your training, it's best to avoid this one and try a lighter workout like the ones listed below.
Mobility and Activation Exercises
Warming up and stretching the body before strength training is a must, but the same goes for cool-downs! Dynamic stretching and mobility exercises help prepare the body for the stressors that come from strength training and it even helps improve flexibility! So if you're feeling pretty sore after a tough workout, then opt for a lighter active recovery session that includes dynamic stretches and mobility exercises, and maybe a few activation exercises too!
Performing activation exercises in key muscle groups - core, glutes, hip flexors, hip abductors - are great to do on an off day. Firing those muscles on days you're not training will help prep your body for the intense workouts you may have planned ahead. It will also keep those muscles limber and trained to activate when needed!
Activation exercise ideas:
- Glute bridge
- Bird Dogs
- Dead bugs
- Fire hydrants
Mobility and dynamic stretches:
- Lunge with spinal twist
- Figure four stretch
- Dynamic frog stretch
- Cat and camel
- Low lunge with integrated push back
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is one of the most popular forms of cardio, but it's not something you should be doing everyday... And this is when good 'ole fashioned LISS comes in. LISS (low intensity steady-state) cardio is better for active recovery days because it elevates your heart rate, promotes fat use for fuel, and makes you work up a sweat. So not only does it help speed up recovery, but it helps keep you active and burn fat!
Steady-state cardio ideas:
- Jog or walk outdoors or on a treadmill
- Go on a bike ride or use a stationary bike (just keep the intensity low)
Aim to keep your heart rate between 120-140 bpm, remember, you don't want too intense of a workout.
Yoga is often practiced to relax and unwind for a better well-being. Not only that, it also lengthens our muscles and tendons, promotes blood flow to help repair broken-down muscle tissues, and helps our body develop better mobility and flexibility. This makes it an excellent workout to try on active recovery days.
If you're extremely sore, and want more of a full rest with little movement then try foam rolling! Use a foam roller to roll over parts of your body where your muscles feel extra tight and/or sore. Foam rolling helps relieve tightness, reduce inflammation, and can help increase your range of motion. Doing this is still considered active recovery and provides many of the same benefits like reducing lactic acid buildup and soreness.
Bottomline is, staying active on your days off will keep you on track with your fitness goals and prevent you from having bad slip ups which can lead to bad habits. Not only that, but performing active recovery exercises can provide many benefits that can boost your exercise performance for your next scheduled training days. Just remember to listen to your body, if you're feeling in pain or very fatigued then take a full rest day and partake in active recovery if your body is up to it.