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Developing an Active Recovery Strategy

Last Updated on December 2, 2022 by Jeff

Recovery If you’re looking to get the most out of each workout, it’s important to have an active recovery strategy to help maximize the gains from one workout and build on it for your next session. There are many different ways to help your body recover between workouts, and developing a plan that works for you and making it a habit will help you realize your fitness goals faster.

What Is Active Recovery?

The purpose of recovery time is to allow the body time to rest and repair itself between workouts. This can be done passively by taking the day off from any physical exercise, or it can be done actively by adding gentle recovery activities into your schedule. Though active recovery is often considered to be just a lighter workout to get you moving and keep your muscles from stiffening on your rest day, it can also be anything you actively do to help your body be more prepared for your next workout, including foam rolling, yoga, a brisk walk, or a swim. Active recovery will be very different for a marathon runner compared to someone just beginning their fitness journey, but regardless of where you are, you should feel better after the activity.

Does Active Recovery Work?

Yes. Active recovery has been shown to improve performance at the next workout session. The science shows that even active recovery simulated by wearing compression garments that apply pressure to muscles can help reduce lactic acid buildup. The body was built to move and planning activity on your off day can keep your metabolic pathways primed for performance.

Active recovery has psychological benefits as well. Athletes and dieters alike tend to eat better on active days, rather than writing them off as “free days” to break your healthy habits. All exercise—even mild recovery movement—has the ability to elevate mood through endorphin release, which will keep you motivated even when you’re not training.

How Do You Develop a Personalized Active Recovery Strategy?

Appropriate active recovery activities depend on your current fitness level, your fitness goals and your training intensity. If your average training day includes running 10 miles before breakfast, a brisk walk around the block won’t be enough to activate your muscles and help your recovery efforts. If you’re just beginning to train and your peak exertion is a 1 minute run/1 minute walk alternating workout, a quick walk might be just what you need to keep you going while your muscles recover.

As a general rule, active recovery workouts should last no more than an hour, and active recovery days should make up no more than 2 of your workouts in each week. Limit your exertion to no more than 75% of typical workout exertion, just enough to warm up your muscles but not enough to induce fatigue.

An active recovery day is a great day to have fun and try cross-training outside of your typical workout comfort zone. Try a low-intensity yoga class or give water aerobics a shot. Active recovery should be fun, so it’s a great time to think back to your college and high school years, when a pickup game of basketball or ultimate frisbee was commonplace. Remember to play!

In short, active recovery can be whatever you make it, so long as you remember to limit your exertion to allow your muscles to recover, and remember to have fun so you stay motivated with your fitness goals.

Here are some great examples of active recovery activities that can be modified to all fitness levels:

  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Walking/Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Body Weight Exercises
  • Hiking
  • Pickup sports such as basketball, frisbee or soccer

What Else Can You Do To Recover Faster?

Along with workout based active recovery, there are many other ways to help your body recover between workouts:

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) has been shown to reduce workout related fatigue, improve range of motion and improve vascular function. With this form of “self massage” on a foam roller, athletes often feel reduced pain and muscle stiffness associated with repeated training activities.

Hydration has a direct impact on exercise performance, and dehydration can reduce high intensity endurance by as much as 10%. Maintaining good hydration between workouts will help your body recover and improve performance at your next workout.

Proper nutrition fuels your body, and while most of us work out once a day, we usually have at least 3 opportunities a day to affect or nutrition. Whatever your diet plan, remember to stick to it between workouts and on off days.