Active Recovery

Active Recovery

Being that it is a Sunday, and usually an “off day” from work and training, where people lounge on the couch, spend time with family, and passively rest, I wanted to take a little time to talk about active recovery or “active rest”.

Active Recovery is a term used to describe the days you don’t workout but still perform light exercise or some sort of activity. This light exercise enables you to continue burning calories without putting too much strain on your body and muscles, which should be recovering from workouts and training, (long winded definition) With the amount of athletes in today’s society trying to “gain the edge”, trainers and coaches are starting to understand the impact of over-training. Often times the importance of complete rest is undervalued and injuries linked to fatigue and overuse have become more prevalent. With that being said, I think there is an efficient way to stay active on your “off days” that may actually help your body recover better and allow you to burn calories at the same time.

Active Rest vs. Passive Rest

Simply put, passive rest is where you do nothing, and completely let your muscles recover by not training, staying inactive, and sometimes immobile. While the physical element of this is vital, the mental break that you actually receive from passive rest may be the greatest benefit. Some examples could consist of any of the following;

  1. Sleeping
  2. Watching TV
  3. Reading
  4. Studying
  5. Surfing the web
  6. Lounging in the sun
Active Recovery benefits
While there seems to be great debate and differences of opinion on the actual purpose and effectiveness of active recovery, here are some of the potential benefits;
  • Stimulates the metabolic pathways of recovery without contributing to fatigue. (I.E. gets your blood pumping and juices flowing without contributing to muscle fatigue or strain)
  • Allows you to get some light work in on those often neglected stabilizer muscles or small muscle groups you might miss in a workout without putting strain on the large muscle groups. (Some examples would be shoulder rotational exercises or hip mobility)

  • Using it as a way to burn calories while still letting your major muscle groups recover.
  • Recovery or regeneration training-Countering a high-intensity training day, where there may be a build up of lactic acid or acidosis, with a less-intense recovery session may actually help speed up recovery, reduce high intensity-induced damage, and restore your natural lactate levels. (Often seen in biking and swimming)
  • Light weight workouts might help speed up recovery by increasing blood flow to the stimulated areas and removing waste products. This method ,coupled with a solid carb/protein recovery meal, will aid in your muscle regeneration and restored energy levels
Active Recovery Activities
  • Light weight workout at 50-75% of your 1 rep max.
  • Low-intensity cardio at 40-60 % of your maximum heart rate (Jog, brisk walk, light bike, light swim,)
  • Yoga class
  • Play golf
  • Light sport specific activity (Intended so you don’t “lose the feel”. Some examples would be stick handling a puck, shooting free throws, and juggling a soccer ball.)
Cristiano Ronaldo Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United juggles with the ball during a training session held at the Carrington Training Complex on September 16, 2008 in Carrington, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Sports massage or foam roll.


I think there is something to be said about having 1 day completely off to passively rest. This day should be made up of a whole lot of R&R, where you physically do nothing as well as give yourself a mental break by just zoning out for a day. (For those who know me, I prefer my passive rest by the pool or on the beach as I am definitely not a part of the 75% of the U.S that is Vitamin D deficient) However I think 1-2 days of active recovery or rest where you may perform a less intense workout, easy yoga, or one of the active recovery activities listed above, is extremely beneficial and important to an overall healthy lifestyle. My recommendation would be for athletes to spend at least one active rest day doing something functional that is not involved in your sport. For example if you are a hockey player go for a light jog or if you are a marathon runner go for a light bike to involve different muscle groups and stay mentally fresh. For those who are trying to get in shape or lose fat, active recovery is a great way to burn some calories while giving your body some much-needed rest.

My suggestion

While I don’t advise anyone to workout 7 days in a row, cycling high-intensity training days with light recovery days can be beneficial to your body. As a generic recommendation, I would suggest 3 or 4 days of workouts with 2 active recovery days and 1 day of passive rest. An individual’s specific regimen may be able to tolerate much more of a work load or less of one. (Get to know your body’s needs and limits) Thanks for reading and let me know your comments and suggestions.

From South Bend,