What is Active Recovery?

Rest and recovery is a vital part of performing at your best; whether it is for running, CrossFit or other functional fitness activities, it is a must. So what is active recovery then?

Active recovery is a light but still active form of recovery, where you engage in a low-intensity “workout” or activity, as opposed to a completely no-workout rest for recovery. It’s a feel-good workout, aimed at allowing your body a chance to recover while maintaining a specific level of activity.

Active Recovery

What is Active Recovery in More Detail?

Active recovery is still a “workout” that you would perform, but at a low enough intensity which still allows the body to recover properly, yet will encourage an even better or faster recovery than complete rest would. These active recovery workouts are generally performed at about 30-50%, or even less, of your intensity/capacity.

There are two types of active recovery to consider; one is done directly after high-intensity workouts, and the other is done on a rest day (or the day after a high-intensity workout).

The idea of an active recovery session right after a heavy workout is that it forms part of your cool-down and it encourages recovery by reducing muscle lactate levels quicker. Active recovery on a rest day, or the day after a heavy workout, promotes psychological recovery by improving relaxation and it also primes the body’s metabolic pathways of recovery.

Periodization allows you to plan your workout days and your “rest” days, with some form of regularity; for example, training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and resting Wednesday and Sunday. You would then plan in active recovery workouts on a Wednesday and Sunday.

Context comes into play though, and understanding relative intensity is important, as your 30-50%% intensity in a workout is based on your sport or training type and your level or fitness in that. For example, for top athletes (in any sport or training), their low-intensity active recovery workout might be a tough or even a high-intensity workout for a beginner. Below there are suggestions of active recovery workouts/activities, but always ensure the workouts are done at no more than 30-50%% or your capability.

Active Recovery Example Exercises

Jogging – going for a relaxed jog is a great low-intensity workout that will allow your body to increase its blood circulation, elevate your heart rate moderately and it will also get you outdoors for some fresh air.

Rowing – climbing onto a rower and doing a moderately paced 1-2km row is a perfect way to give your body that active recovery workout. It’s a great full body workout for active recovery, when done at low-intensity.

Swimming – going for a few slow laps in the pool is another great way to stay active at low-intensity. It’s also less intense on your joints while engaging your cardiovascular and muscular system.

Cycling – climbing onto a stationary bike or taking out your mountain bike for a short relaxed cycle is perfect for active recovery. Ensuring the intensity is low and it’s not for too long will give your body exactly what it needs for active recovery.

Foam rolling – although not a workout, foam rolling can also elicit many active recovery benefits. Read our article on the benefits of foam rolling for better insight on this.

Mobility work – by working on your mobility, you not only increase the benefit to your body for performance during training or competition, but it is a great form of active recovery. In fact, we recently reviewed a book on mobility and its importance.

Do you include any active recovery in your training program/periodization?

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