Active Recovery Workout Ideas To Help Level Up Your Training
Whether you’ve just jumped into a new workout program or are on track to reach the fitness goals you’ve been chasing, you might think more is better when it comes to working out and seeing results. But remember, the muscle and fitness gains happen when you're RESTING, not during your workouts, so proper muscle recovery should always be a top priority if you want to continue to see progress.
While dedication and commitment will help you achieve your goals, it’s also important to learn about the importance of rest to give your muscles time to repair and adapt.
If you’re following a strength training program, the Sweat Trainers recommend training alternate muscle groups each day to allow more recovery time, and only doing HIIT a few times a week rather than every day.
But giving your muscles time to recover doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing, and many people find their recovery is faster when they keep moving on the days they don’t have a workout scheduled. That’s where active recovery comes in!
What is active recovery?
Active recovery involves non-strenuous aerobic or physical activity — think walking, swimming, gardening, mobility exercises or yoga. It’s typically done on the day after a high-intensity session or between workouts and has a number of benefits, including aiding your muscle recovery.
While rest days are an important part of any fitness routine, many believe that active recovery might improve performance.
A 2014 study exploring the effect of active versus passive recovery on performance in swimmers suggested that active recuperation exercises may encourage better athletic performance and lower lactate values than those who engaged in passive recovery. Another study from 2019 looking at the impact on sprint interval training found active recovery induces greater endurance adaptions.
While active recovery may help to speed up recovery and improve performance, it can also be a much-needed way to slow down for those who regularly train at maximum effort or follow a high-intensity training style, which can put your body under a lot of stress.
Active recovery benefits
It's important to find the right balance. When you’re training hard, you can lose fluid, damage your muscle tissue and deplete energy stores in your body. If you don’t give your body enough time to repair itself, this can lead to symptoms of overtraining such as fatigue, poor sleep, constant aches, changes to your menstrual cycle and heightened stress. These might even negate some of the positive benefits of exercise.
- Enhanced recovery by increasing circulation
- Repairing damaged muscle tissues
- Removing the waste products of muscle breakdown
- Stretching stiff muscles and keeping them flexible
- Increasing blood flow and delivering nutrients to the muscles
Results from a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Physiology also support this, highlighting how active recovery may contribute to a reduction in muscle pain by facilitating the removal of metabolic waste, such as lactate (or lactic acid) built up during exercise.
Performing light physical activity to support your workout recovery is not only beneficial for your overall physical performance, but it can also be a chance for you to take a mental break from your regular training and prioritise self-care.
How and when to perform active recovery
Active recovery is a great tool you can use to keep moving on days in between your workouts, but it can also be beneficial during or after your Sweat session, too!
You can make active recovery part of your circuit training or HIIT efforts by trying low-intensity cardio movements during your rest periods to keep your heart rate up - think a boxer shuffle or jogging on the spot. Training this way can help to reduce fatigue.
Active recovery is also a supportive way to complete your post-workout cooldown.
According to Mayo Clinic, continuing to move gently after a tough workout allows your heart rate to gradually return to its pre-workout rhythm and helps regulate your blood flow. This could be a few minutes of walking, biking, stretching or foam rolling.
For standalone active recovery sessions like a brisk walk, you should never be working at more than 70% of your maximum effort, and even less is fine depending on your fitness and energy levels.
How often should you complete active recovery?
All of the Sweat programs dedicate at least one day per week to recovery, but how many recovery days you need and how active you are on those days will depend on factors such as:
- How new you are to fitness
- If you're coming back from a break
- If you have recently increased the difficulty of your program
- How sore or tired you're feeling
Listening to your body is key. If you did a tough workout yesterday or feel fatigued or sore, it’s best to prioritise active recovery over training. It’s one of the things all Sweat Trainers swear by, so take it from the pros! On some recovery days, you might feel energised and up for a brisk walk, while on others your body might be calling out for a slow stretch and foam-rolling session. Move in ways that feel most nourishing for your body.
Stretch into these low-intensity active recovery workouts
Recovery doesn’t always have to mean chilling on the couch with the latest Netflix drama. Here are some fun active recovery workout ideas you can do on your rest days to stay moving, maximise your results and get you back into your training even stronger than before!
A regular yoga practice has many benefits and according to John Hopkins Medicine, a gentle yoga flow can help open up tight areas of your body, improve your quality of sleep and promote blood flow to your muscles. There’s also the added benefit of giving you time to focus on your breath, connect your mind with your movement and clear your thoughts.
The American Council on Exercise recommends foam rolling to reduce tightness, tension and inflammation of muscle tissues, and it can also help increase your range of motion - which is great for improving your general performance!
Walking or jogging
Another great thing about LISS is it gives you an opportunity to exercise outdoors and reap the benefits of time spent in nature - you could even go for a hike to work different muscle groups on uneven terrain while getting a dose of vitamin D!
According to a 2011 systematic review published in Environmental Science and Technology journal, working out outdoors has been shown to also improve mental wellbeing. Bonus!
As well as being low-impact and easier on your joints and muscles, swimming can also help improve your circulation.
The NSW Institute of Sport in Australia recommends a water-based recovery routine after intense exercise as the buoyancy and cool temperature can assist with muscle recovery.
A recovery session is a great opportunity to work on your flexibility and mobility, especially if your muscles are feeling tight after your workout.
Some dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges or leg swings, can help increase blood flow to your muscles and improve joint mobility. Static stretching features at the end of most Sweat workouts and involves holding poses for longer periods of time to relax into any places of tension and help improve your flexibility.
Liven up your rest days with these active recovery workout ideas
If you like to find a way to move your body every day, need to skip a workout, or are looking for a way to boost your muscle recovery, try incorporating active recovery days into your routine!
Pay attention to the cues your body gives you and choose the form of recovery that best suits you and your fitness goals. Other lifestyle factors, such as getting enough sleep and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will also help contribute to good recovery.
And, if you’re part of the Sweat Community, don’t forget to make the most of the active recovery sessions included in your program! They come trainer recommended and you’ll feel all the better for it.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.