We all know that after a period of stress, illness, or strenuous activity, the body needs to rest and recover. We may also have heard the term “active recovery” bandied about fitness instructors or blogs. But, what does “active recovery” actually mean?

Active recovery is low-intensity exercise/activity that a person undertakes after higher intensity or strenuous exercise in order to improve their overall recovery and performance. Active recovery has many benefits, and there are several ways to perform it. Recovering after a workout is an essential part of physical fitness. There are two types of recovery: active and passive. Both recovery methods are important, and people may use one or the other at different points to suit their circumstances.

Active recovery describes a person partaking in low-intensity activity after a workout. Passive recovery, on the other hand, refers to resting after an activity. For instance, a person might lie down for several minutes. Different people may find active recovery or passive recovery more suitable, depending on the type of physical activity they do.

2018 study found that active recovery can benefit people by:

  • reducing lactic acid buildup in the muscles
  • increasing blood flow to muscle tissue
  • removing metabolic waste from the muscles
  • reducing muscle tears and pain

Active recovery works best when people go at their own individual pace.

There are several different types of active recovery such as rest days or in between training sets.

Rest days are the days during which a person does not partake in intense workouts. However, gentle exercise — such as walking or even flying a kite — increases blood flow to the muscles without the intensity of a workout. This increase in blood flow is a part of active recovery, and general light physical activity on rest days can aid blood circulation and aid with the body’s recovery.

Active recovery can also be beneficial during interval training sets.

The American Council on Exercise found that athletes recovered faster by continuing at less than 50% of their maximum efforts between intervals, as this still exercises the muscles and keeps the blood flowing. Active recovery can be more beneficial than passive recovery when cooling down from a workout. A 2017 study found that 10 minutes of self-paced active recovery at 50–60% of the athlete’s maximum effort was beneficial.

A person can use various methods and exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, or using a foam roller for active recovery, each of which can have different benefits.

Walking is a gentle, light activity that has many benefits. It does not require any prior knowledge of gym equipment or require a gym membership, making it a straightforward and often cost-free alternative to some other activities.

Swimming is a low-impact exercise that is a good method of active recovery that can alleviate inflammation thereby helping prevent sore muscles.

Going for a gentle bike ride is another option for active recovery. People can use a stationary bike or go cycling outside. A light bike ride increases blood circulation without challenging any muscles that may be sore or recovering from a prior workout.

Yoga is a form of active recovery that can help regulate blood glucose levels, reduce musculoskeletal aches and pains, and improve posture. The stretching that yoga involves also continues to work the muscles in a gentle way, which will increase blood circulation.

Another form of active recovery is self-massage, or self-myofascial release, which someone can perform with a foam roller. Some health and fitness experts believe that foam rolling helps reduce tightness, soreness, inflammation, and range of motion.

Active recovery can help reduce soreness and tightness after a workout. It might also improve a person’s performance in the long run.

However, if a person has an injury or partakes in workouts involving short, repeated bursts of high-intensity exercise, passive recovery might be more beneficial.

*This article does not replace professional medical advice.

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