What You Need to Know About Active Recovery Exercise

July 6, 2021

What You Need to Know About Active Recovery Exercise

An active recovery workout involves performing low-intensity exercise following a strenuous workout. Examples include walking, yoga, and swimming.

Active recovery is often considered more beneficial than inactivity, resting completely, or sitting. It can keep blood flowing and help muscles recover and rebuild from intense physical activity.

Avoid active recovery if you’re injured or in a lot of pain, though. Symptoms of an injury may need to be evaluated by a doctor.

Benefits of active recovery

Active recovery workouts are beneficial for your body. They may help you recover faster after a difficult workout. Some benefits include:

  • reducing lactic acid buildup in muscles
  • eliminating toxins
  • keeping muscles flexible
  • reducing soreness
  • increasing blood flow
  • helping you maintain your exercise routine

Active vs. passive recovery

During passive recovery, the body stays completely at rest. It may involve sitting or inactivity. Passive recovery is important and beneficial if you’re injured or in pain. You may also need passive recovery if you’re very tired, either mentally or physically, after exercising.

If none of these circumstances apply to you and you’re only generally sore, active recovery is considered a better option.

Three types of active recovery and how it works

Studies show that active recovery exercise may help clear blood lactate in the body. Blood lactate may accumulate during intense exercise and results in an increase in hydrogen ions in the body. This accumulation of ions can lead to muscle contraction and fatigue.

By participating in active recovery, this accumulation decreases, helping your muscles feel less fatigued and keeping you going. You may feel better the next time you exercise, too.

There are a few different ways to partake in active recovery exercise.

As cooldown following a workout

After a tough workout, you may want to stop and sit or lie down. But, if you keep moving, it can greatly help you recover. Try to cool down gradually. For example, if you went for a run or sprint, try a short, light jog or walk for 10 minutes.

If you were weightlifting or doing high intensity interval training (HIIT), try the stationary bike at an easy pace for a few minutes. As an active cooldown, make sure you’re working at no more than 50 percent of your maximum effort. Gradually reduce your effort from there.

During interval (circuit) training

If you participate in interval or circuit training, a set of active recovery exercise between sets is also beneficial.

A study by the American Council on Exercise found that athletes who ran or cycled until the point of fatigue recovered faster while continuing at 50 percent of their maximum effort versus stopping completely.

On rest days following strenuous activity

In the day or two after a strenuous workout, you can still participate in active recovery. Try going for a walk or an easy bike ride. You can also try stretching, swimming, or yoga.

Active recovery on your rest days will help your muscles recover. This is especially important if you’re sore.

Planning an active recovery day

An active recovery day should include different activity from your usual workout at the gym. You shouldn’t be working at a maximum effort. You should go slow and not push yourself too hard. Examples of active recovery exercises include:


Swimming is a low-impact exercise that’s easy on your joints and muscles. One studyTrusted Source found that among triathletes who followed a HIIT session with recovery in the pool had a better exercise performance the next day. Researchers think the water may help reduce inflammation.

Tai chi or yoga

Practicing tai chi or yoga can be beneficial for active recovery. Both help stretch sore muscles and increase flexibility. It can also reduce stress and inflammation.

Walking or jogging

Walking is one of the best forms of active recovery. If you’re a runner, you can also go for a slow jog. Walking or jogging at a leisurely pace can enhance blood flow and help with recovery.

Even a few minutes of movement the day after a tough workout is enough to promote circulation and help reduce stiffness and soreness.


Cycling at a leisurely pace is an excellent way to get in an active recovery. It’s low-impact and doesn’t put pressure on your joints. You can cycle either on a stationary bike or on a bicycle outdoors.

Myofascial release with a foam roller

Active recovery doesn’t only include movement. You also can stretch and roll a foam roller over parts of your body and get many of the same benefits.

If your muscles are sore, foam rolling can help relieve tightness, reduce inflammation, and increase your range of motion.


Active recovery exercises are generally considered safe. If you’re in pain and suspect you have an injury, avoid active recovery. Stop exercising until you see a doctor.

A doctor or a physical therapist may recommend forms of active recovery including stretches, swimming, or cycling as you recover from an injury.

During active recovery, make sure you aren’t working harder than about 50 percent of your maximum effort. This will give your body the chance it needs to rest.

ref: https://www.healthline.com/health/working-out-when-sore

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