There’s something about the soreness of muscles the day after a strenuous and intense workout that hurts so good. Knowing you put in your full effort is rewarding, and for some, validates a relaxing and passive recovery day spent on the couch. While recovery is an important part of staying fit and healthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean complete inactivity.
The term active recovery might sound like an oxymoron, but studies have shown that active recovery on your rest day can actually reduce soreness and help you rebuild muscle faster. It comes in many forms. From yoga to swimming to walking or even tai chi, anything that encourages blood flow and gentle muscle flexibility is what we’re talking about.
Looking for an active recovery workout definition? We define it as low-intensity movement that increases the heart rate high enough to pump blood throughout the body.
Why Is the Active Recovery Method Important?
Implementing an active recovery day is important because it helps to speed up the recovery process by circulating blood flow towards parts of the body that need to heal.
From a cardio workout to strength training, when we work out, our muscles microscopically tear. Don’t worry though, these tears are good—they tell your body to repair by building new muscle. This muscle tearing and rebuilding process is how we increase our muscle density and size.
This process is also what causes the soreness you feel on rest days. Your body is hard at work repairing these tears. Active recovery helps to speed up this process because it increases blood flow. If you didn’t choose to rest though, those tears would never have time to repair and build into the muscles you’ve been working so hard for.
Oxygenated blood carries energy and nutrients that muscles require in order to heal. Increased blood flow brings more oxygenated blood to recovering muscles, and also increases cellular exchange. Cellular exchange allows muscles to swap out built up waste and toxins from working out with oxygen and other nutrients that benefit muscles. A higher cellular exchange rate speeds up the healing process by reducing muscle soreness and fatigue faster than passively resting on the couch all day.
One study looked at the effects of swimming-based active recovery performed the day after an intense HIIT workout session. Compared to the passive recovery group, scientists found that the active recovery group could outperform the passive recovery group in their next day’s workout.
What Are The Benefits Of Active Recovery?
The benefits of an active rest day include:
- Decreasing lactic acid buildup
- Flushing out toxins
- Maintaining muscle flexibility
- Reducing soreness
- Increasing blood flow
- Aid in muscle recovery
- Supporting and reinforcing an active, healthy lifestyle
How Does an Active Recovery Session Look And Feel?
We said that active recovery means that you have to do something that gets your heart pumping and blood moving, but we don’t mean that you need to go sprint a marathon or free solo El Cap. Active recovery looks and feels forgiving and soft. It is taking your dog for a stroll around the neighborhood, taking a gentle yoga class, or hopping in the pool for a swim under the sun. You shouldn’t feel exhausted afterward, but your body should be warm and energetic by the end of the activity.
Ultimately, active recovery is any activity that increases your heart rate high enough to begin pumping blood throughout the body, delivering the goods your muscles need to recover.
And, dancing to the latest Billie Eilish album in your living room might be the active rest day workout you need. Don’t worry, we won’t judge. In fact, we might just join you!
You don’t need to drastically switch up your rest day routine to incorporate active recovery. Incorporating mindfulness into your rest day is an easy way to get started. Looking for inspiration? Find some active recovery exercise examples here, or stop in to one of our locations to find your perfect rest day activities and see our smiling faces.