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How To Use Active Recovery & Rest Days

Published October 05, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@type":"BlogPosting", "headline":"How To Use Active Recovery & Rest Days", "datePublished":"October 05, 2019", "description":"Active recovery boosts mood, loosens joints, and might help build muscle. Here’s how to decide if you should do a light workout or take a full rest day.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/08/woman-stretching-arm-friend-together-happy-thumbnail-0252.jpg" }, } ] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What is Active Recovery?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">What are the Benefits of Active Recovery?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Why are Rest Days After Workouts Important?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What is the Difference Between Passive and Active Recovery?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Active Recovery & Rest Days—Wrapping Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>When you think of recovery techniques, working out might not come to mind. But that’s what <i>active recovery</i> is—deliberately doing a short workout or series of movements to promote muscle healing and rebuilding.</p> <p>You may or may not know how important rest is for reaching your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/how-to-set-realistic-fitness-goals-you-can-achieve" rel="noreferrer">fitness goals</a>. Depending on how your body is feeling after training, light exercise may be more beneficial for you than doing nothing.</p> <p>On the other hand, there are times when a <i>full</i> rest day is probably the better move.</p> <p>Here’s everything you need to know about how to use active recovery, its benefits, why light movement may expedite progress, and when full rest days are appropriate.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"What is active recovery?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Active recovery means doing easier forms of exercise instead of your normal routine."}}]}</script> <h2>What is active recovery?</h2> <p>Active recovery means doing easier forms of exercise instead of your normal routine.</p> <p>Examples of active recovery include:</p> <ul> <li>Going for a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise" rel="noreferrer">long walk</a>, hike, or swim</li> <li>Massage or other myofascial release techniques like foam rolling</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/2-easy-shoulder-stretches-to-increase-mobility/" rel="noreferrer">Stretching</a> or light yoga</li> </ul> <p>Active recovery is usually done on scheduled rest days. The goal of these days isn’t to improve fitness, but to increase the speed at which muscles recover. That way, you’re fully recovered (at or beyond 100 percent) for your next big workout.</p> <p>Here’s an easy measuring stick to remember the goal of these sessions: you should feel <i>better</i> after your “active rest” workout than when you started.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-stretching-legs-sitting-outdoors-0252.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-stretching-legs-sitting-outdoors-0252.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-stretching-legs-sitting-outdoors-0252.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-stretching-legs-sitting-outdoors-LR-0252.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="man-stretching-legs-sitting-outdoors"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"What are the benefits of active recovery?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"According to a study from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, active recovery sessions may help your body return to homeostasis after workouts faster.\n\nThe idea is that light exercise flushes out lactic acid (the “burn” you feel during intense exercise) and sends signals to proteins in tissues to begin repair.\n\nAnd since exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to muscles and the brain, a light workout can help soothe joints and muscles and boost your mood.\n\nA similar study found that active recovery methods performed at 60 percent of max effort may be more beneficial than lighter sessions.\n\n60 percent seems to be the “sweet spot” for not taxing muscles too much while still providing benefits.\n\nBeyond 60 percent might be so stressful that you wind up having additional recovery needs from what was supposed to be a gentle workout.\n\nAnd don’t dismiss the psychological benefits, either. People generally experience less soreness, improved mood, and less stiffness in joints after a light exercise or mobility session."}}]}</script> <h2>What are the benefits of active recovery?</h2> <p>According to a study from <i>Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise</i>, active recovery sessions may help your body return to homeostasis after workouts faster <sup>1</sup>. </p> <p>The idea is that light exercise flushes out lactic acid (the “burn” you feel during intense exercise) and sends signals to proteins in tissues to begin repair. </p> <p>And since exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to muscles and the brain, a light workout can help soothe joints and muscles and boost your mood <sup>2</sup>.</p> <p>A similar study found that active recovery methods performed at <i>60 percent of max effort</i> may be more beneficial than lighter sessions <sup>3</sup>.</p> <p>60 percent seems to be the “sweet spot” for not taxing muscles too much while still providing benefits. </p> <p>Beyond 60 percent might be so stressful that you wind up having additional recovery needs from what was supposed to be a gentle workout.</p> <p>And don’t dismiss the psychological benefits, either. People generally experience less soreness, improved mood, and less stiffness in joints after a light exercise or mobility session <sup>4</sup>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-rest-sleep-bed-torso-0252.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-rest-sleep-bed-torso-0252.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-rest-sleep-bed-torso-0252.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-rest-sleep-bed-torso-LR-0252.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-rest-sleep-bed-torso"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Why are rest days after workouts important?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Rest days, or ‘passive recovery’, are the days you take off completely from working out.\n\nTo understand why these are important, you must understand this:\n\nWhile it seems counterintuitive, you don’t actually improve from exercising. You improve when you recover from intense bouts of exercise that induce muscle damage."}}]}</script> <h2>Why are rest days after workouts important?</h2> <p>Rest days, or ‘<i>passive recovery</i>’, are the days you take off completely from working out. </p> <p>To understand why these are important, you must understand this:</p> <p>While it seems counterintuitive, you don’t actually improve from exercising. You improve when you <i>recover</i> from intense bouts of exercise that induce muscle damage <sup>5</sup>. </p> <h3>What happens to the muscles during intense workouts?</h3> <p>Intense exercise causes microscopic tears in your muscles. The brain sends signals to the muscles to repair, which takes time—and muscle-building catalysts like sleep and proper nutrients—to complete. </p> <p>Rest is when muscles get stronger and bigger <sup>6</sup>. </p> <p>And without it, you’re more likely to get injured. Fatigued muscles can lead to bad form and repetitive use injuries <sup>7</sup>.</p> <h3>How much rest do you need?</h3> <p>According to the <i>University of New Mexico</i>, the amount of rest you should get depends on the intensity of the exercise. The greater the intensity, the more rest you need <sup>8</sup>.</p> <p>They go on to say <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/how-often-should-you-workout" rel="noreferrer">three workouts per week</a> is the ideal number of sessions. </p> <p>This aligns closely with the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation to perform physical activity for about 150 minutes per week, slowly ramping up if you’re just getting into exercising again <sup>9</sup>. </p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-stretching-childs-pose-rest-0252.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-stretching-childs-pose-rest-0252.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-stretching-childs-pose-rest-0252.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/woman-stretching-childs-pose-rest-LR-0252.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-stretching-childs-pose-rest"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"What is the difference between passive and active recovery?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Passive recovery is deliberately taking a day off to give the body time to repair itself. Active recovery is using light movements and stretching to increase blood flow, flush out lactic acid, and encourage protein signaling so muscles rebuild faster."}}]}</script> <h2>What is the difference between passive and active recovery?</h2> <p>Passive recovery is deliberately taking a day off to give the body time to repair itself. Active recovery is using light movements and stretching to increase blood flow, flush out lactic acid, and encourage protein signaling so muscles rebuild faster.</p> <h3>Is active recovery better than rest?</h3> <p>According to the <i>American Council of Exercise</i> (ACE), active recovery days may or may not be beneficial to you depending on how sore you are <sup>10</sup>. </p> <p>They offer two “types”, or general descriptions, of soreness: </p> <ul> <li>A general sense of tiredness or fatigue the day after a workout.</li> <li>Intense muscle discomfort or soreness that clearly signals your muscle damage from exercise.</li> </ul> <p><i>ACE</i> recommends active recovery for the first “type” of soreness. Light activity can reduce fatigue or soreness, and also helps move lymphatic fluid through your body. This helps remove lactic acid that makes muscles sore.</p> <p>Those who are experiencing <i>ACE</i>’s second description of soreness are encouraged to take the whole day off to allow muscles to heal. The damage you sense likely requires total rest to rebuild damage incurred during your workout. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Active recovery & rest days—Wrapping up</h2> <p>A little light exercise or stretching helps loosen joints, elevate mood, and may even increase protein signaling—meaning faster muscle repair and growth.</p> <p>If you’re completely spent from a killer workout though, a “day off” (or passive recovery day) is probably more beneficial. Listening to your body is important: if it’s saying “take the day off”, then do it! Listening to your body is the best move.</p> <p>Either way, focus on sleep, nutrition, and hydration so your body has the stuff it needs to get you back to one hundred percent.</p> <h3>Resources</h3> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8778550" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Effects of active recovery on plasma lactate and anaerobic power</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Benefits of Exercise</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20544484" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Blood lactate clearance during active recovery</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.builtlean.com/2013/01/21/active-recovery-workout-ideas/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Top 7 Active Recovery Workout Ideas</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-muscle" rel="nofollow noreferrer">What You Should Know About Building Muscle Mass and Tone</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/muscular-hypertrophy#how-to" rel="nofollow noreferrer">How to build muscle and increase muscle size</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/rest-day#benefits" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Are Rest Days Important for Exercise?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/recoveryUNM.html" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.athleticbusiness.com/health-fitness/acsm-issues-new-guidelines-on-exercise-quality-quantity.html" rel="nofollow noreferrer">ACSM Issues New Guidelines on Exercise Quality, Quantity</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5456/passive-vs-active-recovery-which-is-more-effective" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Passive Vs. Active Recovery: Which is More Effective?</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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