Workout articles, healthy lifestyle tips, and fitness advice.

Active Recovery: It's Not Just for Sore Muscles!

two people taking on an outdoor path
Take a nice, long walk for some active recovery!

by Steven Auger


What you do when you're away from the gym can be just as crucial as what you do while you're at the gym. That's right, rest days are an important part of your fitness journey!

You know to fuel your body with nutritious foods and get plenty of sleep so you're well-rested before your next gym visit, but have you given thought to the other things you could be doing in preparation? Taking advantage of active recovery is one way to give your body a break from the gym so you can keep working toward your fitness goals while reducing the risk of injury.

Types of Recovery: Active vs. Passive

According to the American Council on Exercise, there are two types of recovery that provide benefits after working out: active and passive.

  • Active recovery allows the body to still be active, but in a manner that aids the body's recovery. You could try easier exercises like going for an easy walk, or do other activities, like mowing the lawn.
  • Passive recovery focuses more on being still and inactive. This is typically used when you're feeling some slight discomfort after a challenging gym session. It's better to simply take a low-key activity day than to risk an injury.

It's important to note that active recovery approaches do not encourage working out when your body is too sore to do so. Give your muscles a rest when they need it! A mix of active and passive recovery is best, as it allows for some activity as you rest and recover from a challenging gym session.

Mental and Physical Breaks

Some days, you may not have the desire to hit the gym. No big deal — it happens to everyone sooner or later. This is exactly where active recovery comes in.

Instead of pushing yourself through #LegDay when you just aren't feeling it, swap out a gym session for an active recovery day. That way, you can still be active, but with less intensity.

Listen to your body on those days when you don't feel up to exercising. It's absolutely OK to make your recovery day a rest day. That doesn't mean you have to spend the day on the couch, though! Instead, go about your day normally and let your body recharge.

4 Active Recovery Options to Try

Not sure what makes for a good active recovery? Here are four different options to choose from.

1. Foam Rolling

While foam rolling might not seem like it accomplishes much, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, a few minutes with a foam roller can soothe sore muscles, reduce muscle fatigue, and improve your range of motion. Plus, foam rolling can even enhance future workouts.

2. Swimming

A dip in the pool can offer the body tons of benefits. Swimming is easy on your joints, and it provides a good stretch for the body. Additionally, it improves circulation to the heart, blood vessels, and muscles!

3. Cycling

How about some old school cardio? Try cycling at a steady pace that feels moderate and sustainable. In this way, you can get in a good workout and elevate your heart rate without pressing your body too much.

4. Hiking

Combine the fresh air with a few wooded trails and you've got yourself a recipe for a great hike. Exploring nature can cause you to use muscles that aren't usually engaged when you walk on a flat road. It also presents a fantastic chance to clear your mind!

Now that you know how to employ active recovery techniques, you can incorporate them into your routine to achieve your fitness goals.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.