Active Recovery – Add It To Your Workout Plan


Active Recovery

You do everything you can to maintain and obtain the body and health of your fitness dreams. You put in time at the gym, do cardio when you can and usually eat right.

You probably also look up different ways to boost results online (hey, that’s why you’re here, right?).

During your research, you’ve probably come across a handful of terms that sound good, but need more explanation.

This includes active recovery. What exactly is recovery, and how can you take advantage of it within your own fitness goals?

We’ve got all the answers to your questions right here.

What Happens When You Push Your Body Harder?

In order to improve your strength training, grow bigger, become a faster runner or jump higher as an athlete, you need to push your body.

If you just wanted to burn a few calories here or there you’d toss on one of the old Jazzercise VHS tapes. That isn’t what you’re going for though (although there’s nothing wrong with Jazzercise when you want to add some calorie burning alterations to the rest of your workouts).

But when you really dig deep and push your body harder, what exactly goes on?

During your lifting sessions, your muscles experience microscopic tears. This might sound incredibly painful but it actually is a good thing. Fiber in the muscles tear and break down in small amounts.

When the body repairs the torn muscle fibers, it converts protein ingested into your body and fuses the muscle fibers together. This forms new muscles, which helps improve the thickness of your muscles.

Scientifically, muscle growth begins when protein synthesis is higher than the rate of protein breakdown.

While the muscles are broken during weight lifting and other vigorous activities, muscle growth and protein synthesis occur while you rest.

This is why rest is important.

Of course, as anyone knows, it isn’t always possible to obtain eight full hours of sleep. In the ideal world, sure, but the world isn’t often ideal and sometimes you can only squeeze six hours of sleep out during the work week. The more sleep the better with regards to repairing and rebuilding your muscles.

Rest and Recovery After Lifting

In order to see the size gains you’re hoping for, rest and recovery are important.

However, far too many people fall down the path of what is known as “overtraining.”

Of course, you probably think all of those major athletes train hard every day, but they have a very specific method for doing this and their bodies have become accustomed to it. Your muscle tissue needs time to repair itself. If you over train it and doesn’t give the muscles adequate time to rest, the muscle fibers simply will never be able to repair.

All of the protein you intake to rebuild the muscles instead then goes to the new activity and there simply isn’t anything left for your muscles.

This is why you not only need to shoot for as much sleep as possible but also put in “off days” for your muscles. Of course, the best way to do this without missing a day at the gym is to split your workouts into different sections, such as legs one day, upper body the next. You can also put all “push” workouts into one day and all “pull” workings on the next.

Either way, giving your body time to repair is vital to muscle growth.

What is Active Recovery?

Active recovery more or less tells you exactly what it is right in the name.

It is a recovery time that helps your muscles repair. 

However, you are also active. 

After all, do you really want to just sit around every other day or so in order to give your body what it needs to repair muscles?

That is a good amount of training time, or at least the ability to burn some extra calories and shed more fat you’re missing out on. Thankfully, while you do need plenty of rest and recovery time to grow and repair muscles, you don’t need to do this sitting on the couch, watching another Law & Order marathon.

During a “recovery”, it is recommended to cut down on your physical activity by anywhere from 30 to 50 percent. So, naturally, if you are lifting big with a certain muscle group you’re not going to simply go back and hit the weights for that muscle group. It won’t do you any good and you’ll enter the stage of overtraining.

It doesn’t mean you have to walk around with your arms in slings in order to avoid not using the muscles at all. You just need to know how to properly use your muscle groups on a recovery day (Breaking Muscle, 2017).

A recovery day is there for two reasons.

First, you need time to recover from the workout.

The second, and often the most overlooked aspect of if you are training heavily, is you need a mental break. There are times you just need a day off to go out and have fun with friends or to take care of errands. So by all means, if you have chores piling up, make sure to take care of all of this during your recovery day.

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Active Recovery Activities

The general idea of active recovery is to perform a low-intensity workout but to still boost your blood flow.

The increase in blood circulation helps improve the delivery of protein and oxygen to your damaged muscles, which can actually improve recovery time and help your muscles grow larger, faster. The importance here though is to know how to not over do it. It is easy enough to push yourself too hard on these kinds of active recovery days, which in turn may cause further damage to your muscles and prevent your muscles from proper recovery.

That is why taking care and having a general understanding of what kind of activities you can do on a general recovery day should help set the tone.

For starters, whatever activity you take part in, you need it to be low intensity. Basically, you’ll still squeeze calories out of the workout and you’ll be moving, so you won’t feel restless just sitting around all day while improving your blood circulation.

But what kind of activities should you focus on?

Realistically, anything you can do in under two hours (at a time) at a low-intensity level. The more intensity involved in the workout, the less time it should take.

A great active recovery day can be a bike ride.

This should be a calming, city bike ride with few hills and inclines. The occasional hill is fine, but don’t push yourself too hard. Of course, one thing to keep in mind is the part of your body that is recovering.

This is also a prime example of why you may want to split upper and lower body segments up at the gym. If you worked your upper body the day before, you can put a little more into a bike ride as you’re using your lower body, but still don’t try to go out and bike the Grand Canyon. Riding your bike to the grocery store or to carry out a few different errands though, that is more than alright.

If you are someone who enjoys jogging, you can still do this, but keep it at a slower pace and shoot for around 45 minutes at a time.

Maybe you decide to jog out to the local ice cream shack for a cone and then walk back as you enjoy the summer treat. That’s a great way to reward yourself for the hard work you’ve put in and, realistically, burn off all the calories from the cone during the jog. Of course, you don’t have to grab anything like this, but it is a good way to limit yourself from going over the top with the training (Breaking Muscle, 2017).

Walking is a fantastic active recovery activity.

No, you don’t need to show up a 5 am with the mall walkers, but perhaps you take the dogs for a longer walk or instead of driving the mile down the road for a morning coffee you walk down. There really is no limit to how much you’re able to walk during an active recovery day.

It gets the heart pumping a bit and is still a solid way to burn off some calories as your body repairs the damaged muscle tissue.

Looking for something a bit more interesting to do during your off, active recovery day?

Maybe hit up the rock climbing location. This is perfect if you did lower body the day before. There is some strain put on your upper body, so don’t push yourself with the most extreme options, but it is a fun way to do something a bit different, get the blood pumping and just have fun.

If you’re kind of stumped for what to do around town that might be fun yet a different kind of challenge to your body over just stopping onto the elliptical for a 45-minute jaunt,  consider checking out local activities available on services like Groupon.

You’ll almost always find some fun activities you can do in the area. Whatever you decide to do, be mindful of how intense you are going and you’ll be fine.

I Have No Idea If I’m Going Too Hard! What Should I Do?

Are you one of those people who hits the gym hard with a go big or go home mentality?

Good for you!

That is a great way to really push through the pain in your workouts and to maximize your effort. However, on an active recovery day, that can cause some problems. It’s kind of like driving a Corvette but keeping it in second gear.

However, on an active recovery day, that can cause some problems. It’s kind of like driving a Corvette but keeping it in second gear.

Takes some of the fun out of it, doesn’t it?

Well, you can still have plenty of fun going slower, you just need to know how to slow down if you’re going too hard.

Your heart rate is an instant sign as to just how hard you’re going. The great thing about this is as you become stronger and more physically fit, your heart won’t beat as hard because it is so strong. This will actually allow you to go a bit harder than the average person on your recovery days. With that said, you still need to be able to monitor your heart rate.

Thankfully, you don’t need to check your pulse every five minutes like you use to a few years ago.

Now, there are plenty of smart devices that can do this for you. Consider investing in a smartwatch or wearable smart technology. If you’re a real “techie”, purchasing a smart watch can be cool and it gives you a few great application features. Best of all, it also reads your heart rate.

However, if you’re not really into wearing a smart watch all day but really just want something that can offer basic workout insights, there are plenty of workout smart bands that give you this information. there are plenty of options in this category, with most ranging from $50 to $100 (although if you keep your eyes out, you can probably find ones for less or even previous year models for discounted prices as well).

This way, you’ll always be able to adjust your workout.


You push your body to the limits while training.

Whether you lift heavy, lift light with more repetitions, go on extended, grueling bike rides or enjoy the occasional half-marathon before work in the morning, your muscles are sore and need to rest.

With active recovery, you’ll ensure your body receives all the necessary nutrients to recover and grow stronger, all without sitting around the house on “off” days.

So, if you’re interested in living an active lifestyle without a bunch of downtimes, make sure to follow this information in your quest for active recovery.

-Terry Asher

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Terry Asher

Owner & Founder at Gym Junkies LLC
After changing his best friend’s life by helping him lose over 70lbs, dropping him down to an amazing 7% body fat, Terry was inspired to be a full-time internet trainer knowing he could do the same for many more. In 2010, Terry published his own diet and fitness e-book that can be purchased on this website. Let Terry help you change your body for the better!
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