Time to Read

6 minutes

Points of Interest

  • What is Active Recovery?
  • The Secret to Rest Days
  • Enhancing Performance Capabilities
  • Nutrition and Sleep
  • Ideas for Active Recovery

Active recovery sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Recovery is usually related to a certain period without exercise, while activity is completely opposite.

However, a recent study by the American Council on Exercise and Western State Colorado University showed that active recovery performed at reduced intensity is ideal for the performance of endurance athletes.

Furthermore, a 2010 research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences additionally recommends active recovery.  

The researchers claim that active recovery after vigorous training removes accumulated blood lactate much quicker than passive recovery in an intensity-dependent way.

The understanding of active recovery benefits is closely connected to blood lactate. This is a metabolic by-product secreted throughout high-intensity exercise that fuels our brain, heart, and muscles. Even though you might have heard the phrase: "muscles grow when they rest," or "everyone should relax for a day or two", this must not be taken literally.

These sayings have helped many people to recognise the importance of recovery - the concept of rest after the endurance training must not be taken for granted.

Should we really exercise every day?

Regardless of your goal, some level of activity is a much better method than literally laying on the couch. Athletes who apply active recovery can realise the benefits of daily exercise.

The secret lies in selecting the right amount of exercise during the rest days. For those who respect the amount of exercise regulation, daily exercise is not only possible but can also be useful.

Active recovery has also a psychological impact on an athlete's general feeling.  

What does active recovery actually mean?

Active recovery can be described as lighter training than your typical routine. This training can be done on so-called rest-days. Naturally, active recovery training is less intense and has less volume. For example, a person who exercises and cares about body composition goals can use a long walk as a form of active recovery.  

When active recovery is defined, this always has to include a goal and certain sport context. Let’s take marathon runners as an example. To run at a slow pace during the free days, runners will have almost no impact on their ability to maintain the intensity of training during the training days. However, active recovery can help their fitness goals and therefore can be applied during the rest days. 

Stress resulting from too much training can outweigh the body's ability to adapt the exercises. For example, for a person who is not fit and has just started exercising, everything more than walking for a few minutes can be an impossible task. It is therefore important to take into account the current form/condition of a person when looking for an appropriate active recovery method. 

It’s really important to note here that active recovery has general well-being as the main goal. If active recovery does not make you feel good, then you need to reduce the volume or time of activity.

Is active recovery useful?

Regardless of the typical active recovery exercise, many athletes have seen the benefits from including this way of staying active on the rest days in their exercise plan. For some, the psychological benefits of active recovery are obvious. Many people feel better when they practice daily.  

Active recovery has the ability to raise the mood, among other beneficial impacts.

Active recovery, unlike passive recovery, can have various different benefits for athletes. Some believe active recovery training helps muscle cell regeneration. Since studies have proven that active recovery, after exhaustive exercise, enhances blood lactate extraction it is clear that it can help with the recovery time. Consequently, this may enhance endurance performance. 

Nutrition and sleep are crucial

Let’s not forget that nutrition and sleep play a major role in proper recovery. This goes for both active and passive recovery. A great point to consider is the fact that it’s easier for athletes to stick to proper nutrition during the days when they are active.

Naturally, activity in the fresh air will boost the appetite!

In the end, it's important to note that daytime activities which include walking or running mean that you'll spend time in the fresh air, sunlight and possibly in nature.  

Ideas for active recovery training 

There are numerous applications of active recovery that are very accessible and fit almost all training programs. These methods run a very low risk of injury and are suitable for everyone: 

  1. Walking - A great thing for active recovery. Not only does it help you stay active but going out also helps us feel better. The amount of walking you do on rest days should be based on your current training activity and schedule.
  1. SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) - Foam rolling is a form of SMR. The foam roller has helped many athletes train at a higher level and avoid difficulties that come with hard training. The goal is to use accessories such as foam rollers, exercise balls, and other special additives to "massage your muscles".Repetitive foam rolling can improve movement range and reduce pain.

N.B. During the rest days, try to work on all major muscle groups with a foam roller. Apply the rolling pressure for 25-35 seconds on each large muscle group, avoid joints and bones. Spend more time in problematic areas. Some areas will also benefit from exercise using balls. Beware of pressure, the point of this activity is to generally feel better. 

  1. Hill hiking - As well as walking, this can be utilised as recovery training. Have in mind that it must be in accordance with the current stamina and form. If you feel uphill is not something you can endure, then pick paths that are mildly inclined.
  1. Swimming or even aqua aerobics - These activities lower muscle stress due to anti-gravity effect of water. Aqua-training can include the muscular and cardiovascular system without additional pressure on the joints. Be sure to consider current fitness condition.
  1. Yoga or Pilates - They can be useful if you look at the current fitness form and learn from a good instructor. These two activities fall into the category of mobility training. Mobility can be a form of active recovery that can be executed every day. Each joint in the body goes through a safe range of motion. Pilates and Yoga are examples of mobility training that some athletes take as an active recovery training.
  1. Treadmill dance- Like other forms of aerobic exercises, it can be a great active recovery training as long as you follow the instructor and adjust the intensity/level of difficulty with your current form.


Choosing your active recovery wisely

It would be wise to consult your coach and physiotherapist on the most appropriate method and level of active recovery for you. They will know how to properly balance your levels on the training and off-days.

If you choose swimming, yoga, pilates or any kind of entertaining activity (dance), it’s really important to do it with a professional instructor.

On the other hand, if you decide that walking, hiking or slow running will be your method, try always to choose a park, forest or other area where you’ll be able to spend more time in the fresh air, surrounded by nature and greenery. This has a positive impact on human psychology.


As we learned from the ancient Greeks, healthy spirit gives us healthy body and only a healthy body will give us top performance in our respective sport! 

About The Author

Apollonas Georgios Kapsalis is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and the founder of www.greekgoesketo.com 

Further Reading

If you like this blog and would like to find out more about one of the topics discussed; check out our other blogs or let us know by email info@kymirasport.com. We would love to hear from you!


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February 05, 2019 — Apollonas G. Kapsalis

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