Let’s talk about ‘active recovery’

Some people have “active recovery” all wrong. A short walk, a leisurely hike, or something else that does not resemble a workout is what it should be.

Folks, we need to have a talk.

A bunch of you, pandemic or not, are still training hard. There are a few races out there (virtual and in-person events). Your home setup might be complete enough where you don’t miss the gym.

If you’ve found a way to keep a training schedule going, good on ya. You haven’t let the Rona keep you down. So you’re doing your workouts, staying active, and taking a rest day, right?


“Well, I do ‘active recovery’ on my rest days,” you say.

Fair enough.

But what do you consider “active recovery?”

If your active recovery consists of a lesser version of a workout, it’s not active recovery.

To be more specific: If you’re a runner and your active recovery on your rest day is a run, it’s not active recovery.

If you’re a lifter and your active recovery day is a mellow day with the weights, it’s not active recovery.

If you’re anyone on the planet and your active recovery is a pickup game of basketball, soccer, football or whatever, it’s not active recovery.

Seeing a trend?

People who take a strong interest in fitness, sports and competition are driven people. The daily grind is a matter of routine, filled with tough workouts that test your mettle. Race day, comp day and game day are your stage to make all that training mean something, so a day off seems like a wasted opportunity.

That’s the mentality that drives higher performance and better fitness. But it’s also the thing that prompts people to train through injury (not good), do run streaks (just don’t) and join 30-, 60-, 90- or whatever-day challenges (whyyyyyy). The more-is-better deal is what gives us the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, and the people who believe getting a visit from Mr. Rhabdo is a badge of honor.

And then the injuries pile up and you’re sidelined. By that time, you’re getting all the rest days you never wanted.

Mr. and Ms. More Is Better are also the types who mischaracterize active recovery.

So what is it?

The thinking behind active recovery is that a little movement is better than being totally idle. There is a lot of merit to that. I don’t fault people for going into couch potato mode on a rest day. You need it. But moving a little on your rest day is actually better.

So what do you do? Some ideas:

Take a walk. Yup, it’s that simple. Lace up your shoes, go outside, and take a 30-minute stroll in your neighborhood. That will work out some soreness and keep you from getting too stiff. Movement is good. Just don’t turn it into an epic power walk or allow it morph into a run. Just walk.

Enjoy a short bike ride. Some rides are easy and flat, some are hard-charging. Do the former. Thirty minutes on a mellow ride is a good way to work out the kinks.

Try some yoga. Some low-intensity yoga might be just the trick to get your blood moving and alleviate the tightness in your muscles and joints.

Whip out the foam roller. It might not be the most comfortable way to spend an afternoon, but 30 minutes or so with a foam roller can work a lot like a massage and aid in muscle recovery.

Take a hike. Find an easy trail and book time for a few miles. No big summit hikes, no hard-charging paces. Just a mellow walk in the woods. Breathe some fresh air.

Active recovery is helpful in a few ways. Movement gets your circulation going, which aids in recovery. Doing something, even if it’s totally mellow, keeps that false guilt of inactivity from invading your head.

Most of the time, I go for a short walk on my rest day. Recently, it was something different.

I had a great week of training. A tough week. I ran some and lifted hard. My last lift of the week was a monthly “challenge day,” where I performed heavy deadlifts. It was an intense day to cap off an intense week. My joints were slightly angry, muscles were sore and central nervous system taxed.

But I wanted to make sure the dents and dings of the week didn’t settle in to body and become a problem.

So I did a hike – 3 miles, not much vert, casual pace. I stopped to take pics or observe wildlife. When I got home, I felt good. Loosened up. And hungry for lunch!

The next day, I was good to go: Recovered and ready to tackle a tough leg day workout, and everything else the weekly training schedule could throw at me.

So how will you do your rest day active recovery?  That’s up to you. Just make sure it’s not a workout.

Bob Doucette

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