10 Best Things to Do on Active Recovery Days
Take it easy to score some serious health benefits.
3. Light resistance training
Yes, you can still lift on your easy day if you want to—it'll just be different than your usual strength training workouts. Performing high-rep exercises with a very light weight (light as in about 30 percent of the heaviest weight you could use) helps stimulate blood flow and supply nutrients to the working tissue without straining or tearing them down, Corak says. Pick five to eight exercises to create a full-body circuit, and perform each move for 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Repeat for a total of three to four rounds. As a bonus, you can use these light training sessions to work on perfecting your exercise form. While light lifting can be a great active recovery method for some, you probably want to skip it if you're feeling too sore from your last workout. Stick to the lighter forms of activity on this list (and try some of the things on this list to help get some relief).
For weighted training, an adjustable kettlebell or set of dumbbells will allow you to choose the exact weight you want to lift. Resistance bands are another great tool to have on hand if you're feeling up for some light training on your lighter days.
4. Hip and core activation exercises
Your core and hips power your every movement, whether you’re getting up to refill your coffee mug or squatting with a heavy barbell. Keeping these critical muscles—which include your abdominals, low back muscles, glutes, hip flexors, and hip adductors—firing on your off days will help prep your body for the more intense work you may have planned for the days ahead, strength and conditioning coach Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., tells GYM. Simply put, keeping them working will keep them limber and trained to activate when you need them during your hard workouts. Consider these your go-to moves and sprinkle them throughout your day: bird dogs, dead bugs, bodyweight glute bridges, fire hydrants, and planks.
According to corrective exercise specialist Dani Almeyda, M.S., C.E.S., co-owner of Original Strength in North Carolina, crawling builds full-body strength, endurance, focus, and better posture. In fact, a quick five-minute crawl session is enough to challenge your heart, lungs, and muscles while giving your joints a much-needed break. “It should leave you feeling more refreshed than absolutely exhausted,” Almeyda tells GYM. Start with the baby crawl (it’s exactly what it sounds like) and progress to the leopard crawl:
- Start on all fours.
- Keeping your back flat and your butt down, lift your knees off the ground a few inches.
- Initiate the crawling movement by stepping your opposite hand and foot forward. Make sure to keep your back flat and your knees just a few inches off the ground.
- Continue alternating sides, making sure to look straight ahead the entire time.
6. Self-myofascial release
Whether you use a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or massage gun, self-myofascial release—a method of massaging the connective tissues surrounding the muscles and bones—offers a bevy of recovery benefits. In fact, self-myofascial release may help increase range of motion and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness following intense exercise, according to a review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
Taking your workout to the pool is a great low-impact exercise option. “[Swimming] allows your body to be weightless, relaxes your joints, and stretches your body in ways you wouldn’t be able to on land,” Corak says. In addition, the water pressure helps improve circulation in the muscles, blood vessels, and heart. If there are two essentials for swim gear, it's a good pair of goggles and swimsuit that won't slip around while you're in motion—give these bestsellers a try.
8. Steady-state walking or slow jogging
High-intensity interval training might be all the rage, but there’s still a time and place for good old-fashioned steady-state cardio where you hold a moderate, sustainable pace for a certain period of time. “This type of cardio elevates your heart rate and makes you break a sweat,” Corak says. It’s also great for building cardiovascular endurance. On a scale of zero to 10—where zero means you’re sitting on the couch and 10 refers to an all-out effort—you should be working at an effort between four and six. Corak recommends going for 30 to 40 minutes. (For true active recovery days rather than lighter days, stick with walking and keep the intensity lower!)
For walking or slow jogging, this lightweight, budget-friendly Rest Day Yoga Pants from GymDeity activewear (@gymdeity). These leggings are a total game changer. High-Waisted Leggings that are both comfortable and breathable. Made with soft cotton blend for active rest days or workouts.
9. Steady-state cycling
Running not your thing? Get in some steady-state cardio by cycling instead. Hop on a bike (stationary or moving) and pedal away for a low-impact form of exercise—it lets you get in some cardiovascular exercise without all that pounding on your joints. “This is a great way to improve circulation to the lower body, and it can be done at low intensities,” Suter tells GYM. Just make sure to keep the intensity low—no intervals on a recovery day!
For cycling at home, this lightweight, relatively budget-friendly bike from Yesoul Fitness (@Yesoulfitness). Cheap Home GYM STUDIO 32" HD Yesoul G1 MAX Exercise Stationary Bike. Step-Through bike is a great entry-level option.
To brighten your mood while working your muscles, head outside for some fresh air. A review published in the journal BMC Public Health found that studies on the topic suggest nature may have direct and positive impacts on well-being. In addition, one small study of 38 people published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in the great outdoors—busy city streets don’t count—may reduce rumination (having repetitive negative thoughts about oneself) and support mental health. And compared to walking down a flat sidewalk or road, hiking on uneven terrain will work a wider variety of muscles and challenge your glutes, core, and ankle strength more.