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How do you spend your rest days?

Recovery is an integral part of any physical training regimen. Traditionally, complete rest has been advocated as the primary means of recovery to allow the body to heal and recharge. However, recent research has shed light on the potential benefits of active recovery, involving low-intensity exercise or movement, in enhancing recovery processes. This article explores the evidence behind active recovery compared to complete rest and its impact on various aspects of physical recovery.

Understanding Active Recovery and Complete Rest:

Active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise or movement following intense physical activity or during a rest day. This can include activities like gentle cycling, light jogging, or stretching. In contrast, complete rest involves refraining from any physical activity and allowing the body to remain sedentary.

Effects of Active Recovery on Recovery Processes:

  1. Muscle Damage and Inflammation:

    • Evidence suggests that active recovery can accelerate the removal of metabolic waste products, such as lactate, and reduce inflammation markers following intense exercise. Light exercise stimulates blood flow and lymphatic circulation, facilitating the clearance of waste products and reducing muscle soreness compared to complete rest.

    • Active recovery may also promote the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can aid in the resolution of inflammation and facilitate the healing process.

  1. Muscle Strength and Performance:

    • Active recovery has been shown to maintain or even enhance muscle strength and performance compared to complete rest. Engaging in low-intensity exercises can help preserve muscle activation, neural pathways, and neuromuscular coordination, preventing detraining effects during recovery periods.

    • Additionally, active recovery can improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles, promoting tissue repair and optimizing recovery for subsequent training sessions.

  1. Psychological Recovery:

    • Psychological aspects play a crucial role in overall recovery. Active recovery can have positive effects on mood and psychological well-being. Engaging in low-intensity exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and enhance psychological recovery compared to extended periods of sedentary rest.

  1. Cardiovascular System:

    • Active recovery, such as light aerobic exercise, can stimulate the cardiovascular system without imposing excessive stress. It helps maintain cardiovascular fitness and promotes cardiovascular recovery by increasing blood flow, enhancing oxygen delivery, and facilitating the removal of metabolic by products.

  1. Flexibility and Range of Motion:

    • Active recovery activities that involve gentle stretching or mobility exercises can help maintain or improve flexibility and range of motion. These exercises promote joint lubrication, reduce muscle stiffness, and enhance overall joint health compared to complete rest.

The evidence supports the inclusion of active recovery as a beneficial strategy compared to complete rest for enhancing recovery processes. Active recovery promotes the clearance of metabolic waste products, reduces inflammation, maintains or enhances muscle strength and performance, supports psychological well-being, stimulates the cardiovascular system, and improves flexibility and range of motion. However, the specific approach to active recovery should be individualized, considering factors such as the intensity and duration of the previous activity, overall training load, and individual preferences. Integrating low-intensity exercises or movement into recovery protocols can optimize the recovery process, aid in physical and psychological restoration, and ultimately contribute to improved overall performance and well-being.


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