What is Active Recovery?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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In exercise, active recovery is the process of utilizing low-intensity exercises as a cool-down after some type of workout. One approach to this type of active exercise occurs immediately after completing the more intensive regimen of exercises that are directly involved with the workout. A different strategy is to engage in exercises that are considered low-intensity for two to three days after completing the workout. Both approaches to the post-exercise period have been proven to provide physical and emotional benefits.

The structure of active recovery will vary, depending on the fitness level of the individual, and the type of high-intensity workout that just took place. In general, the effort required to engage in the series of exercises that are part of the recovery will be no more than half that of the more active workout. Simple exercises such stretching, toe touches, and fast walking help to ease the transition from vigorous activity to rest, a phenomenon that many people find to be very good for the mind as well as the body.


When the active recovery process is pursued immediately after completing a sports competition or a round of exercise, the level of blood lactate decreases at a more rapid rate than if the individual begins to rest. This actually aids in the process of restoring the body to a state of rest, helping the heartbeat to gradually return to a normal range and allowing the muscle groups to retain more of the benefits from the workout itself. As a result, the individual begins to enjoy an increased sense of endurance and strength during subsequent workouts.

There are also some benefits associated with engaging in active recovery over the course of the few days following the high-intensity activity. This is particularly true for people who engage in a competition that requires a great deal of physical activity, such as a race. The lower intensity follow-up activity, spaced over two or three consecutive twenty-four hour periods, has the effect of minimizing soreness in the muscles while still helping to maintain the tone and strengthening that took place as part of the exertion.

Whether the process of active recovery involves low-grade activity immediately following a workout or low-intensity activity over several days, the strategy has a positive effect on the mood of the individual. Athletes and others who routinely make use of active recovery report an enhanced sense of well being that lasts for a significant amount of time after the combination of an intensive workout and an active cool-down period. The graduation from the intense activity to activity that is more moderate seems to help the brain continue to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters that support a balanced mood and increase general cognitive skill.


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