Science of ‘Recovery’ Days

January 9, 2022

What are active recovery activities?

Activities for an active recovery day are those that activate your parasympathetic nervous system: the rest and recovery branch of your nervous system.

That means activities that:

  • Are low intensity
  • Are low impact
  • Include varied and wide-ranging movement patterns
  • Mildly increase heart rate

ome more common examples of activities are:

  • yoga or pilates
  • swimming
  • an easy swim or bike ride
  • a post-dinner walk
  • gentle hiking, through the urban sidewalks or countryside
  • playing frisbee with your dog
  • soft tissue work like foam rolling or massage
  • connecting with friends and family, laughing, and playing
  • anything else that gets you moving and brings some joy to your day

Whatever activity you choose, the purpose of an active recovery day is to not increase workout capacity.

In other words, don’t push harder or longer relative to what you’ve been doing in workouts over the last two weeks.

How do you know if you need a recovery day (or more)?

If you’re generally following your workout program’s schedule of weekly workouts, you’ll be working out about 3-5 days per week. On a typical week, you’ll have about 50% active training days, and 50% active recovery days.

The starting guideline for balancing training stress and recovery is to start by taking at least 1 active recovery day after every challenging workout day.

Those are general guidelines. If you’d like to make your program more personalized to you and your specific lifestyle and goals, listen to your body.

Every individual’s body is unique: they’ll feel stress differently and recover from stress at different rates. Ultimately, only you can know your unique stress and recovery signals. Those are the signs that tell you when you can push harder and when it’s smarter to do less.

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