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Athlete in active recovery session

What Is Active Recovery And How To Do It?

When it comes to exercise, recovery is essential, but recovery doesn’t always entail total inactivity. There are days when passive rest is what your body needs but other times, taking a more active approach is the best way to boost recovery from exercise.

So, what is active recovery and what are the benefits? Here it is explained with examples.

What is active recovery?

In terms of rest days, passive recovery means a day of total rest without any physical activity, whereas active recovery means including low-intensity exercise that promotes blood flow to the muscles, helping them to recover better and faster. 

By moving your body you’re speeding up the recovery process, but here’s the catch: You need to be active enough to increase blood flow, but gentle enough to allow your muscles to heal.  

On active recovery days, you should pay attention to your breathing and make sure you choose the optimal active recovery exercises. You should finish each of these sessions feeling refreshed, energised, and ready for the next day’s training.


  • Address common problematic areas, such as poor thoracic mobility, bad ankle mobility, tight hip flexors, and weak core or glutes
  • Elevate your heart rate and help you break a sweat – without the additional joint stress that comes with traditional cardio or HIIT workouts
  • Promote additional blood flow to sore or stiff areas
  • Prioritise unilateral and/or isometric movements.
  • Prepare your body for its next training day without causing fatigue

Benefits of active recovery

Active recovery can produce several benefits, which include:

  • Reducing post-exercise discomfort and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by minimizing the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles
  • Promoting blood flow to joints and muscles lessening inflammation
  • Helping to avoid the post-exercise fatigue that follows a heavy training day or sport event
  • Improving mood and mental health through daily movement
  • Contributing to a more healthy, balanced lifestyle and better food choices on ‘non-training’ days
  • Increasing your cardiovascular fitness and endurance through working in aerobic training zones

Examples of active recovery EXERCISES

Depending on your fitness level and time available your active recovery session may range from 15 – 40 minutes. The great thing about active recovery is that it doesn’t have to be a structured training session – it’s more about making movement a daily, long-term, healthy habit.

Here are a few examples of what active recovery can be:

1. Steady-state or non-impact cardio

This can be a low-intensity session on a treadmill, cross trainer, rower, road or stationary bike with the aim to keep your heart rate between 120-140bpm (nothing too intense). Low-intensity, steady-state cardio is great for both muscle recovery but also for promoting fat use for fuel through utilizing our aerobic energy systems.

Other options could be:

  • Swimming, water walking or aqua aerobics
  • Surfing, SUPing, gardening or hiking

2. Yoga

Yoga lengthens our muscles and tendons, aids in their recovery, and helps our body develop better mobility and flexibility. Opt for a more gentle, restorative form such as Hatha or Yin, or try your local BodyBalance class.

3. Light-resistance training

Here you can use light weights or just body weight movements incorporated into a low-moderate circuit.

4. Mobility, hip and core activation

Dynamic stretching and mobility work helps prepare our body for the stressors of strength training and assists in injury prevention and flexibility.

5. Self-myofascial release

Foam rolling and trigger point therapies are ideal to massage inflamed and overtaxed muscles helping to alleviate muscle soreness by increasing blood flow to the area. This is great for active recovery, but do ensure appropriate hydration.

Try This

steady intervals & light resistance ACTIVE RECOVERY WORKOUT


Complete the following for two rounds:

  • Steady easy row for 3 minutes
  • Steady easy ride for 3 minutes

Then complete 3 rounds of the following, 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off:

  • Walking lunge
  • Push-ups
  • Extended plank with shoulder taps


Combining steadier state intervals in the form of no impact cardio with body weight resistance exercises helps to promote blood flow to muscles and joints without being too taxing on the body. This is not a workout for increasing work capacity, strength or performance. It is a light session to help speed recovery.

If you’re using the Polar Ignite fitness watch, you won’t have to think about what to do on your active recovery days as the FitSpark daily training guide will suggest suitable Supportive Training Workouts for you.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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