If you think working out is only about the number of reps and calories burned, your fitness regimen is missing a key element: active recovery. Active recovery workouts refer to non-strenuous aerobic or physical activity, typically done for about 40 minutes, that allows your body to recover after strenuous exercise and training.
Active recovery is different from passive recovery, which is essentially doing nothing or experiencing a complete rest day—although that is also important. An active recovery workout can take many different forms, including red light therapy sessions, which have been shown to promote innumerable physical benefits.
Below, we’ll go over what active recovery is, active vs passive recovery, and review red light therapy along with six other active recovery exercises to include in your regimen. Then we’ll deep dive into red light therapy and show you how to use it to boost your athletic performance and recovery.
Examples of an Active Recovery Workout
If you’re ready to include active recovery in your interval training, after workouts, or on your days off, here are some suggestions to get you started.
Red Light Therapy
If you have not done it yet already, now is the time to list down red light therapy as an active recovery essentials. One of the easiest and most pleasant ways to supplement a recovery session after working out is to engage in red light therapy. Also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy is a therapeutic method you can do on its own, or in tandem with some of the methods described below. (We’ll talk more about red light therapy in the next section.)
Akin to a massage, self-myofascial release involves using a tool of sorts—like a foam roller or a firm massage ball—to relieve muscle and joint pain. Foam rolling over certain areas of the body may help loosen restrictions and muscle knots, encourage blood flow, and break down adhesions and scar tissue. Self-myofascial release is believed to help make soft tissues more flexible, improve range of joint motion, and reduce pain.
Probably the least resource-intensive and lowest-impact active recovery method is stretching. All you need is slightly comfortable ground to work on (a non-slip mat is ideal) and a few guidelines.
According to an online guide by the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s important to target the major muscle groups by stretching each group at least twice a week for 60 seconds per stretching exercise. In addition to static (i.e., held) stretches, dynamic stretches that involve fluid movement and range of motion are also beneficial.
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with yoga. Stretching is a big part of it, but yoga also emphasizes the mind-body connection through breathing, focus, and sometimes meditation. In addition, yoga incorporates balance, range of motion, and mild strength training, the combination of which can raise your heart rate and get your blood flowing.
There’s a wide range of yoga modalities; some are high-intensity, like Vinyasa and power yoga; and some, like Hatha and restorative yoga, are low-impact and suitable for any fitness level.
A low-intensity, 30-minute bike ride counts as an active recovery day. If you’re a Peloton fan, you’ll notice that some of the program’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts incorporate active recovery between intervals. This structure is transferable outdoors as well: Bike hard up a hill or in a sprint, then recover for five or ten minutes. You can also tack on an easy ride directly after a strenuous one, either outdoors or in an exercise studio.
As with biking, swimming provides excellent active recovery options either on active recovery days or between intervals. Swimming is also easy on the joints, which makes it a great low-intensity activity for a day between workouts that may involve running, jumping, or lifting.
Walking or Light Jogging
Both walking and light jogging promote good blood flow throughout the body. You can walk or do an easy jog between sprints, after a long run, or on active recovery days. This is also an ideal way to let your muscles and joints recover.