The entire purpose of recovery is to allow the muscle to repair itself and to engage muscles that are tired or sore from a previous day or prior period of time (say, a few weeks of work). When we are recovering from a phase of training, we can have down weeks (less volume) or complete recovery days.
Active recovery will promote fitness, circulation, mobility while not taxing the central nervous system. Anything can be taken too far if you spend too much time, are too intense, are over stressed and your nutrition is compromised.
The following carry a low risk of injury and agree with most trainees:
Self -Myofascial release (SMR) – Foam rolling is one form of SMR: the objective is to use implements such as foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and other specialty items (the stick, theracane) etc. in an effort to “massage your muscles.” Although the exact mechanisms behind SMR are unclear, consistent foam rolling may improve range of motion, and decrease an over active muscles tone. Foam rolling has allowed thousands of athletes to train at high levels and avoid stiffness that comes with heavy training.
On your off day, try passing over all major muscle groups with a foam roller. Aim for 30 seconds on each large muscle group, avoiding joints and bony areas. Focus a little extra time on problem areas and pin point troublesome areas by using a lacrosse ball. Monitor your pressure; remember, the goal is to feel better after foam rolling.
Walking – a great thing to do for active recovery. Not only can it burn calories, but also being outside can increase your feelings of well-being. The amount of walking you do on off days should be based on your current fitness level, and your training schedule.
Lighter Weight Lifting – Performing an exercise that made you particularly sore, but using a much lighter weight may be restorative. As a guide, use a weight at or below 30 percent of your usual weight, and perform one set shy of failure.
Hiking – like walking, it can burn significant calories. Once again it must be tailored towards your current fitness level. If you feel worse after the hike then when you started it probably has done more harm than good as far as active recovery sake.
Swimming – particularly low stress due to the weightlessness. You can have a great swimming workout engaging the muscular and cardiovascular system without added pressure on your joints. Take into consideration current fitness level.
Yoga – mobility work can be a form of active recovery that can be done every day. Typically each joint in the body is taken through a safe range of motion. Yoga is an example of mobility work that some people use as active recovery. It can be beneficial if you appreciate your current fitness level and learn from a good instructor.
Cycling – like the other forms of aerobic exercise can be a great active recovery workout, as long as you match the intensity to your current fitness levels.
If You Are Doing Some Active Recovery, Be Smart
One of the biggest problems related to active recovery is that people assume that more exercise will allow them to lose more fat. Whether trainees choose to use active recovery workouts or take full days off, understand that as long as you are on a sensible training program, your eating habits will make a much bigger difference in how you look then a couple extra exercise sessions.
Don’t sell yourself short and over train on days that you should be using active recovery/resting, doing so is a quick way to burn out and ultimately lose steam towards your goals.