Active Recovery Workout

Thursday, August 8, 2013 by Coach Tommy

A while back I wrote three articles discussing recovery (post workout; post training block; post season recovery).  There is another aspect of recovery that needs to be discussed.  That is the active recovery workout. 

Simply stated active recovery is exercise at a low intensity.  The intensity for an active recovery workout is in your Warm Up/Recovery heart rate zone (as defined in the Triple Threat Tough heart rate training scheme).  These workouts are very easy.  There are two types of active recovery – the cool down and the easy training session. 

Cool Down Studies have shown that a cool down workout helps the body return to homeostasis quicker and easier.  Your body returns to normal body temperature, lactic acid is cleared from your blood and muscles quicker and your central nervous system calms down sooner with an active cool down than without(1, 2).  Spend 5 to 15 minutes of very easy swimming, biking or running/walking after your workout.  Give your body time to return to ‘normal’ after a workout.  Also, use this time for stretching and flexibility exercises.  Your muscles are already warm which will facilitate a stretching routine. 

Easy Training Session The second type of active recovery workout is the easy training session.  The intensity for these training sessions is in the Warm Up/Recovery heart rate zone.  Again, these are very easy workouts.  The intensity should be low enough so as not to stress the muscular/skeletal system, the immune system, or the cardiovascular system.  In other words, you don’t want your heart rate too high and you don’t want too much pounding on your muscles and joints. 

The goal is to get your blood flowing to your muscles.  The blood flow will deliver oxygen and nutrients needed to repair damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., replace glycogen (fuel) in your muscles and remove built up waste products from your muscles. 

Easy training sessions should be scheduled between hard sessions.  There are many ways to schedule active recovery.  For example, 2 hard days of training may be followed by 1 day of easy training or 1 hard day then 1 easy training day.  This is where a good coach is helpful in using his experience and expertise to build a specific plan for the athlete. 

Easy training sessions should last less than 40 minutes.  Training for longer than 40 minutes even at the low intensity of Warm Up/Recovery heart rate can place too much stress on the metabolic system.  This would defeat the purpose of an easy training session.  I usually prescribe easy training sessions of about 30 minutes. 

Finally, the specific type of exercise needs to be determined for active recovery.  For triathletes swimming, biking or running can be used as an active recovery session.  However, I tend to not use running due to the stress on the muscular/skeletal system.  Easy swimming or biking makes an excellent active recovery session. 

There is a saying I like to use: “make your hard days hard and keep your easy days easy”.

  1. 1.       Baldari, C., M. Videira, F. Madeira, J. Sergio, and L. Guidetti, 2005, “Blood Lactate Removal During Recovery at Various Intensities Below the Individual Anaerobic Threshold in Triathletes”.  Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 45: 460-466
  2. 2.       Neric, F.B., W.C. Beam, L.E. Brown, and I.D. Wiersma. 2009. “Comparison of Swim Recovery and Muscle Stimulation on Lactate Removal after Sprint Swimming”, Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy 40: 656-665

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