Active vs Passive Recovery – The Key To A Successful Workout

Active vs Passive Recovery – The Key To A Successful Workout

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While for many, regular exercise is an important part of maintaining active, healthy and happy lives, it also carries a risk of injury. To help reduce this risk, we must let our bodies recover. Despite this being well-known, what is commonly overlooked is that there are two methods of recovery – and selecting the right one can be the difference between improving your performance at your next training session and helping you feel better in the days after you exercise – or not. 


Some argue that your recovery is just as important as your exercise session, as failing to recover effectively can contribute to tired and achy muscles, inflammation, lactic acid build-up, and make you more vulnerable to overuse injuries. Today, our podiatrists have shared the difference between the two recovery types – active and passive recovery, as well as their effects on your body, so you can reap the maximum benefits from your next workout.


What Is Passive Recovery?

Passive recovery uses minimal activity and physical exertion to recover after exercise. This may look like putting your feet up at home, jumping in the bath and relaxing, sleeping – even going for a gentle massage. This gives your body a big rest, both immediately after you finish your workout and for a day or two afterwards – or however long you make this period. During this time, your muscles have time to repair and relax.


What Is Active Recovery?

Active recovery involves staying active throughout your recovery period using less strenuous physical activity. This may look like finishing an intense workout off with a light jog, an easier workout set, or even a similar exercise routine but on an easier and more comfortable level. 


During your active recovery period, you maintain lymph function and blood flow to your muscles and tissues, delivering more oxygen around your body and preventing that hitting the wall fatigue feeling. The continued circulation helps reduce inflammation, minimise lactic acid build-up in the tissues and helps improve your endurance by keeping your heart rate above its resting rate.


Active recovery has been extensively studied and concluded to be superior by many:

  • In swimmers, active recovery was shown to dissipate 68% of the lactate that had accumulated in their blood, and would have otherwise settled in their tissues. This may have improved their physical performance
  • In runners, active recovery helped them to run for three times longer during their next run compared with those that used passive recovery
  • In a power performance test, active recovery preserved peak power output and average power, while passive recovery led to greater decrements in power


When Should You Use Active Recovery – And How?

If you’ve done a heavy workout, pushed yourself in terms of your normal intensity or completed an athletic event, then these are ideal times to actively recover – as tempting as it may be to lay down and do nothing instead!


You can actively recover in a number of ways:

  • Plan active recovery days in the day or multiple days following your strenuous workout. This activity should be light, non-strenuous and should gently prepare you for your next workout instead of being long enough or challenging enough to exhaust you
  • Recover actively immediately after your workout, dropping the intensity of your workout and continuing on for between 15-40 minutes
  • Recover between sets, staying moving and walking between sets, whether it’s weights, running intervals or something else


If you’re actively recovering in the days after your strenuous exercise, you may want to try swimming, cycling, walking and gentle exercise classes like pilates or yoga. 


When Should You Use Passive Recovery?

Listen to your body on this one. When you need a rest day to let your body recover without putting any further load on it, or you’re worried about any pain or injury, it may be time to have a day off and practice passive recovery. After all, passive recovery is still recovery and will help prepare your muscles and body for your continued training.


Is Pain Holding You Back From Exercise?

If your training or casual exercise is currently limited because of a niggle, ache or injury – our team at Sole Motion Podiatry can help. We’re proud to be leading the field in evidence-based recovery here in Melbourne’s Point Cook when it comes to the lower limbs. Alongside our hands-on recovery tools like the theragun, THOR laser and compression therapy, we can also help you optimise your training and recovery plan to maximise your results.


Book your appointment online by calling 1300-FX-FEET or book online here.

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