Active Recovery

If you’re here, you probably lift weights. If you don’t, you should start. But I’m going to cover something that is often overlooked by people who train hard: Active recovery.


What is Active Recovery?

Basically put, active recovery is what you (should) do to help you recover more quickly between workouts. Most workouts are filled with things that are catabolic and break you down, so you can recover, grow and come back stronger (simply put). Lifting weights and sprinting are great examples for this. They take a lot out of you, but you come back stronger, faster, or more “in shape” for the next workout (or at least you should). Active recovery will help speed up the process of building you back up between hard workouts.


How Do I Actively Recover?

Active recovery workouts will be anabolic activities that build you up. Some things you can implement daily would be walking (yes, walking), self myofascial release (i.e. foam rolling), massages (I guess this is more ‘passive’), yoga, contrast showers, and corrective stretching. I’m sure there are other active recovery methods (i.e. rubbing ointment all over yourself or popping ibuprofen pills like a drug addict), but I’m trying to keep things simple and natural.


How Do I Walk?

Not serious.


What is Self Myofascial Relase (SMR)?

It’s basically giving yourself a massage to release tension in your muscles. Here is some more information from Wikipedia about myofascial release.

Here is a nice video showing some basic ‘mashing’ techniques from Kelly Starrett:

SMR tools: Foam roller (more advanced: rumble roller or PVC pipe), tennis ball (more advanced: lacrosse ball, masochistic: baseball), and the stick. You can get by with just a tennis ball, but I’d recommend at least working up to a lacrosse ball. Rollers (foam, rumble or PVC) can be nice to roll larger areas, but the balls are pretty essential to release smaller tension points.

SMR resources: MobilityWOD is probably my favorite, but it’s not free anymore. You can either shell out the cash for it, or try to find the older videos from Kelly Starrett on YouTube here.

Others: Elliott Hulse foam rolling | Lower back relief with tennis ball from some chiro lady (this method can be applied to other parts of the body as well) | Quick SMR with lacrosse or tennis ball from Dan Go


What is a Massage?

You’re going to want to go with a deep tissue massage. It will hurt.


What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice (various types exist) to unite your body physically, mentally and spiritually. Take what you will from it, but to me it’s a great way to stretch, calm down and recover. I would advise you to take a beginners class to get started, but there are also plenty of yoga videos to be found on YouTube.


What are Contrast Showers?

A contrast shower involves going back and forth between hot and cold water in the shower. This type of recovery work is mostly based on anecdotal evidence that it helps (i.e. NFL players taking ice baths after practice). One approach would be the Power Shower (1min hot, 1min cold basically).

Another approach is going as hot as you can with the water, then gradually decreasing the temperature while always allowing your body to fully adjust to the reduced temperature until you’re as cold as you can go comfortably.

Possible benefits of contrast showers: Improvement in circulatory system and lymphatic drainage, which basically means you’re getting increased blood flow and it may reduce swelling. Personally, I just feel awesome and refreshed after taking a contrast shower, so I’m going to keep taking them.


What is Corrective Stretching?

These are dynamic or static stretches to improve how you move (range of motion) and also your posture overall. MobilityWOD probably covers this best, but there are some other alternatives too.

Below is one of my favorite hip warmup routines, especially for lower body days (read: squat and deadlift), courtesy of world class powerlifter Mark Bell from

Other examples: Elliott Hulse‘s Daily Charge & Ground Stretching and also his Bio Energizer Warmup | Dan Go‘s 6 Minute Superhuman Flow | Candito‘s 5 Exercises for Hip Mobility (great at the end of lower body workouts) | Agile 8 warmup for hips from DeFranco | Computer Guy Posture Fix | The Injury Recovery & Prevention forum on has some great threads as well (check the sticky threads particularly)


And I think that about covers the basics on active recovery. If you have something to add, leave it in the comments. As always, this is just advice I’m giving based on knowledge I’ve acquired. I’m not a doctor. 🙂