Top 3 Active Recovery Workouts

Learn three of the best active recovery workouts, which will help you bounce back faster from any hard exercise.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #276

The day after I completed the Spartan Agoge, a brutal 48-hour event in frigid temperatures at 40° below zero (which you can read about here), I posted on Twitter that I was "looking for a gym" and one reply was "Don't you take any days off?"

My reply back?

Active recovery rules.

So, what was my "active recovery" after the Agoge?

Before my flight home, I hit the Equinox gym in Boston for a mix of sauna yoga, hypoxic underwater swimming, foam roller, mobility band, aerobics, and light weight training.

In this episode, you'll learn why I decided to do that rather than simply take the day off to watch Game Of Thrones on the couch, and you'll get my top three active recovery workouts.

What Is Active Recovery?

The concept of active recovery is quite simple. In a nutshell, rather than letting inflammation, swelling, and muscle damage simply sit there after you've done a hard workout race, you instead move the muscles, massage the muscles, and even introduce more blood flow into specific areas of damaged tissue so you heal faster and so that you’re better able to bounce back more quickly.

Active recovery also helps move your immune system’s lymph fluid to move around your body, so that you're less likely to get sick after a tough event.

My Top 3 Active Recovery Workouts

1. Foam Roller

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, investigated whether foam rolling could reduce soreness and boost recovery by looking at the impact of a foam rolling protocol on soreness following a squat workout.

In the study, twenty men were split into two groups. Both groups underwent a fatiguing squat protocol, with ten sets of ten back squats at 60% of one-rep squat maximum. After the initial bout of squats, both groups were evaluated for their soreness level, quadriceps and hamstring range of motion, performance on a vertical leap test, and measurements of muscle electrical activity. After the post-squat soreness and range of motion tests, half the men did a foam rolling routine and half didn’t.

The foam rolling had three effects. First, it significantly reduced muscle soreness. Second, it caused a significant increase in quadriceps range of motion. And third, it led to better performance in a vertical leap test.

Another study at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada looked at immediate benefits you get within a few minutes of finishing a foam rolling routine. In this study, after only two minutes of foam rolling, quadriceps range of motion increased by ten degrees, but less than one degree after a control trial with no foam rolling. This increase in range of motion stuck around for at least ten minutes after the foam rolling.

So what’s the mechanism via which foam rolling decreases soreness, speeds up recovery, and increases range of motion? It all comes down to manipulating connective tissue. Exercise damages connective tissue, which stimulates pain receptors and inhibits muscle activation. Using a foam roller can help repair damage to your connective tissue, thus decreasing soreness and preventing a drop in performance after a hard workout.

Click here for one of my favorite foam rolling routines.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.

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