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
Episode #276

3. Swimming & Hypoxia

Of all forms of active recovery, swimming is probably my favorite. A study  in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness looked at three recovery methods in elite male adult swimmers: massage, active recovery, and passive recovery.

The study showed that all three recovery methods resulted in a significant decrease in blood lactate, but concluded that swimming was the most efficient method at clearing blood lactate, followed by massage, and finally passive recovery (laying around!).

Another study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at the performance of nine triathletes after they performed an interval run of 8 x 3 minutes at 85% to 90% of VO2 max speed on two separate occasions. Ten hours after this brutal run protocol, they either swam 2,000 meters or laid down for an equal period of time. Then, fourteen hours after that, the same triathletes performed a high-intensity run to fatigue to see how well their running performance had recovered from the previous day's workout.

The impressive results showed the athletes had an improvement of 14% in their run time to fatigue after swimming compared to lying still, along with a decrease in the levels of c-reactive inflammatory protein, which shows that swimming for recovery enhances subsequent run performance by decreasing tissue inflammation. 

When you add breath holds and “hypoxia” or less breathing and less oxygen availability to your swimming protocol, you enhance your results even more. Hypoxic training not only strengthens respiratory muscles, but also results in:

-improvements in oxygen uptake, transport and utilization.

-production of neuroendocrine hormones that can have an anabolic training effect.

-improvements in immune system strength.

-increased activities of antioxidant enzymes in the brain, liver, heart and other organs (assuming you don’t overdo it, in which case you actually get suppression of normal antioxidant processes).

- increased production of red blood cells, resulting in an increased oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

You can check out the science to back those claims about hypoxia up here, and you can read all about what hypoxia is and how to use it properly in an article I wrote about how to use it to enhance endurance and recovery.

So that’s it! Next time your sore after a hard workout resist the urge to simply sit on the couch or skip the gym, and instead try some active recovery! Do you have questions about any of these three active recovery workouts, or your own to add? Join the conversation at Facebook.com/getfitguy.


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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