So it’s your rest day and you are looking for an active recovery workout routine, right?
Well, perfect, because I got just what you need my friend.
Rest days are essential for building muscle, getting stronger, and optimizing your progress in your workouts.
Why would you workout just to see no progress? No one wants that, right?
Of course not. Let’s be sure you avoid that in this guide. I will give you a few examples of what an active recovery workout routine would look like.
Yet, just be sure to not skim through. I want you to leave this guide knowing everything from A to Z when it comes to this topic.
Capiche? (My mom is 100% Italian – she always told that to me when she was being stern and strict.. So now I am telling you! ).
Let’s dive in.
Active Recovery Workout Routine : Education
There are so many places we can start with this topic, but let’s first touch on the importance of rest days.
I believe the more you know and understand a topic, the more likely you are to actually implement the strategies to succeed with it.
I get the question a lot of “Eric, do I REALLY need rest days though!?”.
Yes, yes Suzanne you do.
You doing your hiit boot camp 6 days a week and then running 5 miles the 7th day is the sole reason you aren’t seeing progress in your workouts or physique.
Don’t worry though it isn’t just Suzanne. Kevin always refuses to take rest days because, well of course, “No days off, bro” is the only way to see the gainzzz.
Rest days are critical for a few main reasons.
3 Step Process
If anyone has followed me for any amount of time they know about the 3 step process that it takes to build strength & muscle.
If that’s you, bare with me while I run through it for our new friends here!
The 3 step process is as follows.
You put a stress on your body, aka, your workouts. Working out is a stress to your system just like you have stress from work, stress from being in a calorie deficit, anything.
You put this stress on your body and your body takes a hit.
The next step is your body then recovers from that stress, essentially returning back to baseline.
Think about it. How can your body go PAST where it was (aka building muscle, getting stronger) , if it hasn’t yet recovered back to where it was in the first place?
It can’t. Your body recovers back to baseline first. Then, and only then, will your body then be able to adapt to the stress you just placed on it.
This last step, the adaptation stage is where the change happens. The result that you are looking for happens in this third step of the process.
Now, I am no math expert by any means, but I am smart enough to know 3 comes after 2.
If you skip step two, the recovery process, well then you cannot get to step 3 now can you?
All you do is end up in this vicious cycle of working out and putting stress on your body.. Only to not recover from it, not adapt at all, and just continuously keep putting more stress.
You get burnt out, exhausted, fatigued, and just pissed off because you aren’t making any progress.
This is what happens if you do NOT take proper rest days, or what we will talk about in this guide, an active recovery workout routine.
Now, how many rest days should you be taking then?
Well, it depends…
“Active Recovery Workout Routine” Meaning
When you think about an “active recovery workout routine” or a rest day, some people have different meanings of that.
Is it just lay around, total sloth mode, and do absolutely nothing?
Is it still being able to go and do your 60 min high intensity spin class?
How about yoga?
Well, let’s talk about it now.
During your regular workouts like your strength training, I usually don’t advise keeping too much track of your heart rate.
This is because for the most part I’d rather you focus on pushing yourself, lifting heavier weights, going close to failure, those fun things.
Your heart rate likely will be elevated as a result of that, but I personally don’t advise you focusing on that, unless the goal is potentially aerobic based conditioning work.
For strength training sessions, just focus on getting in there, kicking some a**, and pushing yourself.
Yet for your rest days, I do encourage you to keep track of your heart rate because it’s important that you do not have your heart rate going through the roof.
This is because having an elevated heart rate, high intensity workout takes away from recovery. It does not allow you to have the property recovery process, step 2, like we talked about above.
Having an elevated heart rate, high intensity training session is NOT considered a rest day.
Therefore hiit classes, bootcamps, running 5 miles with your heart rate elevated, that’s not an active recovery workout.
That’s just a regular workout that is adding stress to your body.
Therefore, that would mean a “rest day” or during an active recovery workout, you are looking to keep your intensity and heart rate lower.
Usually around the zone 1 to zone 2 target heart rate zone.
How can you find this?
Well, if you are wearing a fitness tracker like an Apple watch, Fit bit, Garmin, etc, it will usually tell you.
Or, the very simple way I like to tell people is this.
If you are doing your exercise and you can hold a steady conversation without gasping for air like you’re about to pass out, you’re in that zone 1 or zone 2 heart rate.
If you cannot hold a regular conversation, your intensity is too high and you need to back off during your active recovery workout routine.
Again, the reason being is because if you do exercise in this lower heart rate zone, this will NOT add stress to your body.
Therefore it will NOT take away from your ability to recover. In fact, training in this heart rate zone typically promotes recovery on your rest days.
This is very important you follow this, otherwise you will end up in that vicious cycle of working just so hard just to not see any progress. No one wants that.
So, How Many Active Recovery Workout Days Then?
Now that we know what is expected of you during an active recovery workout routine, how many should you be taking per week?
Well, I’ll say this.
At the very, very least, at least one day of this lower intensity work is mandatory.
With all of our clients that we have ever coached, whether it be inside of my Clubhouse community or our 1:1 coaching, we typically program 3-4x per week workouts.
This would mean that in turn, there are usually 3-4 active recovery “rest” days worked into the week.
From my 7+ years of coaching experience where I’ve coached thousands of REAL people with REAL lives, families, jobs, etc…
This seems to be the sweet spot of making the not only the best progress, but the most sustainable progress possible.
Alright, now that we know that at least one, up to 4, active recovery days are what you should be shooting for per week, what can you do on these days?
Let’s talk about that now.
Specific Active Recovery Workout Routine
You have a few different options here for an active recovery workout routine.
The easiest, most accessible, most sustainable one for me & my clients is always simply…
In our coaching, generally speaking our “cardio” goals are getting 5-10k steps per day on average. As close to that 10k mark as you can.
Therefore if you have a rest day from your strength training program, maybe getting out and taking a dedicated 20-40 minute walk would be a great option for this.
Or, if you want to go to the gym and hop on the treadmill for example, that’s totally acceptable as well.
Simply walking is going to get you that zone 1 or zone 2 cardio that we mentioned earlier, it will still keep you active and moving, and again it’s not incredibly demanding physically or mentally.
Which, an active recovery workout routine isn’t supposed to be super physically or mentally demanding.
The second option would be taking the same principle as above and applying it to your favorite cardio machine.
Whether it be the rower, the stair stepper, the elliptical, the bike, whatever.
You are looking to maybe spend 20-40 minutes at that low intensity, steady state heart rate level.
You aren’t looking to jack your heart rate super high, as again, this would be counter beneficial to the goal of having the rest day.
I will give you a pro tip though. If you want to REALLY optimize your active recovery workout routine, I personally would opt for either..
A sled push
The reason being is this. Again, without getting too technical, all of these modalities of cardio above do not produce something called eccentric loading to your muscles.
Eccentric loading is when for example you are going down into the bottom of a squat. The way down you are having this eccentric loading on your muscles with the weight whether bodyweight, a barbell on your back, whatever.
This eccentric loading creates something called muscle damage. This muscle damage is something your body will have to add extra recovery.
Therefore, if the goal of an active recovery workout routine is to promote recovery, it would make sense to minimize this muscle damage as much as possible.
The modalities of cardio I laid out above have little to no eccentric loading. Whereas for example something like a stair stepper or going for a run, there will be some sort of eccentric loading attached to it.
Meaning, there will be muscle damage created, which then adds a bit more stress to your body.
So if you are looking to optimize your recovery, on your rest days maybe try to stick to cardio modalities that do not have this eccentric loading.
On the flip side, if you just absolutely love to get on the stair stepper, kick your leg back in the air, and do your thing, queen.
Then go for it. The overall movement is what matters most.
A true favorite of mine when it comes to an active recovery workout routine is going to be adding in some mobility work.
Now, we could spend hours talking about mobility work in general. Yet the basis is most people, unless you are hand picked by god himself, need some work on their mobility.
The only issue is, it’s not always super fun to do. It’s a lot more fun to go push yourself in a heavy squat or deadlift than it is to do some hip internal / external mobility.
So we tend to skip it!
Yet on rest days, this can be a great way to get in that extra mobility work so you can stay injury free and gain more range of motion / control in your workouts.
In turn, leading to more progress as well!
I wish I could go super in depth in this article on all things mobility, but that would take another 4-6 hours.
What I will do though is drop below a full body mobility routine I have done myself and for a lot of our clients in the past that I think can be super beneficial.
Hip 90 90’s
Do 5 reps each leg!
Kneeling Thoracic Mobility
Do 5 reps each side!
Do 5 reps each side, slow and steady!
Elevated Ankle Mobility
Do 5 reps each side!
Do 8 reps!
If you do each of these exercises back to back in a circuit fashion, for 2-3 rounds each, you will have a phenomenal active recovery workout routine.
Yay, fun! Ab work!
Kidding, I hate doing abs. Like.. hate. It’s soooo boring for me.
But, this isn’t for me to talk about my hatred of training abs. This is to talk about how you might be able to implement them into your active recovery workouts.
You may have heard before that your abs get worked during your workouts on movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.
This is 100% a true statement.
Now, with that being said, I do still think that some EXTRA ab work throughout the course of the week is beneficial to
Gaining total body strength
Protecting your lower back
Helping posture and preventing injury
Now, the way I generally program ab training into the programs I create are by putting them into the warm ups of each workout.
With that being said, I think another great way you can go about adding in some extra ab work is by doing them as an active recovery workout routine.
As long as you aren’t doing 100 mountain climbers in a row in 30 seconds, or a 100 sit ups in a row with a 20 second break in between, then you won’t be jacking your heart rate up super high.
Which means you can get some extra core work in without sacrificing recovery.
If you want a super in depth article on how I like to program ab workouts, I can link that right HERE for you.
What I Would NOT Do On A Rest Day
I may have made this clear throughout the course of this guide so far, but if not, let me do that now.
What I would NOT do for an active recovery workout routine is…
High intensity bootcamp classes (beachbody, orange theory, spin classes)
15 mile hikes
Running 10 miles
Literally anything that is taxing on the body
Now it’s not to say you can’t do those things.
For example, let’s say you strength train 3x per week, Monday Wed Friday.
Then, let’s say you like to hike one day on the weekend.
Then, let’s say you’re REALLY active, and you want to get one run in during the week.
Okay, cool. You now have 5 high intensity workout days and 2 rest days / active recovery days from something we laid out above.
This could be an okay weekly workout split.
But to lift 4x per week, hike once per week, spin once per week, and run 10 miles one day per week…
I personally would advise against that. You don’t have to listen to me of course, I’m just one random guy on the internet.
Yet I’ve seen that story enough to know it won’t end well.. You will generally speaking end up exhausted, burnt out, and frustrated that you aren’t seeing the progress you want to see.
Remember, rest days are important my friend!
Active Recovery Workout Routine + Nutrition
That really sums it up for the activity part of the equation.
The other thing I wanted to touch on was from a nutrition standpoint. I get asked a lot “Eric, should I eat less calories on a rest day since I’m not working out?!”.
The answer is, I dunno, maybe, but usually not.
Just because you are not working out that day does NOT mean you need to eat less calories, no.
This is because whatever your goal is, whether it’s to be in a calorie deficit for fat loss.
A calorie surplus for muscle gain.
Or a calorie maintenance for maintaining your current body fat levels.
Your calories are based off of your TDEE, your total daily energy expenditure.
( If you want to find our your TDEE, you can head right HERE! ).
This means you’ve already factored in your weekly activity level into your TDEE. The calories you are supposed to hit, it’s already accounting for the fact you workout 4x per week with 3 rest days.
You don’t need to do anything else after that, you’re good. Your weekly activity level is already worked in, so you can eat the same amount of calories on rest days vs workout days if you’d like.
Now, I say if you’d like because some people like to do something called calorie cycling.
The most important thing is not necessarily your DAILY calorie goal, it’s your weekly calorie goal.
So if let’s say your daily calorie goal is 1800 calories, that is 12,600 calories for the week.
That’s the most important thing you need to hit.
Therefore some people simply like to have more calories on their workout days vs their rest days because they’re hungrier, they like the extra food after a workout, whatever it is.
If that’s you, you can do something like
4 Workout Days – 2000 calories
3 Rest Days – 1550 calories
This way you get a bit more calories on workout days when you’re hungrier and want more.
Yet you still can keep your overall weekly calories in check on your rest days because you slightly decreased calories to still hit your overall weekly calorie goal.
I also get the question of “Eric, should I still hit my protein goals on rest days?!”.
The answer is overwhelming yes, for three main reasons.
First, protein is the only macro nutrient that helps you recover and repair muscles.
So, if you’re having a rest day, and the sole purpose is to recover from the workouts you are doing..
Don’t you think still hitting your protein goal is a snazzy idea? 😉
I think so too!
Second, to piggy back off of this, there is something called muscle protein synthesis.
Just think of this as the “Godfather” in recovery processes for your muscles.
This muscle protein synthesis is how your muscles repair, recover, and grow stronger.
AFTER you workout, your muscle protein synthesis spikes for that muscle group the following 24-72 hours. So if you hit legs on Monday, Tues and Wed are the biggest days that your muscle protein synthesis is high for that specific muscle.
Therefore, if you are taking a rest day after legs and your protein is low, you are nowhere near optimizing this muscle protein synthesis.
Which means you are nowhere near optimizing your results because you aren’t fueling your body with what it needs.
Last, your body is mainly going to use your previous days worth of food as fuel for the next workout.
If you take a rest day, have super low protein, and try to workout the next day..
Good luck my friend is all I gotta say.
So for these 3 main reasons, yes, you still want to ensure you hit your protein goal on your rest days.
It is equally, if not potentially MORE important on rest days!
Active Recovery Workout Routine : Final Word
Welp, that’s about it my friend.
I told you if you read the whole way through you’d learn everything you need to know about an active recovery workout routine.
I hope you enjoyed this guide!
Along with if you are interested in coaching with myself or my team, you can fill out our application form HERE.
As well as you can check out our online fitness community & coaching group, The Clubhouse, right HERE.