Active Recovery - how does it work?

What is active recovery, and how does it work? What are the performance benefits and will I be able to train again sooner?

Strenuous and frequent training can have an adverse effect on athlete recovery. Post-exercise interventions, such as active recovery (AR), have become very popular to aid the body’s natural healing ability. These interventions can accelerate the return to physiological homeostasis – the body's “base level" and reduce the negative effects of poor recovery such as over-training. AR is one of the most popular techniques of post-training intervention. It involves exercising at a sub maximal level immediately following a training session, for example, swimming; cycling; running/jogging or even active stretching and yoga.

Active Recovery works by increasing blood flow around the body and therefore:

  1. Increases muscle energy levels by delivering vital nutrients quickly after your training session
  2. Promotes lactic acid removal following strenuous exercise - the increased blood flow will help transport the lactic acid away from the muscles to eventually be converted to glucose. Lactic acid build up occurs when there is not enough oxygen being delivered to the muscles. This causes "the burn" associated with high intensity exercise.
  3. Decreases the severity AND duration of delayed onset muscle soreness, "DOMS"- this occurs after exercise which causes small tears in the muscle fibres, causing the pain sometimes felt in the days following a training session. AR will encourage blood flow to the injured muscles, thus enhancing the recovery process by providing oxygen and essential nutrients.

What are the performance benefits?

Results from published research shows AR has a positive impact on athlete performance and physiological recovery. Many articles recommend AR strategies to be undertaken after weightlifting sessions and it is proven that AR can decrease the severity AND duration of DOMS. AR has many other benefits which have been scientifically proven, such as:

↑ Improvement in swim performance time compared to passive recovery (swimming v passive recovery)

↓ Decrease in blood lactate levels compared to passive recovery (swimming, treadmill running, cycling and combat sports)

↓ Decrease in blood lactate levels compared to massage (swimming)

↔ Maintaining a higher level of both peak and mean power output during sprint cycling

For a more in-depth review of AR, please follow this link. Including a recovery strategy within a training programme is vital in order to ensure the body can properly heal and will also allow you to train again sooner. Active Recovery is proven to be one of the most effective strategies to aid the healing process of damaged muscle and should be undertaken after each session. Find out more about recovery, and performance in general, over at

Related stories