How To Structure Active Recovery Days

Active recovery days are the golden secret for many top athletes. The importance of these weekly, sometimes biweekly sessions are to:

  • Improve blood flow and acidic byproduct clearance to damaged and fatigued muscle and tissues.
  • Increase body temperature to allow for mobility and flexibility training.
  • Programmed low-intensity sessions to allow for central nervous system repair and recovery.
  • Offer athletes a viable training option to feed the “train insane” mentality while simultaneously allowing for recovery and preparation for future higher intensity sessions.
  • Increase corrective, mobility, and preventative training exercises to produce more injury resistant individuals.

When structuring a recovery session, I like to break it down into these following blocks, in this order, so that my body is well-prepared for the goals of increasing recovery, flexibility, and injury resilience.

Steady-State Conditioning Warm Up

The primary focus here is to increase body temperature and increase systemic blood flow. Often, choosing a modality such as air bike, swimming, and/or rowing is a great low impact and intensity piece.

When choosing your warm up intensity, I often recommend athletes go back to the basics and train between 60-80% of their heart rate max, for 10-30 minutes.

Dynamic Warm Up

Following the steady state piece, it is important to increase your balance, dynamic flexibility, and agility through more athletic based drills. Simply employing the following warm-up routine into your training sessions will allow you to move more fluidly.

Mobility and Corrective Circuits

The harder one trains, the closer they are to injury. The ability to recover and protect oneself from injury will allow an athlete to get more training hours and stressor under their belt, and will allow for long-term progress. Mixing in mobility and corrective exercises in a circuit fashion will increase injury resilience while keeping the heart rate elevated between 60-80% of heart rate max, making the session aerobic as well.

Try out this sample routine. Perform 4 total rounds, focusing on precise repetitions, controlled contractions, and constant movement from station to station.

1. X-Band Walks x 20 steps per leg

2. Banded Shoulder PreHab Complex x 10 repetitions per movement (Face Pull with External Rotation, Straight Arm PullDown, Bear Hug, Standing Snow Angels, Banded Overhead Squat, and Archer Row)

[Many athletes find soft tissue work can be really helpful on rest days— check out the best foam roller for your needs!]

3. Cossack Squat x 5 repetitions per leg

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

Total Body, Varied, Conditioning(Optional)

Although this piece can create some muscle soreness in beginners, I find it is best to keep the intensity low, focus on sound movement patterning, and sustaining a heart rate between 60-80% of max. Integrating timed metcons, such as EMOMs (every minute on the minutes) are great ways to improve work capacity. Choosing total body movements that are low impact and not explosive in nature will allow for decompression of the joints and repair of the central nervous system.

Try out this sample routine. Perform this 15 minute EMOM (5 total rounds of three different exercises).

  • Sled Push/Pull x 30 seconds at moderate intensity
  • Turkish Get Up x 30 seconds at moderate intensity
  • Handstand Hold x 30 seconds

Static Stretching and Meditation

Static stretches and meditation have been around for centuries. Static stretching works to increase of end range of motion, and is best done when our muscles have had the opportunity be fully warmed-up through the fullest range of motion. The key here is to slowly increase your ranges, allowing the body to give you more and more degrees. Breathing into your stretches will help to relieve stress, and help you gain flexibility. Over time, static stretching and meditation will help you fully recover and make lasting progress in your training.

Take your recovery to the next level by employing all of these components in weekly training sessions, and save yourself for nagging injuries, stalled progress, and one-dimensional health.