Don’t Get Punked By A Routine…Pick The Right Recovery Workout To Keep Going Strong

Getting a Recovery Workout

(Photo: Keith Allison)

Do you know a recovery workout can help with maintaining your intensity and build endurance?

But, even though you’re busting your bum, it’s important to know how to make a rest or recovery set work for you.

Even on rest days it’s okay to get in a little bit of exercise.

A pet peeve I have with a lot of exercise plans is they always seem to slap a “rest” in the directions.

Yet, even the better ones around usually make it a side note.

A quick question: do you know how to focus on getting the most benefit from a cool down?

Or what about helping your muscle out when they’re in recovery mode on a rest day?

I’m going to share a few examples that I like to use in my own training that will get you set on (1) using an active recovery on your rest days, (2) help you recover faster in between intervals and (3) working in some static stretches to keep you primed after a workout.

Getting Familiar With An Active Recovery Workout

There are actually a few definitions of what a recovery workout can stand for. The first is to be used as a standalone routine, for the days when you’re not actually exercising, but don’t want to spend your whole day on the couch.

Another idea is to use it as a “cool down” immediately after training.

Finally, the rests that are the other half of an interval training or circuit program can also be considered this too.

What “recovery mode” means is to put the muscles and joints through some familiar movements. This has been known to help lessen the amount of time you need to rebound from your workouts.

So, if you’re hitting the weights hard, or find you get wiped after doing a wee bit more cardio at home than you need, you’ll find you won’t need so many days between routines.

Since the body can’t maintain a high-effort work out for long duration’s a rest or recovery break is a good idea.

Some rest-day exercise ideas to help you out:

  • Bird dog
  • Burpees
  • Elevated Pushups
  • Hip Extensions
  • Inverted Rows using Towels to Grip
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Step Outs
  • Walking Lunges

Whichever exercises you decide to use, don’t blast your way though the recovery workout. For the most part, try and stick with an effort level that’s around an intensity of 3/10.

The idea to make this supplement your training. It should be low-impact.

Here’s a fun standalone workout that isn’t too intense, but should give you a good sweat anyway:

How to Rest In Between The Action

The main benefit of not always running at supped up tempo for 30 or more minutes is to actually help increase the blood flow that get’s sent out to the muscles.

For endurance and strength reasons, this is a really good thing because it allows for more oxygenated blood to get delivered to the muscles.

There’s a reason why your abilities don’t just fall off the map from one set to the next.

Our muscles are very good at recharging within just minutes of extreme effort. And a lot of this has to do with how much blood is redirected to the muscles from other areas of the body.

One way I like to keep my blood pumping is to add in some weighted movements.

Kettlebell curls or presses are great for keeping the upper body ready for more. Even a few hops with the jump rope can help prep you for the next interval.

The Lowdown on the Cool Down

Some exercise programs work in an warm up with the same exercises that are going to be used in a routine. They’re just typically done at a lower intensity level and with a lesser amount of resistance.

You can apply the same technique to a recovery workout after you’re done exercising for the day.

Usually 5 minutes will to allow the body to return to a resting state.

A method I like is to decrease the intensity with each passing minute. Or you can just use the same 3/10 effort that you can use in the standalone workout on a rest day to let your muscles settle down.

Where Do Stretches Come Into Play?

Depending on how grueling of a workout you put yourself through, sometimes you can get away with simply stretching tight muscle areas.

The goal should be to allow your joints and muscles a few moments to release the built up tension that goes with pushing them.

The Psoas stretch could be a great example if you’re looking to reduce the chain of tension that accumulates in the lower back, hip and knee areas.

This exercise makes sense if you’re doing a lot of lower body training.

Check out these other ideas for targeting those lower body muscle groups:

Glute Stretch:

There are several versions of this exercise, from laying on your back or sitting. My choice is the latter. It’s what I’ve been used to over the years, but either is okay in my book.

  • The first step is to extend one leg and then cross the body with the other leg.
  • Keep the lower back as straight as possible. If you’re on the the floor, make sure to the back is flush on the floor.
  • Grasp the knee crossed in front of you and pull it into you. For the floor method loop a hand towel or exercise band around your foot.
  • As you stretch, you should feel it in your glutes on just the outer side.
  • Try holding this position for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Hamstring Stretch:

The best results I get from this stretch is to as pictured above. The towel allows you to stay flat on the floor, so you don’t need to grab the back of the leg and end up holding yourself in a crunch position the entire time.

  • Lift one leg so it’s pointed towards the ceiling. Lead with the heel.
  • Wrap the towel over your foot and pull your foot toward you.
  • You’ll feel the stretch at the back of the leg.
  • Try holding this position for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Note: The reason why we want to lead with our heels up toward the ceiling is to help to elongate the hamstring muscle, and get the stretch working deeper over time.

Quad Stretch:

With this exercise you can either be resting on your side as you work the quads, or perform the stretch as illustrated below, while in a kneeling on a mat or cushion.

• Choose either your left or right leg and clutch the top of that foot. Using the hand of the same side bring in the foot towards your butt.
• One tip to is to keep your knee directly in-line with the hips.
• You’ll know your doing this right when you feel it in the thigh muscles (quadriceps).
• Try holding this position for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.

One of the things to be wary of is that you don’t always need to have the bottom of your foot touching your butt. This stretch is just like all the others. The goal isn’t about how far you can treat the muscles like they’re rubberbands, but simply to get a fair amount of pull each time.

Note: I don’t recommend using static stretches in a warm up. It’s too easy to pull or tear a muscle when it’s in a cool state. My preference is to save them for your recovery workout.

The Bottom Line

One of the things that I hope you take a way from this post is that you can improve your overall performance by working your body at a lower intensity than always pushing yourself to the limit.

Some other benefits you might come across is that each “real” workout can seem easier, you’ll be able to rebound quicker between routines, and you’ll feel more relaxed.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below about how use a recovery workout to your exercise program.

About the Author

mw 100x100Hey! I'm , and I've setup this blog to prove anyone can get in shape without needing a gym fee. Each article is drawn from my own experiences, expert trainers and bestselling fitness authors. Please feel free to chat me up on FacebookG+ and Twitter. Also, I do reply to every drop me a line down below.

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If you don't let the muscles recover then you could do some serious damage to those muscles as well, they tell you it is ok to exercise your abs everyday but that is because it is such a strong big muscle anyway. But working your arms and legs everyday with weights can damage the knees and shoulders as well as feet, so please don't get in to big of a rush.


Robert, a recovery workout shouldn't be as intense as a regular workout. You've got to drastically lower the effort. One of the reasons why it's okay to hit the abs more often is because there's more blood flowing into this muscle set. This is one of the reasons helping the abs to recover faster. For the arms and the like, you should be cooling them down properly after a workout. This helps keep you flexible, so you're not walking around like a robot. Also, you don't need to use weight everyday. Bodyweight exercises, or going out for a hike are a great way to not put some much demand on the joints, like the knees and shoulders. These cause less impact. -Mitchell


So are you saying that a recovery workout is something you need to do once or twice a week in order to build stronger muscles etc. but it really isn't part of your regular work out it is in addition to it? This is very interesting and I am going to have to research it some more. See who is practicing this form of exercise and if it really does work.


Hey Steven, unless you're specifically reaching failure with each workout, giving a bit of attention to your muscles can be a good thing during off days. The reason why you want to let the muscles fully repair from sessions maxing you out is because that's a lot of tension being put on the muscles. I suggest to make sure you're stretching them, but not taxing them more than you really need to. -Mitchell


I am usually following a work out tape when I work out so there is always a cool down but I don't have anything that I do on recovery days. Would yoga be a good recovery workout to do after a week of lifting weights and cardio? I know you could do a lower intensity work out but I get tired of doing the same thing every day.


Morris, I hate doing the same thing too. There are different types of yoga (Ashtanga, Bikram and Iyengar) that you can do after a workout. Just keep in mind that you don't want to task the muscles too much, so try and aim from poses that focus on balance and giving a good stretch to your muscles. -Mitchell

Niko - noeXcuse fitness
Niko - noeXcuse fitness

Mitchell, This article is a timely reminder for me to concentrate on my recovery sessions. Sometimes I get far too focused on my training and forget to fit in recovery sessions. I am now going to schedule a recovery session each week, much the same as I schedule my training sessions. Niko


Niko, I'll even admit it's too easy to brush of a cool down or a recovery routine as not being super important. But it does help to look at the whole picture, and see that while the actual exercise is important progress is really made during the rest of the day.

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