How many times have you heard that rest and recovery is essential for you to make progress?

You’ve probably read it in my articles enough times that it’s permanently tattooed on your brain. However, for some people, the concept of resting and not moving or exercising can be torture.  Advising people to slow down a bit can leave them itching to move.

One of the great strategies you can utilize if this matches your description is active rest. Active rest can apply in two different ways. You can apply active rest to days off from the gym or you can apply active rest to what you do in between sets of exercises at the gym. Either way, the key is focusing on exercises or movements that are not strenuous or taxing on the body.


Off Days

More is better right? I mean, that seems to be the common theme when it comes to exercise. If you’re not seeing results, just pile on more exercise. On the contrary, as with most things in life, the truth is, more is not always better.

The body needs to recover from bouts of exercise, especially if it is strenuous and/or intense. Sometimes it’s a day, sometimes 2 or 3 days. Personally I’ve found that my range is 3 days off per week so that my body rests and recovers.

So you’re not going to be lifting because your body needs a break. What are you going to do? Active rest, in this case, means doing less intense exercise or movements.

You could also take a look at how your mobility is and work on increasing your movement ability.  Grab a foam roller or lacrosse ball and doing some SMR on nagging aches and pains, or even being proactive on areas where you usually get trigger points or knots.

What is SMR?

Self-Myofascial Release. This can range from simply laying on a foam roller and giving yourself a few passes on tense muscle groups, to barbell smashing, flossing and trigger point release with a lacrosse ball. These techniques can be used before and after your workouts.

Please limit intense work anywhere from 2-5 minutes. It is essential to release and activate sore areas but overworking the area can do more damage than good. You will benefit more from 2 minutes a day than 10 minutes once a week.

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Active recovery isn’t sitting or lying on the couch on a Netflix binge. This actually requires doing something productive, although binge watching Netflix is productive in catching up on a shows. Get out and move, even if it’s a walk around the block.

In The Gym

Active rest can also be applied to what you do during your training in the gym. What do you spend your time doing in between sets during your lifting workouts? If you are like most people in the gym, you spend it chatting with people, or on your phone checking out the latest on Facebook. This is an inefficient use of time.

You could be spending that time wisely and implementing active rest strategies where you do exercises that could help you.  There is a whole world of corrective exercise and mobility drills that you could be doing that will make your workouts way more efficient.

Much like what you could be doing on days off from intense training, you could also implement the same thinking within your workout.  In between sets of your main lifts, say for example squats, instead of just sitting down and resting 2-4 minutes before you go for your next set, you could start using some active recovery strategies.

This could range from activation or correctives that will enhance your ability to squat, to mobility drills to help you get lower in your squat, to simple deep breathing patterns to help brace better.  You want it to be exercises that aren’t too strenuous and won’t tire you out.  The main focus should always be on the main lift.

Just find a way to use the down time that will help improve your body.  Remember, the gym isn’t just about beating yourself up.  You have to take care of it for longevity.  Simple drills and exercises within a workout can help accomplish that.


Much like I mentioned in my previous article about taking rest days if you’ve hit a plateau, it can’t be understated how important they are.  And for those that can’t stand to rest or do nothing, active rest can be a good go to strategy.  Movements like animal flow, or light body weight workouts work really well as does low intensity exercise like walking.

Active rest days can also be a great time to work on mobility, to do a little stretching, or to go to town on any nagging muscles that could use some attention via a foam roller or lacrosse ball.  Additionally active rest can be applied within your workout so you’re not just sitting on your butt waiting to take your next set.  This will make your gym time way more efficient.

One little bit of warning: It is possible for your active rest days to be too active.  You want to find a happy medium between resting/doing nothing and being active on your rest/recovery days.  Avoid anything that will stress your body too much as active rest should be somewhat relaxing.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


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Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans