Do You Need An Active or Passive Recovery? Two Fitness Pros Explain.

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There are two main types of recovery: active recovery and passive recovery. And while we talk a lot about recovery before, during, and after Peloton classes, how do you know if you’re recovering correctly for what your body needs? We went straight to the experts–Peloton cycling instructor Leanne Hainsby and Peloton Tread instructor Matty Maggiacomo–to break down the definition of each type of recovery and explain how and when they’ll benefit your body.

Active Recovery

Leanne defines an active recovery as “essentially, being active in a way that supports your body’s recovery. It is lighter and less physically intense than your regular workout,” and you can incorporate it either during or after exercise. “For example, the HIIT rides on the Peloton bike incorporate active recovery during the session,” says Leanne. “Rather than stopping between intervals, we instruct members to maintain the activity at a “base” cadence/resistance.” The purpose of this interval is to flush the body of lactic acid and hydrogen ions, which damage and fatigue the muscles, and active recovery is often included during the cool down phase as well.

You can also incorporate active recovery on the days after intense training. “The activity you choose on an active recovery day can depend on your personal preference, type of training and mood. Alongside a low impact ride, you could get yourself outside for a walk, go swimming or I find yoga/pilates a perfect low-intensity workout for the mind, body and soul.” The decision to take a full recovery day is truly based on how you feel, rather than any objective measure of effort. “Listen to your body! Self-care isn’t selfish,” says Leanne.

However, there are moments in most athletes’ lifecycle where active recovery is truly needed, so don’t skip out. “Active recovery is most critical for athletes after a race, such as a marathon or a triathlon,” says Leanne. “It’s often one of the most undervalued parts of your training. However, it massively helps to prepare your body for the next race, or period of heavy training, by promoting blood flow to your joints and muscles to aid recovery.” Active recovery doesn’t have to be a formal workout, though. “I like to blend my active recovery days with spending time with family and friends. Taking my niece and nephew for a walk in the park or to swimming is usually a great way to get a low impact workout in for myself (sometimes without even realising), and happens to be great fun too!” says Leanne. “Listen to your body, find a way to calm the mind and reset for your next high-intensity day of training!”

Passive Recovery

“Passive Recovery is exactly what it sounds like: healing that occurs when the body is allowed to rest with no effort or extremely minimal energy output,” says Matty. The counterpart to active recovery, which is a low-intensity effort for the purpose of loosening muscles up and breaking up soreness, passive recovery allows for the body to recover on its own, without movement as a catalyst.

The most common reason for taking a passive recovery interval is injury, but illness and overtraining also call for a true rest day too. “I try to make one day per week a “passive recovery” day, especially with the constant stressors I place on my body,” says Matty. “Being a Peloton Tread instructor is an extremely physical job, probably more than I could have ever imagined.  Now, pair that with my own personal fitness goals (right now I’m trying to gain some size so I’ve been lifting heavier weights than I’ve ever lifted in the gym before) plus the added physicality of living in New York City, a city traveled mostly on foot, and one day a week of Passive Recovery is needed. This is a day when I do not step one foot in the gym or on a Tread! MIND BLOWN!”

So what does passive recovery entail? One of Matty’s passive recovery go-tos is myofascial release sports massage, which is a restorative massage to break up muscle soreness and improve joint mobility. “Typically once I have a myofascial release session I go right to bed after or hang out on the couch for the rest of the night,” says Matty. He’s also been experimenting with a heat treatment called an infrared sauna. “Sitting in the IR for 30-60 minutes allows my central nervous system to relax, warms up my muscles without having to move them, and gives my mind some time to settle and center. I’ve even used Peloton Digital meditation classes while in session,” says Matty. Other types of massage, cupping, and cryotherapy are popular treatments, but there’s no one size fits all recipe, so ask your doctor or physical therapist what they recommend for you.

Passive recovery isn’t something you do every day, as fun as it might sound: “That would just be incessant inactivity, and I’m not sure that fits in with your fitness goals!” says Matty. But if you’ve truly never taken a day off from your workouts, you’re probably overdue. “The most serious athletes employ some EXTREME passive recovery techniques, as in, not even watching a suspenseful movie or television show so as not to raise their heart rate.  But I would say passive recovery is most crucial when you start to feel signs of fatigue and to avoid ever toeing the line toward exhaustion, a line you never want to cross. Passive recovery is critical for everyone!”


Want to explore recovery even more? Here are the reasons why you always need a rest day.