The Ultimate Active Recovery Guide

When we talk about scheduling rest days into your workout routine, we’re not always referring to total rest. Active recovery is any type of movement that keeps the body in motion without causing stress to the muscles, bones and connective tissues. It could include low-impact movements like brisk walking, yoga, and water-based activities. Purposeful exercises like controlled breathing and meditation are active recovery options you can work into your schedule every day to relieve stress, improve cardiovascular health and build mental resilience.

Take advantage of activities that stimulate the cardiovascular system while giving the body time off from more strenuous activities. Here are a few examples of the best active recovery options to work into your fitness plan:


While breath awareness is an integral part of mind-body exercise like yoga, you can focus on breathing to calm the mind and body with just a few moments every day. Deep breathing exercises help oxygenate the mind and body.

Find a quiet place anytime during the day. Draw deep, slow breaths while focusing on expanding the belly to give your internal organs a gentle massage and promote circulation. Release the breaths slowly and completely, recognizing the respiratory pause with a four-count before inhaling again. Do this 8-10 times to relieve stress or anxiety, sharpen mental focus and overcome a mid-day slump.


As functional movements go, walking is the ultimate low-impact cardiovascular activity. A 30-minute walk with a friend is a great way to pace yourself when walking for recovery. If you can’t hold a conversation, slow your pace just slightly. Walking for recovery requires consistent movement without stress. Focus on your breathing and stretching as you walk for the best results.


Muscular stress tends to promote tension in the fascia that connects the muscles to each other and to the skin and bones. Over time, that tension can lead to imbalance and injury if not released through physical manipulation like integrative or sports massage.

At the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, our massage specialists offer various modalities and can customize your massage session to address specific needs like muscle soreness, tightness or injury recovery. Aston® Kinetics is a comprehensive service that incorporates functional movement and ergonomics assessments to reduce everyday stress and set you up for healthy movement.

Foam Rolling and Trigger Point Therapy

Much like massage, foam rollers and trigger point balls can be used to promote myofascial release and address muscle soreness and flexibility. Use a foam roller or trigger-point ball (a tennis ball works well) to apply steady, consistent body weight pressure along targeted muscles. You can roll any muscle that’s giving your trouble, avoiding bones and joints. Rolling might be a bit uncomfortable, but pain that makes it difficult to breathe is an indication that you need to move on to another area.


An integral component of our group exercise offerings, yoga intensifies the mind-body connection and provides benefits like increased circulation, flexibility and balance. It’s the perfect workout for active recovery days! Here are the classes we encourage you to try the next time you need a rest from strenuous workouts:

  • Alignment Yoga
  • Bodyflow™
  • Hatha Yoga
  • Slow Flow Yoga
  • Sunrise/Sunset Yoga
  • Yoga Foundations


Swimming laps or even walking in water provides low-impact, steady-state cardio that supports muscles and joints while improving balance and helping prevent injury. Try our Gentle Aqua class to see how the natural buoyancy of water can provide a much-needed break from dry land. It’s invigorating!

The main takeaway: plan for active recovery

This tool offers breathing exercises and serves as a reminder that recovery is an important pillar of human performance, and it can be simple to incorporate into your healthy lifestyle. Use it to honor the work your body does and relieve stress whenever you need a break. Pro tip: you need a break every day, so don’t save your active recovery work for specific days. Daily recovery work (like warming up before a workout or stretching or foam rolling after) allows your body to perform better and helps you achieve a little more every day.


In partnership with EXOS, a world leader in human performance and the management company for CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

Anschutz Health and Wellness Center