Shape Up: Recovery Day Workouts

How to let your body recover between workouts

Hey everyone, it’s Dr. Hunter Vincent here, your resident personal trainer. With the new year upon us, ‘tis the season for being super fitness-motivated… right?! But, with the days being shorter in the winter season, it can feel like it starts to get dark at noon, making it challenging to drag ourselves outside for a run or out to a group fitness class. Getting your workout in when it’s dark outside every evening when you leave work is no easy feat… But if you’re on a roll, keep it up! Stay motivated for just a little longer and the days will start to get longer. Assuming that you are all is working hard on your fitness goals this new year and pushing yourself with your workouts, today I’m here to talk about another important exercise component you can’t forget about: recovery days.

Here’s a bit about why it’s important to take recovery days and how you can make the most out of those days when you feel like your body needs a little break…

How to let your body recover between workouts

First Things First: What Is Recovery?

From now on, let’s not think about recovery as an excuse to completely forget our goals and drop everything for 24-48 hours. Instead, let’s think about it as an active way to heal our bodies and stay balanced and healthy while minimizing injury risk so we can keep working hard and accomplishing our fitness goals. It is important to think about recovery in terms of both the body and the mind: Not only does your body need to heal and repair from your workout grind, but it is also important to give your mind a rest. That way, you can stay sharp and motivated so you don’t start to feel bored and stale with your workouts. Keeping your body on point and your mind relaxed will allow you to stay more consistent with your workouts and see better results in the long term.

Why Is Recovery Important?

Proper recovery may be one of the most important aspects of any long-term exercise program. You have to let your body rest in order for it to rebuild itself to be stronger and fitter than it previously was. If you don’t give yourself proper time to recover, you can increase your risk for injury and overtraining, which can actually have opposite effects on your performance and health goals. There is no magic formula for how much is too much because every body responds and recovers differently to different types of exercise. This is why it is very important to listen to your body and give it the R&R it is asking for. If you are feeling more rundown, unmotivated (more than usual), and generally just more fatigued, these may be signs that you need a rest day. So listen up! Pain is not necessarily more gain and life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon. So let’s prepare ourselves to stay healthier and fitter for longer.

How to Recover?

Just because you are taking a recovery day, doesn’t necessarily mean game-on for a Netflix binge and takeout (although there is a time and place for that as well). In terms of your exercise routine, there is a fine balance between work and rest, and it’s important to not get too hung up on recovering or use it as an excuse not to move. There are many things you can do on your recovery day to have an active recovery and set yourself up for success for the work to come. But, all that being said, a recovery day should be focused on light activity to help promote blood flow to decrease your existing soreness, not create more soreness. No matter what you do on your active recovery day, think about doing things that will help you come back to fight harder another day.

5 Tips for Active Recovery:

How to master active recovery between workouts

1. Cross-train

For those of you who train particularly hard in one specific area, it is very important to change things up. By focusing on one particular sport or skill, your body adapts to this, and changes to make you better at this specific activity (which is what you want!). But training too much in one particular area can lead to overuse of specific muscle groups and increased injury risk. An active recovery day might include light exercise in a different sport. For example, if you are an avid runner training for a marathon, there are great benefits to adding activities such as weight training, Pilates, group fitness classes, or even cycling into your weekly training. This will help balance out your training and maintain strength in muscles that aren’t focused on during long runs. If you are a regular at SoulCycle, then adding in a total body fitness class or hot yoga may be a great way to strike some balance.

2. Sleep

Do not underestimate the power of a solid sleep. When your body is sore, overworked, and in need of repair, there is no better time to recover than during sleep. This is your body’s designated time to repair cells and put your body back together. Although you may be able to “function” on little sleep, that doesn’t mean your body is recovering. If you are exercising really hard and not giving your body proper time to sleep (7-8 hours), you are creating a recipe for a crash-and-burn. So get cozy, count some sheep and make sure to get your Zzzzzzs. Your body will thank you for it!

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

3. Hydrate

Staying hydrated is key for maximizing recovery because being dehydrated can prevent your body from fully recovering. Although electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade can be highly effective with more intense exercise routines, they are often high in sugar and can have lots of empty calories. This can also be the case with some brands of coconut water, which are sweetened with juice. Water should always be your go-to beverage for quenching your thirst and replacing fluids after your sweat-sesh. As far as how much you should drink, that is different for every person, depending on their size. But, if you are exercising and getting a good sweat daily, it’s safe to assume you should be drinking approximately a gallon per day. So yes, bartender, I’ll have another…. water please!

How to recover on rest days

4. Take a load off: 

When having an active recovery day, think about focusing on types of exercise that minimize impact on the body. You can minimize impact on the joints, but still burn calories and break a sweat! Here are some ideas:

  • Never underestimate a good walk. Strolling along the beach for a few miles is a great way for anyone to stay moving and warm up the body without overdoing it. On average your body burns approximately 100 calories per mile, and that’s definitely better than nothing!
  • If you are a runner, the elliptical is a great way to decrease impact, but still “go through the motions” and keep your cardio up.
  • Swimming is a great option for any regular land exerciser. Even if you are not a regular swimmer, you can do water jogging programs or even the kick board to help get some blood moving.
  • Spin class can be a great option for people that focus more on boot camps or weights. It’s low impact and a great cardio session with ample sweat.

The best ways to recover between workouts

5. Work on range of motion:

This may seem like common knowledge, but maintaining flexibility is crucial for preventing injuries. And tight muscles need some work! Now, everyone has a different idea of stretching, but sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor while watching the cooking channel is a bit of a metaphorical stretch. Active stretching (where you increase your heart rate and body’s core temperature) such as yoga is a great way to loosen up. In addition, there are other ways to loosen up tight muscles through a type of self-massage called myofascial release. This can be done utilizing several different devices, such as a foam roller, tennis ball, baseball or many others. These techniques can help to break up specific trigger points within muscle fibers that are particularly tight and troublesome.


So, no matter how motivated you are to achieve your fitness goals in 2017, make sure you are taking enough time to let your body recover, heal and rest. Because, just like Hunter said above, pushing it too hard and getting injured as a result will slow you down so much more. When you start to feel antsy on your recovery days, remember that they are worth it in the long run!

What active recoveries do you like to do in between workouts?

If you have any tips of your own, be sure to let us know in the comments below. And thanks to Hunter for his expert tips in this article!

XO Team LC

Photos: Jessi Burrone for