Balance is key, and your fitness routine is no exception to this rule. Every exercise program requires enough rest to help your body recover, repair, and prepare for the next workout. 

But which is best for your down days? Active recovery or a rest day?

We answer these questions and more in this comprehensive guide to active recovery vs. rest day. 

What Is the Difference Between Active Recovery and Rest?

Active recovery (also known as active rest) is low-impact activity that doesn’t strain or overwork the muscles that’s done on a day when no other training is planned. A rest day, on the other hand, is a 24-hour period of complete rest, meaning no activities or movement are scheduled outside of the day-to-day necessities. 

Both are essential to helping your muscles repair from a recent workout. Active recovery helps offset DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and increases blood flow to sore muscles to help with recovery. For example, going for a walk the day after leg day is a gentle way to move your leg muscles after a big workout and stimulate blood flow to encourage faster and more efficient recovery.

Rest days assist with muscle tissue repair because you’re consciously deciding not to put your muscles under tension for a full 24-hour period. When muscles aren’t being recruited for load-bearing tasks, they’re given the time they need to fully repair themselves and prepare for your next workout.

Is Active Recovery Better Than a Rest Day?

Active recovery isn’t better than a rest day because they’re different and thus better for different situations. Choosing which is better for you depends on what your body needs that day based on the activity it’s recently done and what activity it’ll be doing in the near future.

When To Take an Active Recovery Day

You should take an active recovery day after one or more days of intense physical activity unless you’re feeling burnt out. This way, you’re encouraging blood flow to sore muscles which can help with recovery.

The CDC recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise each week, paired with two weight training sessions. Between your strenuous workouts, plan to take an active recovery day, which can contribute to your 150 minutes of moderate exercise requirements.

For example, if your S.M.A.R.T. goal is to lose weight, incorporating a couple of walks into your weekly fitness routine will increase the total number of calories burned while not overexerting yourself. 

Another example is if your goal is to build strength. After any form of resistance training, your muscles need time to rest and recover from the load-bearing work they’ve just done. Instead of taking a full day of rest, you can engage in active recovery activities such as foam rolling, yoga, walking, or swimming which allow you to get some activity for the day, while also giving your muscles the time and space they need to rebuild before your next weight training session.

How Many Active Recovery Days Should I Take in a Week?

According to Lonnie Poupard Jr., a certified fitness trainer with lululemon Studio, the number of active rest days a person should take within a week is specific to the individual. He says, “Two to three active recovery days are recommended if your other days are filled with higher intensity and resistance training.” 

What To Do on an Active Recovery Day

On a recovery day, you can engage in low-intensity exercises such as: 

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When To Take a Rest Day

You should take a rest day if:

  • You’re feeling burnt out
  • You feel sick or run down
  • You’re sore in the same muscles for up to 72 hours or more
  • You’re in pain

At the end of the day, it’s about checking in with yourself. 

“Listen to your body,” Poupard Jr. says. “What does it feel like? Are you having symptoms of workout burnout or is it the feeling of being unmotivated?” It’s important to understand how to tell the difference and then go from there. If you’re experiencing burnout, a rest day (or two) is definitely in order. If you suspect it might be feelings of demotivation, active recovery is preferable to rest days (as long as it feels sustainable). 

How Many Rest Days Should I Take in a Week?

The number of rest days a person should take in a week depends on the person and their level of activity. “The need for a true rest day is rare since our bodies are designed to move,” says Poupard Jr. Active recovery is preferable as long as your body feels good. 

If you’re feeling truly burnt out or have exceeded 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity physical activity plus two strength training sessions for the week, taking one rest day per week is more than acceptable.

What to Do on a Rest Day

Rest days should be a day of complete rest. This means no activity, just relaxing as much as possible. Here are some ideas of things to do on a rest day:

  • Meditate
  • Read a book
  • Watch a movie
  • Solve a puzzle
  • Visit with friends or family
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Take Your Active Recovery or Rest Day With lululemon Studio

Whether you’re taking an active recovery day or a full rest day, lululemon Studio has something for every occasion. Check out our extensive library of yoga, Tai Chi, foam rolling, stretching, and meditation classes. Attend classes live, or stream them on demand from the comfort of your own home.

Interested in finding new ways to keep your weekly workouts exciting? Become a lululemon Studio  Member today and get FREE access to our library of over 10,000 classes and over 60 workout categories for 30 days.