Active vs passive recovery: which is better?


Here has Canadian Running, we frequently preach the importance of recovery for runners. After all, you can’t expect to keep running well if you don’t give your body time to rest and adjust to your workouts. But which type of recovery is the best? Active or passive? As with most things, there are benefits and room in your training for both.

RELATED: The Dos and Don’ts of Recovery with Physiotherapist Chris Napier

Active vs passive recovery

First, what exactly is the difference between active and passive recovery? Passive recovery refers to complete rest, and you can think of a full day of rest as a good night’s sleep. On days like this, you want to avoid doing anything too strenuous, like doing heavy gardening, helping a friend with a move, or going on a long hike. In comparison, active recovery is like taking a short nap. This involves doing an activity of easy to moderate intensity, such as a short, easy run, walk, cross-training, yoga, hiking, or any other activity that keeps your blood flowing but is not too strenuous.

Both have advantages

While we often think of rest to mean little or no activity, rest after hard training can also mean recovery through movement, this is where active recovery offers many benefits. Doing light, low-impact activity after a hard run can promote blood flow to your muscles to help them repair and prevent pain. Enjoying light movements can also help clear your head, which also helps your mind recover from your workout. This way, you will be both physically and mentally ready for your next tough session when the time comes.


Cycling is a popular active recovery activity among runners because it is a similar movement to running but with less impact on your joints. Hiking can also be beneficial, as walking on an incline can strengthen the small stabilizing muscles around your feet and ankles. Doing bodyweight exercises like core work, aerial squats, lunges, and calf raises can also stimulate circulation while helping build strength, and yoga can be a great way to relieve tension and to stretch tense areas of your body. More experienced runners can use easy jogging as an active recovery strategy, but they must be sure to maintain a slow pace to allow proper recovery.

While active recovery can have many benefits, that doesn’t mean passive recovery, or complete rest, has no place in your training plan. Especially for runners who train several days a week (five or six), it is important to schedule a day of rest to avoid overtraining and exhaustion. On top of that, there’s nothing wrong with having an unscheduled day off either. On some days, whether you have a workout or an active cool-down planned, your body may ask for an extra full day of rest. You may be feeling more sore or tired than usual, or your workout the night before did not go well. However your body communicates it to you, you should listen to it. Pushing your body when it really needs a rest will only cause injury and exhaustion, and will not improve your performance.

RELATED: Long Term Recovery: How Long Does It Take?

The bottom line

Active and passive recovery is important for runners and should be part of your training plan. It’s up to you to listen to your body to know what type of recovery it needs and to focus on rest to keep running well.

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