For the best results in your fitness endeavors—whether you’re an indoor cycling champ, a regular runner, or a strength training savant—you may think the only way to get better, faster, and stronger is to train as hard as possible, all the time. But instead of a “ride, ride, repeat” strategy, you’ll need to incorporate strategic active rest days.
In case you’re not familiar, an active rest day means taking a break from your daily training and focusing on rest, recovery, and gentle movement. Sounds relaxing, but keep in mind that active rest days aren’t the same thing as indulging your inner couch potato. Here’s what to know about active rest days, how often to incorporate them into your routine for the most benefits, and how active recovery differs from passive recovery. Plus, we’ll share ideas for what to do on active rest days.
What Is An Active Rest Day?
An active rest day is a break from your usual training, and it often involves focusing on different types of movement, low-impact training, or other forms of recovery. If you’re a heavy lifter, your active rest day may include a low-intensity walk to stretch your legs. Riders and runners, meanwhile, might practice yoga to loosen tight muscles (such as the hip flexors) that are usually affected by cardio. Think of an active rest day as a form of cross-training, but less intense.
“It’s very important to recover after each and every workout, regardless of how strenuous it was,” says Mila Lazar, a Peloton cycling instructor and former dancer. “Recovery helps to give the body back what it needs. Once you are physically and mentally rested, you are able to give your best in each and every workout. Without recovery, your body is still depleted—you didn’t recover, which means you won’t give your best, and your overall fitness level stays the same or regresses.”
Now, you might be thinking active rest days are a great excuse to Netflix and chill. We hate to break it to you, but that’s not often the case. “I like to practice active recovery on my days off,” says Peloton Tread instructor Jon Hosking. “So I'll still make sure I'm mobile, and I get my steps in, but it won't look anything like the intensity of a training day.”
Engaging in an active rest day can help your body feel good while it recovers (and here’s exactly what happens to your body on a recovery day). That can be a tricky balance to maintain, but don’t worry—we’ll share instructor-approved rest day activities shortly.
How and When to Schedule Active Rest Days
Your active rest day needs will vary depending on your training goals, intensity, and more. In general, however, you can aim for one to three active rest days per week, swapping them in for a training day or a full rest day as needed. Mila, for example, takes at least two recovery days per week.
As far as scheduling active rest days, aim for one at least every three to five days. Remember, during tough workouts, your muscle fibers contract and stretch repeatedly, which causes micro tears in your muscle tissue. Your recovery and active rest give your muscles a chance to repair those tears, which is where you get muscular and cardiovascular gains. With that in mind, consider scheduling your rest days after intense workouts (think: heavy lifts or long runs during marathon training).
Benefits of Active Rest Days
Beyond giving your muscles a chance to repair, there are tons of benefits of active rest days to look forward to.
Mila has had periods in her life where she didn’t recover properly, and things were different: “I had years of not recovering sufficiently,” she shares. “I was tired, sluggish, and I had to build up a lot of willpower in me to get through a workout. Once I started to incorporate recovery time, I noticed how much more energy I had, how hard I was able to push myself without force, how much better my body felt. Best part: I’ve felt stronger, and my performance increased immensely.”
Jon has a similar story: “I had long periods where I trained every day or tried double sessions through the first four days of the week, and I get much more sustainable results when I have a routine that incorporates recovery days,” he says, adding, “I've also found that my posture improves and I sleep better.”
Another benefit of recovery? You’ll be more excited to work out again once you’ve rested. “Recovery is both mental and physical,” says Jon. “Recovering well and being really mindful of my rest makes me more motivated to then train; it makes me more powerful, and I notice progress more when I've given my body time to replenish and repair.”
At the end of a recovery day, Mila adds, “I feel ready to rock, I’m pumped — excited to give my best again and see if I can push myself a bit more.”
Taking active recovery days is a major key to avoiding injuries that will keep you out of the gym. Many athletes can experience overuse injuries, such as plantar fasciitis or shin splints, if they don’t take regular days off.
Similarly, the more you push yourself, the more fatigue you’ll build up—and if you’re tired, your form is likely to suffer, which can lead to injury. For example, if you’ve been pushing yourself on your deadlift every workout, your muscles are probably exhausted by the end of the week. You might be unable to maintain the straight back and lifted chest that are necessary to protect your low back from injury. The result? You’ll be forced to take rest days while you recover from the injury, and you’ll likely feel totally frustrated.
Try New Activities
An active rest day is the perfect chance to switch up your training and try something new. Yoga, Pilates, walking, or swimming may not be part of your daily routine. However, they’re great options for active recoveries, and you might feel refreshed by the different training (and find a new favorite workout!).
Science lesson: When you move, your blood circulates through your muscles much more easily. Your blood contains tons of nutrients and oxygen, which help fuel your muscles so they can bounce back from post-workout soreness. So, active rest days are crucial for maintaining a healthy blood flow and ensuring your muscles get the supplies they need to recover. In that sense, an active rest day can actually help you recover faster than taking a full day to lounge on the couch.
Active vs. Passive Recovery
While active recovery includes some of the gentle activities mentioned above, passive recovery is more of a traditional rest day. Translation: You have full permission to do absolutely nothing and give your body a full break. Passive recovery should be deployed after major exertion (such as a race or competition), and it’s also necessary when recovering from injury. Listen to your body to determine whether you need active vs. passive recovery. Most of the time, a light dose of active recovery will help you feel your best.
What to Do on Active Rest Days
Need some ideas for how to spend your active rest days? We’ve got you covered.
Mila starts with some sun salutations and goes into a stretching routine, then rolls out tight areas—like the hip flexors, glutes, and lower back—with a foam roller. “A yoga class is something I opt for if I have extra time, and I meditate to calm down completely,” she notes.
If you feel like you need to move your body, go for a walk (check out Peloton outdoor workouts!). Take a yoga class, a low-impact or recovery ride, a stretching class, or just stretch out on your own if you know what your body needs.
Mila tries to sleep for eight hours, and Jon’s goal is eight and a half. But if Mila doesn’t hit that magic number, she has tweaks. “Sadly, I don’t get eight hours all the time. What if I can’t get eight hours of sleep? I squeeze in a 20-minute nap in the late afternoon or a quick meditation—that helps me a lot on days where I only had a six-hour night!” (Psst… here’s how yoga can become your best sleep aid.)
Take a Hot Bath
This is Mila’s go-to: “A hot bath is what I need on a recovery day—if not, a very hot shower. Afterward, I use a magnesium lotion with lavender that helps my muscles to recover.”
Wear Regular Clothes
Some of us live in our workout gear all day, just in case we can squeeze in a strength session between meetings. On your off day, you can remove the temptation to push yourself by getting properly dressed. “I won't wear activewear, and I'll try and spend as little time on my phone as possible,” says Jon—clearly an evolved human.
Hydrate and Fuel Up
You don’t want to wake up sluggish and bloated because you spent the day on the couch eating chips. Fuel your body properly, and you’ll be ready for that first post-recovery workout. Try these tips for smart hydration and nutrition.
For those who are reluctant to take recovery days, Mila recommends trying it for a week or two. “People will notice how hyped up they are on a recovery day and how much more they can push in the actual workout if they take at least two days off,” she explains. “Plus, they give themselves time to do other workouts like a yoga class and feel the benefits from it. I always say one word: balance. Everybody needs balance in their lives.”
The Best Active Rest Day Workouts
Don’t worry, we’re using the word “workouts” lightly here. But you do have to hit that sweet spot between moving your body and taking it easy. We asked Peloton Members to share their favorite active rest day workouts.
The results of a very unscientific poll are in, and the best active rest day workout is definitely yoga, Members share. Whether it’s on the Peloton App or in their local studio, Members love a good stretch session. Brady McCray likes heated power yoga: “It works out all the soreness and provides a good stretch and a little upper-body workout,” she says. And for Michelle Leilani, there’s an added benefit: “It helps me to unwind after a stressful day at work.”
A classic low-impact workout, walking is a go-to rest-day activity for a whole lot of Members. Some couple it with another activity, like Stacey Kobeszko: “I’ll do an outdoor lunchtime walk and some stretching/foam rolling.” Mimi Deck Rutledge advises, “Take an hour power walk with someone you love or need to catch up with!” (Psst: Peloton Tread's walking classes are another great option!)
Kimberly Emery makes recovery a family affair: “I jump with my kids on our backyard trampoline. My kiddos love it when I join them, and it’s a good workout for me!” Heather Carter-Castleberry gets even more creative: “I do pole fitness at a local gym. The bodyweight resistance is perfect, and it’s fun to watch the 20-somethings’ jaws hit the floor when they realize someone their mom’s age is hanging upside down from a pole.”
Margery Miller Shanoff loves to garden on her days off. “It’s a lot of core, arm, and hamstring work,” she says, “and it gets me outside.” A lot of Members love to hike, but Alexis Robin takes it to another level and goes “forest bathing.” She extols the mental benefits of the practice, saying “When I’m recovering from a few days of intense Peloton workouts, I love to get outside with a walk or meditation in the forest. It’s the perfect balance to the high-intensity indoor screen-based activity.”
It may be counterintuitive, but some Members swear by cold plunges and cold therapy for muscle recovery. “Swim!” says Julie Kaplan. “It’s even better in a cold pool because it has an anti-inflammatory effect. I focus on upper body, still engage the core, and can adjust cardio to suit how I feel.” Jessica Lynn Smith incorporates cryotherapy into her routine — she says hopping into an icy chamber is “great for sore muscles” and adds it to hiking and yoga as part of her recovery program.
You “never” have time to foam roll or stretch during the days you work out (wink, wink), but active recovery days are made for releasing your muscle tension. Stop, drop, and roll while you try a guided foam rolling class, or work your joints through controlled articular rotations while doing a mobility class on the Peloton App. Even a classic stretching class will loosen your muscles and prepare you for your next workout.