Active vs Passive Recovery? Why You Need Both!

Active vs Passive Recovery? Why You Need Both!

Active vs Passive Recovery: Which One Is Best For You?


Whether you train like an athlete, or your exercise routine involves low impact movements, recovery is vital to your wellness and long term results.


Intense exercise places a high-stress demand on your body and mind. This can be a great thing when you’re building muscle and improving your strength and conditioning. However, frequent, intense exercise is only beneficial IF you allow yourself to properly recover so your body can adapt and rebuild. The process of tissue remodeling and building muscle happens during recovery, not during the “breakdown” process of intense exercise.


No matter your fitness level, your body needs time to rest and recover in between intense exercise sessions. Quality recovery allows your body to adapt to the increased demand from your training and learn to repair itself. Overtraining - especially, without proper rest and recovery - can result in diminishing returns. Worse yet, it can actually sabotage your results, because your training is only breaking your body down and causing an imbalance in inflammation, fatigue, and hormonal distress.


Even if you have the perfect nutrition, hydration, and supplementation, rest and repair is still a requirement.


The good news?
Rest and recovery days don’t mean you have to stay sedentary. Active recovery has proven to be a superior way to help accelerate your body’s natural repair processes and help you see better long-term results.

What is Active Recovery?

A great way to recover between intense workouts is with low to moderate intensity movements. This can mean anything from stretching, walking, dancing, or swimming, to a leisure bike ride or even myofascial release treatments, such as a deep tissue massage

A woman stretching at home

These movements help stimulate your lymphatic drainage and get your blood pumping, which increases nutrient delivery to the tissues and helps carry out waste and lactic acid so you can recover faster and better. Stretching out sore muscles can also help you relax the myofascial tissue while increasing circulation and flexibility, which feels great and helps speed up the recovery process.

It’s also worth mentioning that a relaxing, active recovery day after intense exercise can give you a much needed mental break. This additional benefit helps you fully recover so you can bring your best self to your next training session. 

What is Passive Recovery?

When you’re physically and mentally exhausted, have brain fog, and/or extreme muscle soreness, sometimes quality sleep is exactly what you need. 

a woman relaxing in a bubble bath, with a koa massage tool

Passive recovery is intentionally resting and rejuvenating. That can mean: sleeping in, relaxing all day, and avoiding strenuous activities. Ideally, you can plan time for self care activities like an epsom salt bath, reading, journaling, meditating, or whatever brings you peace.

A full on, passive rest day can also be hugely beneficial for your body and mind. Try it, and see what difference it makes for your training the following day. If you come back with more strength, endurance, and focus, it may be a sign that your body will thrive with more rest. 

What’s Better: Passive or Active Recovery?

For optimal results, listen to your body and what it needs. If you train hard and are feeling sore or sluggish, try some active recovery. If your sleep schedule has been taking a hit, create a cozy environment, turn off all electronics, and get to sleep early so you can give your body ample time to recharge.

One study found:

Self-paced, active recovery showed a higher velocity of blood lactate removal than passive recovery.  

This data suggests that athletes may be able to choose the best recovery intensity for themselves, based on their preferences and abilities.

There’s no right or wrong method; there’s only what’s best for you in your current situation.

Sample Active Recovery Routine

If you squirm at the thought of taking a day or two away from training, plan an active recovery day. You can still get your body moving, increase your physical strength and conditioning, and move your body in ways that help it flush nutrients to the areas that need extra care.

Because we know you want the most bang for your buck, here’s an example routine that you can customize as needed on your next recovery day:


  • First thing in the morning: stretch
  • Think about and feel the things you’re most grateful for, while you elongate your limbs, stretch out your body, and mobilize your spine.

    Pro tip: stretch in your bed, on the comfort of your mattress. This removes any prep or planning and offers soft support for all your movements. 


  • Go for a walk
  • Take your furry friends outside, or just enjoy the rising sun and fresh air while taking a brisk walk.


  • Myofascial release
  • The easiest, best way to relax and rejuvenate your body is with the KOA Massage Tools. These at-home myofascial release tools allow you to decompress tension, release pain and inflammation, stimulate blood flow and lymphatic drainage, and feel amazing within minutes.

    A woman outside, sitting on the floor using a koa massage tool

    Studies on Myofascial Release For Recovery:

    Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review

    Self-myofascial release (SMFR) seems to increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness but does not impede athletic performance. It may lead to improved arterial function, improved vascular endothelial function, and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity acutely, which could be useful in recovery.

    Is self myofascial release an effective preexercise and recovery strategy?

    SMR appears to have a positive effect on range of motion and soreness/fatigue following exercise.

    Effect of self-myofascial release on myofascial pain, muscle flexibility, and strength

    Researchers observed a significant increase in the joint range of motion after using the SMFR technique and no decrease in muscle force or changes in performance after treatment with SMFR.

    An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation

    Massage was found to be the most powerful technique for recovering from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue.

    Effects of Self-myofascial Release Instruments on Performance and Recovery

    SMR using instruments is beneficial to enhancing short-term flexibility-related and recovery-related outcomes.


    For best results, warm up with light exercise, or in a sauna, bath, or shower. Heating up your tissues before a myofascial release treatment allows your tissues to relax and be more mobile so you can get the most out of your KOA massage.



  • Stretch
  • Find some tutorials on YouTube, or just breathe and relax into any stretches that you enjoy. Be sure to ease into any stretches that your body may be resistant to because of your sore muscles. Take your time, keep your body and mind relaxed, and allow yourself to ease into every movement.


  • Low intensity exercise
  • Choose whatever low-impact activities you love, and move your body. Have fun with it! Put on a playlist that makes you feel like dancing, go explore the outdoors, or do some bodyweight movements at home.


  • Bonus: Cold therapy
  • Cold exposure can rebalance your inflammation levels, improve your immune system, and help your body move out toxins. Some easy cold therapy methods include a cold shower or bath, cold packs, or cryotherapy.

    In Summary:

    If you squirm at the thought of taking a day or two away from training, plan an active recovery day. You can still get your body moving, increase your physical strength and conditioning, and move your body in ways that help it flush nutrients to the areas that need extra care.

    The KOA Massage Tools are the best self-use myofascial release tools for muscle recovery, blood flow, lymphatic drainage, pain management, nerve function, and overall performance and wellness.

    2 women in a gym setting using recovery tools, including the koa massage tool and foam roller

    Be sure to stay hydrated and prioritize quality nutrition, sleep, and stress management to optimize your recovery routine.