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 ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Top 3 Reasons to Use Yoga for Active Recovery

Top 3 Reasons to Use Yoga for Active Recovery

Reading Time: 5 minutes 32 seconds


DATE: 2022-03-18

When it comes to fitness, much of the focus is put on the workout itself. Want to lose weight? A more intense workout can increase your fat burn. Want to build muscle? Lift heavier weights on strength training days. But adequate recovery is also important, especially active recovery—and yoga is perfect for this purpose.

The Importance of Recovery

Remember that pushing a muscle to work harder causes tiny tears in the muscle fiber. It creates actual muscle damage. After a challenging workout, your body needs time to repair this damage. If time is not given, the muscle can weaken versus strengthen. The body is unable to recover effectively, and injury can occur.

A lack of adequate recovery can also lead to overtraining. You can only push the body for so long before it starts to break down. It’s the same principle as allowing stress to continue to build without releasing it. You might not notice the effects at first, but they will eventually appear. The same is true with exercise. If you consistently overdo it, it will catch up with you at some point.

An injury can occur to the muscle or surrounding soft tissues (ligaments, tendons) if they endure repeated stress with limited recovery time. Overtraining can also lead to stress fractures. The bone cannot sustain all of the physical activity, so it slowly starts to break.

A high-intensity workout can also result in delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. Giving the body time to recover can help reduce this soreness. It can also reduce muscle fatigue.

Passive Recovery vs Active Recovery

One way to engage in recovery is to take a rest day. This is called passive recovery and involves taking the day off entirely from any exercise. Passive recovery can be helpful on days when muscle soreness is at its peak. It’s also a good option after completing a reasonably strenuous workout.

Another option is to stay active during recovery, though at a lower intensity. This is referred to as active recovery. Research indicates that active recovery offers many benefits.

For instance, a 2019 systematic review notes that active recovery positively affects performance (1). It also reports that participating in an active recovery session appears to improve psychological outcomes. A previous meta-analysis indicates that active recovery helps ease sore muscles (2).

Some use the term active recovery to describe doing less intense exercise between interval training sets. It’s also used to reference reduced intensity during a cool down. For purposes of this article, the phrase “active recovery” describes being lightly active on rest days or active rest.

How Does Active Recovery Work?

An active recovery workout helps increase blood flow. Blood carries oxygen and many other nutrients that are helpful with recovery to the muscle cells. Light exercise can get the blood moving faster than when completely at rest. This gets more of these nutrients to the damaged areas.

Low-intensity movement can also help the body get rid of excess lactic acid. The more intense your physical exertion, the more lactic acid your body produces. The National Library of Medicine shares that too much lactic acid can lead to lactic acidosis (3). This causes nausea, weakness, and vomiting. Reducing lactic acid buildup helps you avoid these effects.

3 Persuasive Reasons to Use Yoga for Active Recovery

For an exercise to assist with active recovery, it must be low in intensity. Walking, light swimming, tai chi, and a leisurely bike ride qualify as active recovery exercises. Yoga is another option to consider on an active recovery day. Here are three persuasive reasons why.

#1: As a Low-Intensity Exercise, Yoga is Perfect for an Active Rest Day

Some yoga styles are more intense. Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga are two. Other styles are slower and aimed more toward recovery. That makes them perfect for an active rest day. Restorative yoga is good for an active recovery workout. Ananda yoga and yin yoga are as well. Each of these practices goes from pose to pose in a slow, controlled fashion.

#2: Yoga Promotes Blood Flow, Which Aids in Muscle Recovery

The light movements of low-intensity yoga help get the blood flowing. This makes it easier for the body to get nutrients to muscle cells. These nutrients can be used to better repair muscle damage. This also impacts the amount of soreness you might feel. The quicker the recovery, the shorter the duration of your soreness.

#3: Yoga Increases Body Awareness During the Recovery Process

Part of effective recovery is knowing what your body needs and when. Yoga assists with this by increasing body awareness. You become more in tune with your body. This makes it easier to identify when it might need rest. It also helps avoid overtraining and, subsequently, injury.

Additional Yoga Benefits

Yoga offers many benefits that extend beyond those associated with active recovery. Johns Hopkins shares quite a few of them, some of which include (4):

  • Improving strength, balance, and flexibility

  • Providing back pain relief

  • Easing arthritis symptoms

  • Increasing heart health

  • Promoting better sleep

  • Boosting mood

  • Reducing stress

Arguably, each of these yoga benefits also assists with recovery. This is just one more reason to include yoga on your recovery day.

How Often Should You Engage in Active Recovery?

The answer to this question depends on your workout schedule overall. The more intense your exercise sessions, the more time you may need to recover from them.

Generally speaking, most people benefit from taking one or two active recovery days per week. This enables you to meet your fitness goals without over-stressing the body.

It’s also important to regularly include passive recovery days in your routine. Give your body a day off from any type of exercise so it can relax fully.

Your yoga recovery sessions don’t have to be lengthy either. Keep in mind that the goal isn’t to get a good workout. It is simply to stay lightly active while giving your muscles time to heal. Just 10-20 minutes of yoga on active recovery days is sufficient for this purpose.

Yoga Poses to Include in an Active Recovery Workout

Every pose is different. Some are meant to open the chest or hips. Others assist with recovery by releasing tight muscles. Which poses make good active recovery exercises?

Downward Facing Dog

To do this pose, you get on your hands and knees, then straighten your legs and lift your hips toward the ceiling. This puts your body in an inverted “V” position. Downward Facing Dog stretches muscles in the lower body, namely the hamstrings and calves. It also opens the shoulders.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose involves sitting with your glutes on your feet, then walking the hands forward until your forehead touches the ground (or gets as close to the ground as you can). This pose is good for stretching the back and spine. It also stretches the hips and thighs.

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose helps release tight hips. It also stretches the groin and back. To do it, you sit with the right knee bent, the outside of the shin resting against the floor. Your left leg is extended straight behind you. Keeping the hips square to the mat, you bend forward, bringing your face toward the floor.

Incorporating yoga into your clients’ workout routine helps provide active recovery. If you’re not sure how to do this, ISSA offers Yoga Instructor certification. This course teaches fitness trainers how to break a yoga pose into understandable steps. You also learn how to devise a yoga workout based on your client’s fitness goals.

Featured Course

ISSA | Yoga Fundamentals

Learn the benefits of yoga, techniques and tools for teaching, and fundamental information for jump-starting your career.


  1. Ortiz, R., Sinclair Elder, A., Elder, C., & Dawes, J. (2019). A Systematic Review on the Effectiveness of Active Recovery Interventions on Athletic Performance of Professional-, Collegiate-, and Competitive-Level Adult Athletes. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 33(8), 2275-2287. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000002589

  2. Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquet, L., & Dugué, B. (2018). An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 403. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00403

  3. Encyclopedia, M., & acidosis, L. (2022). Lactic acidosis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000391.htm.

  4. 9 Benefits of Yoga. Hopkinsmedicine.org. (2022). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-benefits-of-yoga.

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