woman stretching

Two terms fitness fanatics use interchangeably are active recovery and rest days. There is a ton of incredibly promising research out there on the benefits of taking a rest day or two. Studies in athletes across the board have shown that rest days can build more muscle, replenish vital nutrients, and re-hydrate the body.

But a growing trend of science suggests that recovery days, in lieu of rest days, can be a good alternative.

What is the Difference?

You’re still probably wondering what the difference between a recovery day and a rest day is. Don’t worry. We’ve got all the answers below. In this article, we’ll break down the difference between recovery and rest days, as well as their health benefits.

Defining Rest vs Recovery

Rest is defined as a period of inactivity. Recovery, sometimes referred to as an active recovery day, is when you do some kind of physical activity that is less vigorous than your normal days of exercise. For example, a light swim instead of a 5-mile run or yoga instead of deadlifting.

A Day of Rest

To maximize physical activity, science says that rest and rehabilitation are completely necessary. Research indicates that taking planned time off from your exercise routine can mitigate the risks of injury and optimize the benefits of physical activity. A study published in April 2018 by three cardiologists in the Missouri State Medical Association backs this up. Their hypothesis argues there’s a “Goldilocks Zone” for exercise—a sweet spot between getting too much physical activity and not enough. The paper advises at least one rest day and no more than four or five hours of vigorous exercise per week.

However, the drawback of a rest day is that you risk losing your momentum. Some dedicated athletes may even feel guilty for taking a day of rest. Que recovery days, a good alternative to a rest day, when you want to have your cake and eat it too.

Replace your Rest Day with a Recovery Day

If you work out five to six days a week, at least one full rest day is recommended. However, when you’re in the zone, or on a set time frame, like trying to lose 10 pounds before your sister’s wedding in 30 days, it’s tempting to postpone rest days. Before you completely write off a rest day, replace it with a recovery day. Recovery days can give your muscles the extra time to reset and rebuild without sacrificing productivity.

Here are some good recovery day activities.


Do low-intensity dynamic stretches (like Yoga, Pilates, or Tia Chi). Stretching supports blood flow and can help reduce your risk of future injury. Specifically, Yoga has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility according to research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.


Swimming is relatively different from running or biking in terms of physical exertion, but it can be just as beneficial without the stress on your joints. Swimming, like Yoga, is also great for meditation.


Get out and walk the dog or take a short stroll around the block. Short walks can increase blood flow and help with rehabilitation Even just a few minutes of walking is enough to stimulate circulation and help alleviate pain and soreness.

Remember recovery days should be something less intense than your average workout.

Rest or Recovery Here is How to Decide

Rest and recovery days are essential to optimize recovery and prevent injuries. Choosing whether to take a rest day or recovery day is a personal decision but this list could help guide your decision.

Feeling Energized

You have a planned rest day, but you wake up feeling ready to go. Consider an active recovery day. Try walking, taking a yoga class, or another low-impact activity.

You’ve Been Killing It

You have been going hard day in and day out at the gym for five days straight – take a rest day. Your rest day should be a day of no strenuous physical activity.

Let Your Body Decide

You can’t seem to keep your pace. You feel irritable and weak. Take a rest day. Sometimes your body knows best. Listen to clues from your body and go with your gut. If you are exhausted and not performing at your best take a full day-off.

You’ve Been Hardly Working

Be honest. You have been regularly swiping your gym card all week, but hardly breaking a sweat. You know you can do more. Take an active recovery day, keep the momentum going.

Strike a balance with a Professional Personal Trainer

Making the decision between a rest day and an active recovery day can be tricky. Here at Body and Way of Life Fitness, our personal trainers can offer a customized, well-balanced workout plan to help you strike the best balance between working out, resting, and active recovery. Contact us today for a consult.