10 Low Impact Activities That Make a Great Rest Day Workout

Discipline sets the best athletes in the world apart from the competition. However, they say the discipline to rest is just as important as knowing how to put in a good training session. 

Far too many people rest incorrectly. You see, allowing your mind and body to recover from intense physical training is about more than just taking a day to sit on the couch and let your muscles heal. It’s also about more than just refueling with the right nutrients. 

To maximize your body’s ability to recover from physical training, you must implement low impact exercise on rest days. 

Low Impact Activities for Rest Days

While the idea of exercise on your rest day may sound counter-intuitive, it’s actually the best thing you could do for your body.

As you probably know, in order to get better at your sport, you have to push your body through a process called progressive overload. The concept of progressive overload is relatively simple – you force your body to do a little bit more on a weekly basis. This adds up to big changes over time, yet is sustainable for long-term training.

However, pushing your body to be stronger, move faster, or work longer takes a physical toll, building up lactic acid in your muscles.

Giving your muscles rest days reduces lactic acid, gives them time to repair and keeps you from getting overly stiff and sore. It also keeps your blood flowing, which cuts down on inflammation in the joints, tendons, and ligaments. Taking a day off from working out also keeps your mind and mood healthy while cutting down on fatigue.

The question is: what kind of “active recovery” exercise will grant you these benefits without conflicting with your regular training or doing more damage?

Keep reading to find out.

1. Swimming 

For people who are comfortable in the water, there’s no better feeling than gliding through the water at an easy pace. In the pool you’re nearly weightless, which makes swimming one of the best low impact workouts for recovery days.

However, remember that you’re in the pool for an active recovery. You’re not there to set any lap records or see how fast you can swim a 500-meter race. 

The key to active recovery is moving your body without causing any more lactic acid buildup. Swim anywhere from 30-60 minutes, but remember to take it easy and enjoy yourself. To make it more beneficial, you can do some underwater laps and work on your lung capacity.

2. Yoga 

Yoga transcends time, culture, and gender. It’s been around for thousands of years and has been used for several purposes including spiritual connection, meditation, stress relief, muscle strengthening, weight loss, mobility improvement, and more. 

With such a diverse background, yoga smoothly transitions into a rest days with several benefits. Aside from being low impact, yoga helps improve your intrinsic muscle strength, especially throughout your core. 

Additionally, yoga has been proven to boost one’s balance, mobility, flexibility, and spatial awareness. As a rest day workout, yoga allows you to get your blood flowing and keep lactic acid from building up.

Finally, yoga is completely subjective to the user. You can base the intensity and difficulty of the session based on the desired outcome. As a rest day workout, a yoga session should work to stretch you out and promote as much recovery as possible.

3. Rowing Machine Workout

Rowing machines have been around for over a hundred years. While it’s been a pretty common feature in gyms around the world, it’s mainly been popularized by its repetitive use in Crossfit sporting events.

The machine mixes a low impact, full-body resistance workout with cardio and rhythm. You can use a rowing machine to absolutely destroy yourself during an intense training session or as a recovery day exercise that keeps your whole body feeling loose. 

The key is setting an easy pace and remembering that you’re there to recover. Many athletes end up over-training because they get caught up working harder than they should on rest days. Take it easy on the rower to allow your body this grace period to recover.

4. Water Aerobics

If you like the idea of being in the water but are terrible at swimming, consider enrolling in some water aerobics classes. You’ll still have the pool benefits of little to no impact on your joints, but you won’t have to worry about swimming lap after lap to get your time in. 

Instead, water aerobics focuses on improving balance and flexibility while reducing blood pressure. While you may feel out of place with the other members of the class, try to enjoy doing something different from your normal routine.

5. Walking

If you’ve ever been to Rome in Italy, you’ll have noticed a strange phenomenon occurring. The majority of their foods are centered around carbs (pastries, bread, pizza, pasta) and most Italians don’t attend gyms. Yet there are very few overweight people around. 

The reason is that many Romans do a significant amount of walking every day. There’s a tremendous amount of traffic in Rome; so, in some places, it’s simply easier to walk.

However, as an active recovery exercse, walking will do more than just keep you trim. It too will keep your blood flowing and your body from developing too much soreness from the previous day’s training session.

6. Cycling

Another common and convenient conditioning exercise involves jumping on your bike instead of hopping in your car. If the weather permits, opt to cycle to work, the store, or your friend’s house. 

The extra low impact movement will keep your joints and muscles loose while giving you enough physical activity to keep your mood and sleep pattern in the right place. 

If cycling outside isn’t an option, it may not be a bad idea to get a stationary bike for your home,vor hop over to the gym to use theirs. You could easily knock out some serious cycling exercise while listening to a book on tape or watching your favorite show on Netflix.

7. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has been practiced for physical, mental, and spiritual reasons for thousands of years. As a form of self-defense, physical exercise, and meditation, Tai Chi stands alone in terms of a rest day workout. 

It may sound too intense for a rest day, but Tai Chi is incredibly low impact and focuses more on controlling your own movement as well as the life energy or qi within your own body.

Its physical benefits include improved balance, bodily control, and spatial awareness, among many others. Additionally, as a rest day workout, it hits all of the requirements to help your body rest and recover while remaining active.

8. Mobility Workout

While you’ll find very few people who couldn’t benefit from mobility training, not everyone wants to practice yoga. For them, simple mobility exercises provide the best resting day exercise. However, solid mobility routines do incorporate things like yoga, pilates, and stretching. 

The idea behind a mobility workout is to improve your muscular flexibility as well and your joint mobility. These exercises should be low-stress, low-weight exercises that only challenge your range of motion, not your strength or endurance.

Sadly, a large number of sports injuries come down to poor mobility and inflexible/tight muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  

9. Bodyweight Resistance Training

Finally, depending on your sport and typical training routine, bodyweight exercises might be the way to go for the perfect active recovery workout. For example, if your regular day of training includes lifting weights, sprinting, or any other high-intensity training, then bodyweight exercises will provide a throttled workout for your day off. 

These lightweight movements will keep the blood flowing to the muscles and joints that need it to keep inflammation and lactic acid from building up.

However, if your body isn’t used to any kind of resistance training, busting out bodyweight pushups, squats, and pullups may cause more harm than good. Know your body and make sure you’re not pushing too hard.

 10. Go Dancing

Finally, feel free to approach your off-day routine with fun and opt for something outside of the gym. The next time you have a day off, pull the blinds and crank the music. 

Dancing provides a ton of health benefits and could be exactly what your body needs to move on your rest day without pushing it away from recovery. Remember, y low intensity exercise is mostly about moving and no form of moving is more fun than dancing. 

However, if you’re the free-spirited type who can easily get carried away on the dance floor, make sure you’re not overdoing it or you’ll need another recovery day tomorrow.

Mix It Up

You have enough regimented routine in your life. When it comes to your rest days, feel free to mix it up. Try new things every once and a while – you might just find a whole new passion!

However, if you’re looking for more advice and information on a healthy lifestyle, yoga, and eating well, check out the rest of our articles.