Recovery Workouts: Make the Most of Your Rest Days

STACK Expert Kyle Arsenault advocates for recovery workouts and corrective exercises, and offers three sample circuits.

Recovery, corrective exercise and conditioning are all very important in improving your overall athletic performance.

There's just one big problem: they are boring. They don't satisfy the "let's get after it" attitude of many athletes and avid gym goers. If our hearts are not pounding out of our chests, or our faces are not in the trash getting reacquainted with breakfast, we feel our training session was not "hard enough" or worth the time.

So we pound away day after day to feed our need for more and ignore a good recovery workout. This leads to plateaus from lack of recovery and proper conditioning; injury from packing performance on top of weaknesses without correcting movement flaws; and friends and family getting fed up with our excessive "routine."

RELATED: The Importance of Recovery Workouts

If you want to make progress, stay healthy and keep your friends, you must maximize your recovery workout with proper conditioning and movement pattern work.

So what can you do to achieve both physical and mental challenges and get the recovery workout and movement enhancement you need?

The answer: an off-day conditioning and corrective circuit. Here are the components, followed by a sample workout.


As the saying goes, "It is not how hard you train but how well you recover." If you don't recover well, your systems cannot replenish, and you are likely to be in a consistent state of sympathetic arousal (fight or flight), constantly flooding your body with high levels of catabolic hormones. Your musculoskeletal, nervous and immune systems become compromised, placing you at a greater risk for injury, illness and fatigue.

With recovery, you experience the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). Your body overcompensates from the stresses of training, adapts and grows stronger, gaining strength, power and endurance.

Corrective Exercise

Corrective exercise often becomes more complicated than it needs to be.

Really, it comes down to what experts like Gray Cook and Brett Jones say: performance built on top of dysfunction inevitably results in plateaus and risks injury.

We need to identify our dysfunctions and address them. For some, this requires mobility work. For others, stability and activation. Movement needs to be clean, and muscles need to work in a synergistic fashion to make progress.

Here are a few ways you can integrate corrective exercises into an off-day conditioning session to help address a few common movement dysfunctions among athletes.

RELATED: Prevent Injuries With Corrective Exercises


Conditioning (especially aerobic) provides a base for all your energy systems. Without a solid base of conditioning, your ability to recover slows, and you compromise your capacity to focus.

Too often, we get caught up smashing through high-intensity intervals as our only source of conditioning. And why not? They are engaging and make us feel like we have been run over by a semi in 15 minutes or less.

Intervals are most effective after you first acquire a base of aerobic conditioning. They are not the best choice for promoting recovery, as they place a high demand on the body. Instead, you should dedicate a day or two to acquiring and using aerobic conditioning (less intense, longer duration). This will help you gain more benefits from your higher intensity training.

Sample Recovery Workout Circuits

A conditioning and corrective circuit is best implemented on off days to get you what you need and give you what you want. It's accomplished by interspersing an intense compound movement with lower-level correctives. Going as fast as possible through the circuit for a set number of rounds lets you condition aerobically.

The best exercises to use for compound movements are variations of strong man lifts/movements (e.g., carry variations, sled pushes/pulls, battle ropes, etc.). They require your body to work as a total unit, but  they don't demand a high eccentric load. They spare your musculoskeletal system while promoting blood flow and nutrient transport.

RELATED: Four Exercises to Build Acceleration


  • Choose one compound movement and perform it for a set amount of time, then choose a corrective for a set number of repetitions. Repeat for a set amount of time or rounds.
  • You can vary the compound movements (different rope patterns, Sled Pulls, Single-Arm Carries, etc.) and correctives to best suit your needs.
  • Do this with one of the following circuits, trying to keep the same pace throughout. Don't smoke yourself out so fast in the beginning that you are unable to keep the pace at the end. The goal is to work toward aerobic capacity. Believe me, after 20 to 30 minutes, you are going to feel finished.

Core Work

Make sure you connect your core. Without proper core function, you compromise everything else. The pelvis becomes misaligned and the spine deviates from neutral.

  1. Supine Leg March x 10/side
  2. Battle Ropes x 60 seconds*
  3. Birddog x 6/side
  4. Battle Ropes x 60 seconds
  5. Side Plank x 3 deep breaths/side**
  6. Battle Ropes x 60 seconds

*Perform these from an athletic position with your core braced and hips back. Do not allow your hips or torso to move as you work the ropes. The goal is to feel like a statue as your arms work the ropes.

**Take 3 deep breaths while holding the side plank position before switching to the other side. You should be able to breathe without losing position. If you cannot maintain position, elevate your upper body to a box or bench.

Glute Work

Unless the glutes work properly, hip function and stability are compromised, causing compensations that will likely lead to low-back pain, a strained hamstring or groin and less force production to the ground.

  1. Glute Bridge x 10
  2. Sled Push x 60 seconds
  3. Side Lying Clam x 6/side (hold top position for 2 seconds)
  4. Sled Push x 60 seconds
  5. Wall Glute Iso March x 6/side (hold top position for 2 seconds)
  6. Sled Push x 60 seconds

Shoulder Work

Many times athletes and active individuals have "long neck syndrome," where the shoulder girdle is depressed and downwardly rotated. This dropped position affects proper movement of the shoulder blade and joint, placing irregular stress on the shoulder (and elbow), which is likely to lead to overall instability, impingement, rotator cuff weakness/tears, labral issues and elbow pain. The following circuit is designed to help you achieve proper positioning and movement patterns of shoulder girdle and joint.

  1. Wall Slides x 10*
  2. Farmer's Walk x 60 seconds
  3. Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion x 8
  4. Farmer's Walk x 60 seconds
  5. Prone Ws x 8 (hold top position for 2 seconds)
  6. Farmer's Walk x 60 seconds

*Elevate the scapula (shoulder blade) towards the ear as your elbow passes the level of your shoulder.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock