Recovery in football

Several forms of recovery exist and depending on the time, equipment and staff available, post-exercise recovery strategies may vary.

Usually, recovery procedures can be divided into active and passive recovery.

Active recovery

  • Low/intensity exercise at various percentage of VO2max (1-6) - see references below
  • Running (7, 8)
  • Cycling 
  • Resistance training 
  • Water exercise (1)
  • Stretching (7, 8)

Passive recovery

  • Stretching
  • Cryotherapy/Water immersion (cold, warm, contrast) (9, 10)
  • Eating/Hydration (8, 11-13)
  • Massage (2, 3, 14-16)
  • Rest/sleep (3-6, 15)
  • Sauna (17)
  • Electrostimulation (1)
  • Equipment (compression socks etc.) (18-20)

Combined methods

  • Massage and active methods (2)


Active versus passive recovery

There are several studies which investigated the effect of active vs. passive recovery.

It seems that active recovery was superior over passive recovery in removal of lactate (2, 5, 6, 15, 16, 21-24). However, the success of active recovery seemed to depend on the intensity of activity (1-6, 23).

A possible downfall of active recovery seemed to be the smaller (24) and/or a negative effect (25, 26) on glycogen resynthesis (the re-establishment of glycogen stores from glucose). The highest rate of glycogen resynthesis was seen during the initial two hours (27) post-exercise (and simple sugars seemed to be better suited compared to complex sugars during that time (28)). However, the rate of glycogen resynthesis was also dependent on the type of exercise and reported higher in short term high intensity and resistance exercise compared to prolonged exercise (29).


However, combined methods were also shown more effective than active and passive recovery (2).

With the mentioned information in mind it seems important to look for certain aspects/variables/exercises and possible time-frames to decide over recovery procedures. We have therefore defined two categories.


A) Physical performance

Physical performance Active recovery Passive recovery
Sprint ability ~ 5 h (30)
High intensity exercise shorter longer (4, 31)
Repeated sprint ability ~ 48 h (7)  
Isokinetic knee extension ~ 27 h (30)  
Isokinetic knee flexion ~ 51 h (30)


B) Physiological variables

Physiological variable Active recovery Passive recovery
Lactate removal
~ 45 min (24)
Gycogen resynthesis ~ 48 h (7)
~ 69 h (30)

~ 1 hour - 80% of pre-exercise values (12)

~ 2 hours - 60% of pre-exercise values (25)

Muscle soreness    


1. Tessitore, A., et al. Effectiveness of active versus passive recovery strategies after futsal games. J.

Strength. Cond. Res. 22(5): 1402-1412, 2008.


2. Monedero, J. and B. Donne. Effect of recovery interventions on lactate removal and subsequent

performance. Int. J. Sports. Med. 21(8): 593-597, 2000


3. Lane, K. N. and H. A. Wenger. Effect of selected recovery conditions on performance of repeated bouts

of intermittent cycling separated by 24 hours. J. Strength. Cond. Res. 18(4): 855-860, 2004.


4. Dupont, G., et al. Passive versus active recovery during high-intensity intermittent exercises. Med. Sci.

Sports. Exerc. 36(2): 302-308, 2004


5. Bonen, A. and A. N. Belcastro. Comparison of self-selected recovery methods on lactic acid removal

rates. Med Sci Sports. 8(3): 176-178, 1976


6. Taoutaou, Z., et al. Lactate kinetics during passive and partially active recovery in endurance and sprint

athletes. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 73(5): 465-470, 1996


7. Reilly, T. and M. Rigby, Effect of an active warm-down following competitive soccer, in Science and

football IV, Spinks W, Reilly T, and Murphy A, Editors. 2002, Routledge: London. p. 226-229


8. Reilly, T. and B. Ekblom. The use of recovery methods post-exercise. J. Sports. Sci. 23(6):

619-627, 2005


9. Wilcock, I. M., J. B. Cronin and W. A. Hing. Physiological response to water immersion: a method

for sport recovery? Sports. Med. 36(9): 747-765, 2006.


10. Kinugasa, T. and A. E. Kilding. A comparison of post-match recovery strategies in youth soccer players.

J. Strength. Cond. Res. 23(5): 1402-1407, 2009.


11. Clarke, N. D., et al. Strategies for hydration and energy provision during soccer-specific exercise. Int. J.

Sport. Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 15(6): 625-640, 2005


12. Pedersen, D. J., et al. High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when

carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. J. Appl. Physiol. 105(1): 7-13, 2008.


13. Casey, A., et al. Glycogen resynthesis in human muscle fibre types following exercise-induced

glycogen depletion. J. Physiol. 483 (Pt 1): 265-271, 1995.


14. Robertson, A., J. M. Watt and S. D. Galloway. Effects of leg massage on recovery from high intensity

cycling exercise. Br J Sports Med. 38(2): 173-176, 2004.


15. Gupta, S., et al. Comparative study of lactate removal in short term massage of extremities, active

recovery and a passive recovery period after supramaximal exercise sessions. Int. J. Sports. Med. 17(2): 106-110, 1996.


16. Martin, N. A., et al. The comparative effects of sports massage, active recovery, and rest in promoting

blood lactate clearance after supramaximal leg exercise. J. Athl. Train. 33(1): 30-35, 1998


17. Scoon, G. S., et al. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive

male runners. J. Sci. Med. Sport. 10(4): 259-262, 2007


18. Duffield, R., J. Cannon and M. King. The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle

performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise. J. Sci. Med. Sport. 13(1): 136-140, 2010.


19. Duffield, R., et al. The effects of compression garments on intermittent exercise performance and

recovery on consecutive days. Int. J. Sports. Physiol. Perform. 3(4): 454-468, 2008


20. Houghton, L. A., B. Dawson and S. K. Maloney. Effects of wearing compression garments on

thermoregulation during simulated team sport activity in temperate environmental conditions. J. Sci. Med. Sport. 12(2): 303-309, 2009.


21. Ahmaidi, S., et al. Effects of active recovery on plasma lactate and anaerobic power following repeated

intensive exercise. Med. Sci. Sports. Exerc. 28(4): 450-456, 1996.


22. Bond, V., et al. Effects of active and passive recovery on lactate removal and subsequent isokinetic

muscle function. J. Sports. Med. Phys. Fitness. 31(3): 357-361, 1991.


23. Dodd, S., et al. Blood lactate disappearance at various intensities of recovery exercise. J. Appl.

Physiol. 57(5): 1462-1465, 1984.


24. Fairchild, T. J., et al. Glycogen synthesis in muscle fibers during active recovery from intense exercise.

Med. Sci. Sports. Exerc. 35(4): 595-602, 2003.


25. Bonen, A., et al. Mild exercise impedes glycogen repletion in muscle. J. Appl. Physiol. 58(5):

1622-1629, 1985


26. Choi, D., et al. Effect of passive and active recovery on the resynthesis of muscle glycogen. Med. Sci.

Sports. Exerc. 26(8): 992-996, 1994.


27. Ivy, J. L., et al. Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. J.

Appl. Physiol. 64(4): 1480-1485, 1988.


28. Friedman, J. E., P. D. Neufer and G. L. Dohm. Regulation of glycogen resynthesis following exercise.

Dietary considerations. Sports. Med. 11(4): 232-243, 1991.


29. Pascoe, D. D. and L. B. Gladden. Muscle glycogen resynthesis after short term, high intensity exercise

and resistance exercise. Sports. Med. 21(2):98-118, 1996


30. Andersson, H., et al. Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in elite female soccer: effects of active

recovery. Med. Sci. Sports. Exerc. 40(2): 372-380, 2008


31. Dupont, G., N. Blondel and S. Berthoin. Performance for short intermittent runs: active recovery vs.

passive recovery. Eur J Appl Physiol. 89(6): 548-554, 2003.


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