Can you supply me with a few specific recovery workouts? Now, I know you have already defined "recovery" as a 30-60 minute bout of low intesity exercise through an aerobic mode. However, I have also seen on your site the use of body weight and medicine ball exercises as recovery workouts. So my question is, what should an athlete do and not do on off days to promote proper recovery but curbing his lust to overtrain? Are compound movements permitted as long as the exercises are not weighted? Should one strictly limit himself to active recovery sessions focusing on aerobic movements and over all increased distribusion of blood? Also, do you advocate foam rolling before and/or after your workouts?
Recovery can be a difficult aspect of training to manage. We always say that you are the captain of your own recovery and you must keep a handle on your status. I will outline a few guidelines in terms of recovery workouts.
First off. Remember that what is a recovery workout for some is not necessarily a recovery workout for others. For example a well trained individual with a lengthy training history could do some lifting exercises on a recovery day. One of my recovery workouts is 3x20 Deadlifts @ 30% 1RM, 3x20 Deadlifts @ 30% off 4" Box, and 5x (1-6) Pull-up Ladders. All in all that workout is 120 total Deadlifts and over 100 pull-ups. Not a recovery workout for a beginner but considering my work capacity and training history it falls into the recovery category. A similar example would be using running as a recovery workout. An experienced marathoner could do a 45 min - 60 min run as a recovery workout. For someone who doesn't run regularly this could be very difficult.
Secondly when looking at what you should do in a recovery workout you have to consider the training sessions that follow and precede. You would not do light Deadlifts or Pull-ups for a recovery workout if the day before you had done some heavy pulling or lifting. You also would not do light Deadlifts or Pull-ups for a recovery workout if the next day you plan on doing any heavy pulling exercises. Thirdly and most importantly remember the purpose of the recovery workout in the first place. The purpose is to promote overall recovery. I understand the need to train hard all the time for psychological reasons but this is something you must learn to balance.
In general I group recovery workouts into a few categories: 1) Low impact Aerobic movements - i.e. Swimming, light rowing, light jog (within parameters discussed above) 45-60 minutes. Easy pace. 2) Technical Practice - light practice of DL, Snatch, Clean, Etc. This must be at a low load of 1RM and done with the purpose of getting better at technique. 3) Light Load repetitive movement - 100x TGU with light KB, KB Complex with light KB One or Two times through, Etc. Neither are done for time. Just done with perfect repetition in mind.
Finally a Foam Roller is an essential self-massage tool. Use it daily. Rolling muscle and fascia under pressure stretches, separates and reorganizes it. This can be a "compelling" experience – the more painful the more bound-up the tissue and less efficient the muscles. Frequent use of the foam roller increases the effectiveness of normal deep tissue massage because the practitioner won't waste time releasing knots and tension, and can work on deeper, structural issues. Areas to emphasize are the IT bands, quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
In addition to what Rob has already written it is important to note that the body adapts to recovery practices just as it adapts to the training load. Change your recovery work from time to time, in concert with changes in the volume/intensity of the training, i.e. harder work needs more intensive recovery, but also to 'trick' your body so it doesn't get used to doing the same thing over and over, with a reduction in its value or effect.
Lifting as recovery is not only the domain of the fighter or weightlifter but beneficial to endurance athletes as well since work that stimulates a hormonal response (increased testosterone and growth hormone secretion) will speed recovery. Do however stay away from "technical practice" of complex movements in recovery workouts if your nervous system is cooked from training with heavy loads, or high speed, or technical movements.
Some athletes use the foam roller prior to training but we usually see that done when muscles are sore or the athlete is under-recovered. I take that as an indicator to scale back training a bit on that day. Otherwise, using the foam roller several hours after training is more beneficial in terms of recovery than using it immediately following the training session.