Rest. Do others ever tell you that you or your body needs to rest? What do you think when you hear this word? When I first started seriously training for a specific race, this word meant many things to me: weakness, fear of losing fitness, that maybe my body was not made for running, laziness. It was a “bad” word. I have learned many things over the years of running and let me tell you one main and consistent truth: rest days are just as important as every other training day. It doesn’t mean that you have to lay on the couch all day eating potato chips (but it can if you want…I mean my rest days look like this sometimes), but it does mean you shouldn’t be running.
Why Do I Need Rest Days?
Taking a rest day allows your body to absorb the stress of training. A hard speed session or tempo run creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body responds by rebuilding the muscles stronger. However your body needs the time to rebuild! If you keep running, doing one workout after another, stressing your muscles out day after day, you never give your body the chance it needs to actually become stronger. This leads to that dangerous zone called “overtraining”. Yes it is a real thing. Never giving your body time to recover and rebuild will lead to a decrease in performance and eventually injury. You are performing more than your body can handle.
Most experts recommend taking a scheduled rest day (or days) every week. Taking planned time off when you are healthy will reduce the risk of taking unplanned rest days later on down the road. Even if you feel great after a hard training week or a long run, pat yourself on the back and still enjoy your rest day. If it is in your schedule, you are more likely to take it.
Listen to Your Body
Your alarm goes off. You feel sluggish and your legs are heavy. Your muscles are sore and you have a hard time walking down the stairs. Your feeling a bit of burn out. Maybe you had a bad night’s sleep, or maybe you are feeling the effects of the last few days of running. Maybe you are fighting off a cold. You might decide to push through and get those miles in no matter what because it isn’t your scheduled rest day. But you need to know that it is OK to take an unscheduled rest day! These are usually signs that you NEED to rest. You will not lose fitness. In general, it takes to weeks of non-activity to lose a noticeable amount of progress. So sleep in every now and then. Go for a swim or a bike ride to use some different muscles groups. Or just sit on the couch and binge watch a TV show.
There Must Be Something I Can Do
OK so if you are one of those that just can not accept a rest day…yes, there are other things you can do besides running. Take a long walk. Do some core or stabilization exercises. Take an Epsom salt bath. Foam roll and stretch. Take some time to write down your running goals or thoughts about your training. Plan your next long run somewhere new. All of these things will go a long way to keeping you emotionally and physically healthy!