As a runner and with most things in life when I do something I go all in, 100%, and I don’t like to break my routine. I think that most runners feel the same way and would agree that taking a day off from running can sometimes feel like a punishment. I didn’t do a lot right as a collegiate runner and I found out along the way that my body needs rest, sometimes more rest than my running buddy, and that is okay. I’ve learned that a key to successful long-term training is learning how to read your body, understanding what your body needs to train at its highest potential, and then trusting that process and sticking with it. Here are a few tips on how to handle adding rest days as part of your training program.
THE VALUE OF REST DAYS
In college I got into the habit of taking Fridays off because that was our NCAA day off (the day we were not allowed to meet as a team and my coach would allow us to cross train if needed). It just became a routine for me to aqua jog on Fridays. Sometimes I would run instead because I wanted to run with my roommates or I was short on time and going to and from the pool took longer than running out of my front door. I always felt a little beat up come Sunday if I did not take a rest day that week. Over the years as I developed as a runner and matured as a person and athlete, I have learned the value in taking a rest day. It allows my body a full day of rest from pounding, something I really needed in college when I was battling injuries and struggling to stay healthy.
Taking a rest day also allows your body to absorb the training you have been doing and you may actually see a fitness boost following a day of rest. This is the same logic that applies with lifting weights. You make your gains when you take a rest day and allow the body to absorb the work you have been doing. Running follows the progressive overload principle (the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training) and as we adapt to that stress on our body we get strong enough to handle back-to-back runs. We don’t do back-to-back speed workouts though because it’s the easy run between them that is designed to be active recovery. Active recovery is a day or two where you are specifically recovering from the stress you placed on your body during the speed session.
Some runners can handle not taking a day off during a training segment but there are other runners, like myself, that need a rest day here and there. Think about rest days as an important part of your training and one that will only help you to improve your training quality and racing times.
SCHEDULING REST DAYS AS PART OF YOUR PROGRAM
These days I am strong enough to handle a rest day every 2-4 weeks, however, I still find it challenging to take that day. As routine people and lovers of the sport we crave our run every day. So how do we replace that feeling? I find that if I do some sort of exercise I feel okay about taking a rest day. As a busy wife and mom of two children, it is a bit harder for me to get to the gym so my go-to on rest days now includes 30 minutes of strength work with some sort of cardio mixed in: jumping jacks or spin bike for 1-2 minutes between sets. This routine seems to be enough for me to mentally feel like I did something physical but also to know that I’m taking an important day off running that my body needs to keep training at the volume and demand that I am asking of it.
Try scheduling rest days into your program whether it is once a week, twice a month or once a month or somewhere in between. Tell your coach if you need to take a rest day on a specific day that you prefer and how often you need it. If it is on your schedule you are more likely to take it and as runners, we tend to follow our schedules! I know that many of the McMillan athletes I coach ask for a rest day at least once per week. They use this day to cross train or get other things done around the house, run errands etc. Embrace the day off as an integral part of your development and improvement as a runner. Welcome your rest days and learn to enjoy that time too.
LEARN TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Maybe you are the type of athlete that doesn’t ever take a rest day during your segment. I suggest planning at least one day off during your block of training: do something fun or plan it as part of a trip and take the stress away from having to cram in a run before you catch your flight. Runners tend to get so caught up in a routine that we will do anything to get our run in, even if it means stressing ourselves out to do it. If you know your body and you truly don’t need or want a day off during a training segment just keep these tips in mind and be flexible if you find that you are feeling a little bit run down or stressed about getting your run in. One rest day can give you a few more days running, especially if you are feeling run down or injury prone.
What about days off for injuries? So many times I felt like I should have taken another day off after an injury or dealing with a small annoyance, but I just kept running and it only made it worse. Greg often talks about the importance of taking one extra day off coming back from an injury. This means that even if you feel you are ready to resume training, give yourself one extra day. This strategy won’t hurt you and by taking another day of rest you can ensure you’ll stay healthy in the long run. This same principle applies with any nagging ache or pain you may be feeling or something random that pops up after a run. If you have to question the run, just take a rest day to give yourself time off running and then try tomorrow. It will probably be a hard decision if you are anything like me but you will never regret one day off if it means that you can keep running healthy and injury-free. Remember the golden tip to train smarter, not harder.
Annika Braun is a McMillan Running Coach. Learn more about our Personal Coaching where you can train with a coach like Annika by your side to plan your training and talk about race strategy, performance nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, and much more.
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