When it comes to training, taking a day off every week can seem counterintuitive. Why, when working toward your goal race, would you want to take time off and potentially miss a personal best? It turns out, letting your body rest for a day actually helps it to become stronger.
If you are trying to fit training for a race into your busy schedule — which, let’s be honest, can be quite the juggling act — it can seem like a good idea to make up missed mileage or workouts on a rest day. Trying to squeeze in extra runs may seem like a good idea, but it can actually hurt you in the long run.
“When you miss a run, there’s usually a good reason you did — and it’s often your body telling you that you may be pushing too hard,” shares Ryan Bolton, owner and founder of Bolton Endurance Sports Training. “Trying to make that run up on a rest day is a mistake. If you do, the day after will be compromised and you’ll set off a chain that will have an effect on all of the subsequent days and workouts.”
Because of this, Bolton says if a rest day is planned, take it! Once you learn why your body needs the rest and how to make sure it fits into your schedule, it will make you feel better about taking a day — or two — off every week.
THE PURPOSE OF THE REST DAY
Rest days should be considered an important part of the big picture of your training. Just as you would schedule a long run or speed workout, you should also factor in at least one day a week to recover.
“Rest days give the body time to recover, regenerate and renew both physically and mentally,” explains Tim Neckar, founder of RunnerOne coaching in Houston. “You can use the day to pack in some calories and hydrate adequately for your long run.”
READ MORE > 5 ACTIVE RECOVERY OPTIONS FOR RUNNERS
If you are one of those stubborn runners who just can’t take a day off, there are some things you can still do on your rest day to keep progressing toward your goals. Stretching and foam rolling are a part of active recovery to keep your muscles moving without too much strain that could cause injury.
“Stretching, foam rolling, massage and even cross training — such as strength work, cycling, swimming, rowing, pilates and yoga — are all highly recommended on off days,” suggests Bolton. “I’m an advocate of keeping the body ‘active’ on rest days. This stimulation helps the body and mind be ready for the next day of run training.”
HOW TO SCHEDULE A REST DAY
Most training plans have at least one rest day built in each week, whether you find the plan online or have a coach. If you are creating your own training plan, however, it is important to know how to schedule a rest day and where it will do the most good for your body.
“You’ve got to remember that rest is a part of training,” urges Neckar. “You should take off completely one day of week, usually before your long run. Then, the day after your long run should be a cross training day or an ‘active’ rest day.”
You can have more than one rest day in your weekly schedule, if needed, and it will all depend on your experience and goals. Bolton explains that elite runners rarely take rest days because their bodies are used to high training volumes. However, most of us aren’t elites and therefore, need the additional recovery time that comes with a day off.
“Ultimately, how many rest days a runner needs is very individual; it’s important to experiment with and listen to the body to see what works best for you,” adds Bolton. “I wouldn’t suggest taking more than three full rest days a week. One or two is most common. Most importantly, the rest days should be spaced appropriately and not taken all in a row.”
If you take too many days off in a row, your body can lose fitness making it more prone to injury. Spacing out your rest days (if you take more than one) is key to helping your body rebuild, whether it’s before a long run or after a strenuous training block.