The Importance of Rest Days for a Runner

The Importance of Rest Days for a Runner

As a runner and with most things in life when I do something I go all in and have a routine that I don’t like to change. I think that most runners feel the same way and that taking an unscheduled rest day can feel like a punishment. I didn’t do that a lot in my younger days but have learned to accept it as a good decision. 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 your knowledge of your body.  Here are a few tips to help you include more rest in your program.

The Value of Rest Days

We all have days we take off because of work, family, or other obligations.  I rest on Friday to feel strong for a hard training weekend. I always felt a little beat up come Sunday if I did not take a rest day that week. Over the years I have learned the value in taking a rest day. It allows my body a full day of rest from hard work, something I really needed when training hard for an event, especially as more birthdays came to pass.
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 rest between them is where we improve. Active recovery is a day or two where you are specifically recovering from the stress you placed on your body during the speed session but still are training lightly.
Some runners can handle not taking a day off during a training segment but there are other runners, like myself, that need an extra 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

As routine people and lovers of the sport we crave our run every day. So how do we replace that feeling? For me, it is learning that a rest day is just as important as a training day.  We get stronger on our rest day which is our goal, and it lets us train harder the next day.
Try scheduling rest days into your program whether it is once or twice 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! Sometimes an unplanned rest day will be important after a long work day or other unplanned life event.   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

. 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. 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.