You may run ultra-marathons regularly or be a powerhouse at the 5K distance. Ultimately, though, all runners are pounding pavement for the same reason: to constantly be better. That’s why you’re dedicated, and it shows. You make a running schedule, shift social plans – or skip them completely – and even trudge through hill repeats. And when your body just can’t give any more, you don’t call it quits. You keep going. While this determination can propel the everyday runner into PR-land, it can also be highly detrimental.
Enter: Rest. Your body needs time off in order to recover well and be ready to take on the next workout. If you’re hesitant or not sure how to properly integrate a rest period into your training routine, follow these five phases. You’ll probably recognize the first one pretty quickly.
Phase 1: You just cannot bring yourself to skip a workout
Is your mantra “runners run; they don’t rest”? Type-A runners have a hard time being (gasp)…still. Unfortunately, this mindset makes it difficult to identify when you’re being too hard on yourself, notice when something feels “off” or recognize when fatigue has gone beyond the muscle. All of these things could lead to injury. Ultimately, if you can acknowledge and accept these physical and mental cues, you’ll be much better off – and, hopefully, injury free!
Phase 2: You accept that rest days are hard
Everyone wants to reach their goals at lightning speed. So you may see taking time off as a setback. The reality is, though, it isn’t. You can take a day or two off and not experience any hiccups in your training progression. However, like all bad habits, it will take time and a concentrated effort to change. But you’re an athlete, so you like a good challenge, right?
Phase 3: You realize pulling back lets you push further
The truth is, when done right, a rest day may actually improve your overall fitness level. Because you’re giving your muscles time to repair and grow, you’ll see gains in your strength and endurance. To see the best results, think of rest as an essential part of your training program – and treat it as seriously as your workouts!
Phase 4: You finally schedule a rest day
Taking a rest day is the only sure-fire way to realize how beneficial it can be for your performance. Do you have a long run this weekend? Sunday may be the perfect time to rest. Scheduling a recovery period after one of your heaviest training days is a good way to ease into the concept of resting, because your body is ready for the break. Use this day as an active rest, where you might attend a yoga class. Or, you could kick up your feet and do absolutely nothing. Either way, make sure you’re still eating well, so your body can soak up all the necessary nutrients for recovery.
Phase 5: You start incorporating rest weeks
Take a good look at your long-term training plan, about eight to 12 weeks out. Every four to five weeks, dial back the intensity and/or volume of your workouts for one full week. You don’t have to stop training entirely. Simply go for a run without wearing your watch, so you can focus on how your body feels versus pushing a pace goal. If you’re too numbers-driven to run naked, try just decreasing mileage or swapping one run workout for an easy, non-stop swim. This lighter workload will help your body reset for the next hard training block.
Ironically, adding down time to your daily schedule may actually overwhelm you or increase stress levels. Keep the process simple by easing into it. These tips can help:
- Build a rest week (or two) as part of a training plan after completing a large race.
- Incorporate active recovery and rest days to ease yourself in, such as a gentle yoga class.
- Incorporate one day of complete rest into each week of training.
- Revel in the day. When your rest day is a Sunday (or other day you have off from work), you can allow yourself to sleep in and give your mind a break, too. Snuggle with the family and indulge in a decadent brunch. Wear sweats and tell yourself it’s okay to watch a movie marathon. Most importantly remind yourself that you earned it, and that this day is just as important as the 10-miler you had the day before.