Everyone boasts about how hard they work, but work is nothing without rest. Stress plus rest equals growth.
I like to think everyone still appreciates the importance of rest, but how restful are your rest days? Do you actually include rest? And let’s not get started on ‘run streaking’, which unfortunately isn’t about running in the nude…”
But even though you know rest is important, key even, how often do you sacrifice it? Sleep is the biggest performance enhancing activity, yet, it is often way down the list of priorities.
When it comes to rest, context is important too. What defines a rest day for you might be a big day of training for another runner. This depends on a number of things, including what you’re training for, what you want to achieve, and your current ability.
Don’t think you’re different
While we value rest, many in society talk about sleep and ‘too much’ rest as a weakness. Resting is for those who don’t want to succeed. Regardless of what time you went to bed, you need to be out the door for that 6am run. Training harder is all you need to do.
However, it’s categorically known that rest is needed for training to have a positive physiological benefit, and the best in the world are still including rest days in their training, so what makes you different?
There is also active recovery. The idea is that this promotes blood flow to the muscles and helps speed up the recovery process.
Many do this, and the idea of 30-minute easy run or a gentle cycle can be restful if stuck in the middle of a 100-mile week, but ask yourself if it is truly helping you recover and if you are really taking it easy enough on those efforts.
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It is not just the muscles that need rest either. It could be the immune system, your mental health or your bones that need to escape exercise for a day.
Make recovery a session itself
When you finally agree on the benefits of recovery and rest days from running, you can fall into the trap of getting extra stuff done. That shelf that needed putting up or the hole that you had to dig in the garden. Maybe just spending extra hours at work because you know you don’t have to go running.
Yet recovery should be the focus. The hour you might have spent running should be actively be spent recovering. Be that a sports or self-massage, reading a book, an afternoon nap, a bit of a Netflix binge or just sitting on the couch with your dog.
A lot of elite athletes now use recovery devices like ‘NormaTec Recovery’, with the compression technology promising rapid recovery. However, some believe the real benefits simply come from the time spent relaxing off your feet, something a lot of us find very difficult to do.
So don’t think of a rest day as just a day off from running, it’s a day to focus on rest.
Don’t starve yourself
Nutrition is important too, and many periodise their diet around their training and adapt according to the work being done on that day. Yet when rest days come people can restrict their diet under the assumption that ‘you are not doing anything’, so you should restrict what you eat. However, it’s important to understand that your body going through the process of recovering so you need to be refuelling.
Have a think about the days ahead and what fuel you will need but also make sure there is sufficient fuel in the body to help the body repair muscles that need to grow stronger. The same goes for hydration. A dehydrated body cannot recover as well.
Sports Dietician Renee McGregor backs this up by saying: “It’s important not to ignore rest days. A lot of runners assume that if you’re not training you don’t need to fuel.
“If the rest day is after or between hard sessions then it is the perfect opportunity to recover and prepare for the days to come.”
Rest when you need it
Some of us have rest days every week on the same day. I find Monday is always a good one for me or a Friday. Yet if your body is telling you to rest then take the rest day. Don’t be afraid to switch things around or tell your coach you need a break of training for 24 hours.
When you’re in tough training cycles or peak weeks of marathon build up then you will feel tired quite often, but if you are feeling like rubbish in every run, sometimes you have to listen to the body.
A rest day once or twice a week may feel like a cop-out but if you’re then able to hit your key sessions with renewed vigour then it’s worthwhile. If you know you have a big tempo or long run coming up then bank the rest beforehand to make sure you optimise the session.
Rest is just another part of training
One of the best takeaways from international triathlete Chrissie Wellington’s book is that triathlon does not have three disciplines, but four; swim, bike, run and rest. One reason for the multiple-time Ironman world champ’s success was that rest was treated as another part of a training schedule, not an escape from it.
Take your rest seriously, on rest days and all through the week, and you will see the benefits. Then boast about that on Twitter instead.