Written by Heather West, Content Writer
Whether training for an upcoming race or just training to improve your speed, it’s important to follow a training schedule that includes rest days. Here are some answers to common questions about utilizing rest days for recovery when training.
Pushing yourself during your training runs is important to building strength and speed. Working out creates tiny tears in the muscle tissue. When those tears heal, they grow back stronger. While it’s extremely important to give your muscles the chance to grow, you have to be careful not to push them too much.
You may be tempted to keep pushing your mileage and speed to build your strength and endurance. If you keep pushing for too long though, you can end up burning out or creating an injury. Runners often get too caught up in their training, especially when they first start the training or when they’re really amped about it. It’s important to take rest days to make sure that you give your body the time it needs for recovery.
If you don’t take rest stays and you continue to train hard every day, you risk an injury. At that point, you might have to stop training altogether in order to heal, and you risk not coming back full strength from an injury. Some common overuse injuries include stress fractures, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and many others. Including rest days for recovery is key to a quality training routine.
Taking rest days can help improve your mental health when you’re actively training. Spending all of your time focused on training and focused on reaching your goals can be draining. Many runners end up losing interest after a few days or weeks of training because it becomes overwhelming. Taking those rest days can help keep you on track mentally. Use those days to focus on other hobbies and interests. Without that mental downtime, your workout can become drudgery and you can lose interest in the sport.
There are two different types of runners: those who already have to force themselves to go out for training runs and those who have to force themselves to take a break. For those who struggle to make themselves train, the rest days may seem like Utopia. For those who want to constantly train, take your rest days as an opportunity to improve at a different skill or activity.
Either way, rest days shouldn’t be entirely movement-free. If you take the day completely off and don’t exercise at all, your muscles can get stiff and make it tough to return to your training routine. Do a different activity to stretch your muscles and work out some new muscles. Maybe do some gentle yoga or go for a swim. Just don’t do an activity that requires much from your legs. Still get out and move around, but don’t push yourself too hard. Don’t treat your new activity like you’re training for it.
You should plan to take a rest day every 7-10 days. If you’re following a training plan, they’re usually built into the plan. If you’re finding that 10 days of training in a row might be too much for you, take your rest day sooner. If you wait too long to take a rest day for recovery, your training won’t be as effective.
If you’re new to running or coming back from an injury, take 2 rest days per week. While you’re still new to running, you need to figure out your pace and training/rest balance. It’s better to take more rest days in the beginning than to do too much too fast. If you’re coming back from an injury, don’t reinjure yourself! You may feel great getting back to your old habits and trying to push yourself like you used to, but you can reinjure yourself easily if you’re not careful.
Even if you are strategically taking rest days, don’t push yourself too hard during every workout. During your training days, you should alternate between harder workouts and easier workouts. Almost all training plans that you might use to prep for your race will alternate between shorter runs and longer runs. Utilize your short-run days to train for speed instead of distance or to just take it easy during your run. If you go hard every day, you’ll burn out.
Listen to your body while you’re training. Training is bound to make you sore, and running faster than your typical pace can be uncomfortable. That is to be expected. However, if you’re doing a training run that you’ve done before and something starts hurting more than it should or in a weird way, hit pause. Assess the pain rather than immediately running through it to make sure it’s not an injury. Likewise, if you find yourself becoming fatigued during training or losing heart, you might need to take a rest day for recovery.