Why rest days are so important for runners (and when you should take them)
When you’re training with a specific running target in mind, rest can feel like you’re cheating – but it’s the exact opposite.
Rest days should be an intrinsic part of any runner’s training plan. Not only will rest help your body to recover and your muscles to heal, it will also help you re-energise, re-motivate and prevent fitness burnout.
Rest is a highly underestimated aspect of running, but it is essential for promoting performance, preventing injury and aiding recovery. The tricky thing can be knowing how many rest days to take and when to take them.
When should you take a rest day?
Annoyingly, there is no single answer to this. It very much depends on your individual training programme; how hard you’re pushing your body and how much rest your body needs.
But, as a rule of thumb – less experienced runners will probably want to take two rest days every week. It’s also wise to not run for more than four consecutive days in a row – particularly if you are injury prone.
Mondays can be a good choice for taking a rest, particularly if you tend to complete longer, more demanding runs at the weekend.
More experienced runners might choose to take a rest day every seven – 10 days. And some runners might get by with gentler, recovery runs, and rarely taking a day off.
Any more than two rest days per week isn’t really advisable unless you are brand new to running, or over 50 years old.
If you take too many rest days, you can end up packing too many miles into too few runs – which can increase your risk of injury. Focus on frequency and consistency instead.
Why are rest days important?
Whether you’re strictly a recreational runner, or an elite performance athlete, all levels of runners can benefit from a well-planned rest program and at least one-day off from the training schedule each week.
But what benefits can rest actually offer, other than the chance to catch up with doing absolutely nothing on your sofa?
We asked the experts at TRR Nutrition for their advice on the benefits of taking a day off:
Encourages muscles to recover and strengthen
Running (as with any form of exercise) can create microscopic tears in muscle fibres. To counteract this, the body rebuilds the muscles stronger.
However, this only happens in rest periods and it’s therefore important to ensure your body has enough rest to allow muscles to repair and strengthen.
It might not be rocket science, but it is important to remember that rest is integral to injury prevention. Not resting adequately can lead to minor injuries becoming major ones.
Overdoing it can lead to muscles and joints suffering from overuse, resulting in injury.
Adequate rest allows the body to conserve and restore energy levels. Enhanced energy levels contribute to a greater quality in each training session, helping to aid performance levels.
Although the mental health benefits of running are well documented and accepted, taking a planned day or two out can assist mental clarity.
The break from training helps your brain to relax and encourages focus and energy.
Aids a good night’s sleep
When you run, your body doesn’t know why you are running. This can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel irritable and restless.
Ensuring that you rest will help to stabilise both heart rate and alertness and help you to sleep soundly.
Allows the immune system to work effectively
When our bodies experience intense activity and training, our immune systems are working on overdrive to repair muscles and joints.
Without proper periods of rest, the immune system is unable to repair properly, and this can result in both inflammation and injury.
How to make the most out of your rest days
Give your nutrition some thought, ensure meals and snacks are planned and refuel your body with nourishing meals that will allow your body to perform efficiently.
Naturally active individuals can find the concept of inactivity terrifying! Take the opportunity to let the body relax and recuperate effectively by undertaking some relaxing activities.
Yoga can be a good option for those who still want to move as it can help refine useful relaxation techniques.
Try a supplement
Nothing replaces a good well-balanced diet, but sometimes the body needs a little help.