Weekly taking a day (or two) off adds value to your training, not only for recreational runners but also for those who enter races on a regular basis.
Going outside, being competitive, strengthening our body, boosting our immune system, getting rid of stress, and not to forget, triggering the endorphins and endocannabinoids, which improve your mood and make you all happy after a run. They all are the positive aspects of running, and we love to focus on them. Not running for a day deprives us of these benefits. But not taking time off, which can be a lot harder than it sounds, can also hurt us.
A rest day is just as important as a long run or a speed session and is an integral part of a training schedule. Rest helps strengthen and recover the body from the previous sessions. Recovery and recuperation are needed. Every time you run, you do not only build strength, speed and stamina, but you also cause a very small amount of tissue damage. Rest days gives your body the opportunity to heal and recover.
Athletes like to focus on the distance, time and pace of their workouts, but what you do outside the training sessions is just as important to get stronger and improve.
An added benefit is that you recharge mentally as well. Take your mind off of running for a day and you feel fresher in your next workout.
Let’s take a closer look at all the benefits of taking a rest day.
Running, or any exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibre. In response, your body repairs them and makes the muscles stronger as a defence for the next training. After an intense session, it can take a minimum of 36 to 48 hours to heal completely. And to heal, your body needs to rest. Without it, your body has no chance to repair and rebuild your muscles, making them weaker instead of stronger, and all the hard work you have put in has gone to waste.
Besides strengthening your muscles, running also increases the strength of your bones. Just like with your muscles, the repeated impact on your bones stresses the tissue and again, your body will repair the damage and create stronger structures. If you do not take time off, your body has no time to do the repairs and you might end up with a stress fracture.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but again the same applies to your tendons. They connect the muscles to the bones and therefore also have to work full-time whenever you run. Since tendons have a lower vascularity than muscles, it takes longer to repair them and this can lead over time to an inflammation from overuse. A good way to strengthen the tendons in adding strength exercises to your schedule.
You might now wonder if you have to take a rest day after every workout. The good news is no, you don’t as long as your schedule consists of a mix of intensity and speed. Follow up a speed session with a short, but slow recovery run. The impact and damage are less, so your body will still heal partially. By adding a full rest day now and then, a full repair will still happen
Running is a stress reliever, but it also increases the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your body. As running is also a defence mechanism against danger, your body does not know the difference between running for fun or running away from a dangerous situation. This can lead to a series of health issues that, once again, get back into balance by taking some rest days.
A regular rest day also will make your friends and family happy as they will appreciate it if you keep a day free for them. Often, they are your biggest supporters and you keep running away from them for an hour or so every day.
Spend a quality day with them and you can go out for a run again the next day with a fresh mind and your loved ones will know you care about them.
Some of you cannot go a day without doing something. For running it is best to take a rest day completely off, but if you really want to do something, be mindful about what you do. A slow, leisurely bike ride works just as a recovery run, but if it gets more intense or if you add some hills, your quadriceps and glutes wouldn’t have had a day off.
Swimming or some yoga exercises are a better choice as they improve your breath control and put less stress on your bones and muscles.
Taking a day off of running is really worth it. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.
By Gert Rijkx, founder and head coach of QuadraCoach. Former athlete and certified athletics coach with over 25 years of experience in coaching, training and motivating runners of all levels