Some people and coaches swear by regularly scheduled rest days to keep a runner going without injury. Others say listen to your body and rest when it says rest. Most runners are loathed to take a rest day, or if they do, they want to “make up” for it the next day. What does it mean to take a rest day, reduced running, no running, no activity? Runners, especially ultrarunners, are good at pushing through being tired or a minor injury which is good and it is not good. So what’s a runner to do?
Rest days can be harder to take or convince yourself to take and complete, than a hard workout. Runners don’t want to miss out on a run and they don’t want to fall behind in training. Rest is for the weak, right? wrong. Rest is when the body repairs itself and becomes stronger. It is not only a rest for your body but a rest for your mind.
When we push our body everyday or through multiple challenging workouts during a week, we are breaking down the tissues in our legs and other places. We are causing micro tears and strains. This is good because it forces the body to heal and come back stronger. It pushes are mental limits so we can draw upon that during long events.
Having a regularly scheduled rest day each week or once every ten days, is usually the best approach because then there is no question whether or not you should rest. If the strategy is to rest when your body says to rest, then you are more likely to keep pushing possibly into an injury aka forced rest, which is the last thing a runner wants.
Another time to rest is whenever you feel an injury coming on, or if you are facing major stressors in other areas of your life that are out of the ordinary. Taking 1-3 days when you get that feeling somewhere that something isn’t right and you may have the start of an injury, is better than running through it and running into an injury that could take you out for a week or more. When you have major stress in your life, that is out of the ordinary, that stress reduces your bodies ability to recover between workouts and thus puts you at a high risk of injury.
In addition to the one day a week as a rest day, taking a “rest week” is another good way to keep running and remain injury free. This is especially true if you are building miles or increasing the stress on your body through challenging workouts. A rest week does not mean taking a full week off of running, although it could. Reducing your workout load by about 20 to 25% for a week is a rest week. This means volume and intensity. If you are especially injury prone, it could mean using an alternative workout for the week such as pool running or the elliptical trainer. Even riding a bike would be fine. Rest weeks are ideally taken every three to four weeks.
Taking a rest day once a week and a rest week every 3-4 weeks is not going to put you behind on your training. It may push you to the next level. It won’t impact your speed or endurance in a negative way. Neither will taking three days off when you feel that something is wonky. It can be a mental challenge to take a rest day, and you may feel antsy if this is the case, go for a easy walk (not ten miles) for twenty to thirty minutes.
Think of rest days as recovery and rebuild days.
Happy and healthy running!