Does this dilemma sound familiar? You wake up feeling sleepy and sluggish. Your legs are heavy and your muscles are sore; you are definitely feeling the effects of your last few workouts. You grapple with your tired body, pulling yourself up and out the door, convincing yourself that once you start running, everything will feel better.
Your training has been going well, and you intend to keep it that way. Pushing through that blah feeling and continuing the daily miles is the best way to improve and surpass the competition, right?
We’ve all agonized over to-rest-or-not-to-rest scenarios, and we’ve all heard the age-old wisdom, “Listen to your body.” Let’s take a look at why planned rest days are so important in the scheme of staying healthy and getting faster.
The Principle of Progressive Overload
Fitness gains in running follow the principle of progressive overload. Basically, this is just a fancy way of saying that in order to keep getting better, you need to keep challenging yourself.
In the world of running, this means that if you want to keep seeing improvements in performance, you’ll need to keep challenging yourself with increasingly difficult training. Running the same loop at the same pace day after day will get you fit to a point, and then you’ll plateau. If you want to keep seeing improvement, you’ll have to add some intensity or additional mileage to your training.
More Harm Than Help
Following the principle of progressive overload, you may be tempted to keep adding more and more mileage and intensity to your workouts in order to see incredible gains in performance. Not so fast.
No one can keep making their workouts longer and harder indefinitely. It’s not humanly possible. Training actually causes micro-damage to your body’s tissues, and if they are not allowed to recover, you’ll not only never see the fitness gains you’re hoping for, but will also likely end up injuring yourself.
Training without proper rest has also been shown to lead to a myriad of not-so-fun-effects, such as:
- Decreased performance
- Constant fatigue
- Overuse injuries
- Altered hormones
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Decreased immune function
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
We’ll take a pass on all of those, thanks!
Adaptation and Rest
No matter how fantastic you feel afterwards, when you go out for a hard run, you’re not actually gaining any fitness while you’re out there. The gains in fitness happen after the workout, when you’re sitting on the couch and being the absolute laziest version of yourself possible. A bit counterintuitive, but a slight shift in thinking sheds a lot of light on why rest is so incredibly important.
The workout is the stimulus; the rest is when you reap the benefits.
You need the workout in order to provide the stress that will make your body adapt and grow stronger. But without the rest, all you’ve done is break down your body without gaining any benefits. Taking a rest day allows your body to absorb the training, adapt to the stress, and grow stronger than before. It also ensures that your on days are ON, which allows you to gain more from future workouts.
Train Hard, Rest Harder
Most experts recommend taking scheduled rest days every week. Taking planned time off while you’re healthy minimizes the risk of having to take unplanned rest days later down the road due to injury or extreme fatigue, and many top-level athletes will agree that consistency is the most important aspect of training.
Taking rest days doesn’t have to mean becoming the king or queen of all couch potatoes for a day (although it certainly can), but it does mean that you shouldn’t be running. If you’re one of those people who feels guilty or stressed about taking a day off from training (we feel ya), there are several ways you can still work towards achieving your running goals, such as:
- Working on your mental game, be it race visualization, training reflections and adjustments, or goal-setting.
- Planning logistics: Get all your ducks in a row for your next race or adventure.
- Running your errands so that come tempo or interval day, you don’t have to worry about anything except getting your workout done.
- Stretching, foam rolling, or working on a few simple stabilization exercises to improve performance and decrease the likelihood of injury.
- Spending time with the non-runners in your life will go a long way toward keeping you emotionally healthy in the long run. Remember, hard training does not mean having to sacrifice your friends and loved ones!
Tracie is a former teacher and a lifelong learner who loves exploring. Most at home in the mountains, she enjoys tearing up and down the trails on her mountain bike, and occasionally leaves the wheels at home for a run through the trees. Having recently earned her personal trainer certification, Tracie thrives on helping others reach their athletic goals.