Train, race, rest, repeat. You know the drill, and as a runner you know what a huge impact rest can have on your performance. The tricky part is finding the balance between not enough rest and too much. Not enough rest will leave you mentally and physically fatigued, which can result in injury or burnout. Too much rest will leave you weak. Take a look at what happens to your body when you rest too long, and devise a plan for getting the rest you need without sacrificing performance.
You know the feeling of getting back into ‘running shape’ after a long break from training. Your lungs burn, and you feel like you’re going half as fast for twice the effort. What you’re feeling is the result of a decreased VO2 max brought on by a lack of training.
Your VO2 max will decrease by about 6% after a month without training, almost 20% after nine weeks without training, and up to 25% after 11 weeks without running. What this means is that if you just miss a couple of weeks, it’s fairly easy to regain your prior fitness level. If you’ve been idle for a longer period of time, it can take five or six months of training to get back in the swing.
Muscle Strength and Metabolism
Resting on your laurels for too long can result in, well, flabby laurels. Or at least decreased muscle tone and impaired metabolic function. Skipping out on training for longer than two weeks can cause muscles to atrophy, resulting in decreased strength to push you through long mileage. Although many people think that your metabolism simply slows down when you take an extended break from exercising, it actually changes as well, in ways that can be very detrimental to your training goals.
Your body specifically loses its ability to effectively metabolize fat, which means increased fat storage. The body stores fat in adipose cells, which are able to expand to store more adipose tissue (or fat). Once adipose cells have expanded, it’s easier for them to hold fat in the future, making it harder for you to trim down again when you get back on a training plan. When you detrain, your adrenaline levels also drop significantly, which inhibits your body’s readiness to head out for a workout.
Just the Right Rest
If you’re mentally burned out from your training or if you’re starting to feel the little aches and pains that can come before a bigger injury, a slightly longer rest phase might be a good idea. To make sure the rest will help and not harm your training, follow these simple guidelines:
- Choose how many days you will rest beforehand. Don’t take more than a week off, but choose at the beginning of your rest period when it will end, and mark your first workout post-rest on your calendar. This way you won’t agonize over when your next workout should be, which can sap you of the mental renewal that a few solid rest days can give you. Having your workout marked on your calendar will also keep you from pushing your workout back ‘just one more day,’ which can lead to training losses.
- Give yourself a break. On your days off, give yourself a mental break from thinking about training. Read a book, try a new recipe or catch a movie with a friend. Taking a mental break from training will help you feel refreshed and ready to start training again when your break is over.
- Get plenty of sleep. Not having workouts for a handful of days will free up some time in your schedule. While it’s easy to fill up your time with other activities, it’s important to make sure you get plenty of shuteye so that your muscles can fully recover from your training.