The Importance of Rest for Runners

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When it comes to running, the importance of rest cannot be overemphasized.  I first started running over 20 years ago, and like many newbies, I didn’t rest as often as I should in the beginning.  It wasn’t until my college track coach explained what actually happens to the muscles when we run that I started to understand how important rest was.  In all honesty, even after that, it took me quite awhile to really implement rest days into my training, but once I did, I was blown away by the improvements I saw in my running.

Most new runners make the mistake of thinking that running as often and as hard as possible will result in better performance results, when in fact, the opposite is true!  Just like most new runners, when I first started, I thought that I was getting stronger when I was out there running – WRONG!  During a workout, we are actually breaking our muscles down…it is when we rest and refuel that the muscles build back up stronger than they were before the workout making us stronger.  Thus, you see that rest days are an integral part of the training process if your goal is to get stronger and faster.

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Because muscles are broken down while running, if we don’t rest and give our muscles a chance to build back up and repair, then we are setting ourselves up for disaster.  By continually breaking down the muscle, the muscle becomes weaker and more prone to injury.  Obviously, weaker muscles don’t result in stronger runs or faster times, so we see that rest is essential to reaching our running goals.  Rest gives our bodies the chance to adapt and improve as well as repair muscles, tendons and ligaments that get broken down during your run.

Another reason that rest is important is because it restores glycogen levels, deals with fatigue and helps fight infection.  This is extremely important, because long runs or hard effort runs lowers our immunity making us more susceptible to colds/flu.  Rest compensates for this and allows our immune system to get back on track after a hard workout.

How do we incorporate rest into our training?  There are a few different things that are important to make sure you are doing in your training to minimize injury risk and maximize strength and ability.

1.) Get your sleep!  Sleep is incredibly important as this is when the body really repairs itself.  Aim for a minimum of six hours (preferably eight) of uninterrupted sleep each night.  Follow the typical sleep rules: keep your room cool, quiet and dark, only use the bedroom for sleep (no tv or electronics), don’t eat or workout too close to bedtime as these things can make it harder to fall asleep, and lastly be aware of things that may impede your sleep quality such as coffee, alcohol, or spicy foods too close to bed time.

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2.) Take a minimum of one rest day per week.  Yes, this means don’t run on that day.  I know, I know – this is REALLY hard for runners to do, but believe me when I say your body will thank you by producing better times and less pain when running!  Try to schedule your rest day(s) after a day when you’ve done a long run or a hard workout to let your body rebuild.  This will allow you to get back out there feeling great!  Even though it’s hard to take days off, it’s worth it, so just try to think of it as part of your training.

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3.) Every fourth or fifth week during a training cycle should be a “cut back” or “recovery” week.  This means that every four or five weeks during your training, you should back off a bit on mileage and effort to let your body adjust to and accept the training you’ve been putting in.  This will allow you to get stronger in a way that is most comfortable for your body and minimizes risk of injury or burnout.

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4.) Always take time off after a race or extensive training block.  This one’s a hard one.  You’ve just finished a race, and either you reached your goal and are amped to get back out there and capitalize on your fitness, or you didn’t reach your goal and are looking to make up for that fact.  Either way, your are tempted to jump right back into training.  RESIST!!!  Your body has just been through a long block of intense training culminating in an all out effort in a race.  Your muscles are beat whether you feel that way or not, so you need to rest.  A good way to decide how many days to take off is about 1 day for each mile that you raced, (5K: 3-4 days off, 10K: 6-7 days off, half marathon: 2 weeks off, marathon: about a month off).  Don’t worry about losing fitness during this time.  The truth is that you don’t lose much fitness for about the first three-four weeks off.  After a month is when you really start to lose fitness, but for those first few weeks or so, it’s minimal.  Give your body this time to rest, rebuild, and repair.

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5.) Feed your body right while resting.  This goes without saying!  As I keep saying, when we are resting, our bodies are repairing themselves, so it is important that we give it the nourishment that it needs to do so.  Lean protein, fruits and veggies, healthy fats – lucky for you, there are TONS of great recipes here on Pinning Junkie that are awesome for aiding the body in repairing and healing itself! 😉  Treat and fuel your body correctly and it will reward you with feeling amazing and running to the best of your capabilities.

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To summarize, the following things are just as important as your workouts when it comes to training.

  • Sleep
  • Rest days
  • Cut back (recovery) week
  • Time off after a race (1 day for each mile raced)
  • Fuel yourself well

Incorporate these things into your training regimen, and you will definitely notice the benefits that come from rest when you are a runner.  You will not only feel stronger, but you will feel healthier and find more enjoyment from your runs.  Happy Running! 🙂

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