Don't Skip Your Rest Days
What are rest days?
Rest days are days you are taking completely off from running. As a coach I suggest that rest days are complete rest days, so that means no high intensity cross training, no strength training, no spin class. Though gentle low-impact activities can still be incorporated, such as gentle flow yoga, stretching, walking, and foam rolling.
Rest days are equally as important as your workout days. Running (or any exercise) causes micro-tears in muscle and an overall breakdown of our body's physiological systems. If you continually train hard with no rest you may see decreases in performance or even worse injuries or burnout. Rest days allow the body to recover from the breakdown caused by running. The workout provides the stress your body will need to adapt and grow stronger, while the rest day allows your body to repair and adapt to the stress which will make you stronger.
Why are rest days are important?
Physical Recovery: Rest is essential for muscle growth and repair. Running causes two main types of stress on your body: metabolic stress and mechanical stress. Metabolic stress is caused by depleting your energy stores on the cellular level and mechanical stress is caused by the physical damage to the muscular system. A rest day gives your body time to repair and adapt to the stress that you have put it through during training. Use your rest day to focus hydrating and fueling for your next hard workout.
Mental Recovery: Your body is not the only thing that gets fatigued from running, but you mind does too. Even though many runners use running as a form of stress relief, running still increases the a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the "fight or flight" hormone and is increases because your body doesn't know that you're running for fun or from some sort of danger. Also, running hard and pushing through workouts can leave you feeling mentally fatigued. Having a rest day gives your brain some time to reset and regroup which will give you a break psychologically and help prevent mental burnout.
Reduces Injury Risk: Not giving yourself a break can lead to being over trained. If you're over trained you're more likely to be faced with an overuse injury, which will force you to take a significant amount of time off. Overuse injuries can include stress fractures and tendinitis. It's better to take a planned rest day than be out of commission for months due to injury.
What to do on your rest days?
If you're feeling restless on rest day there are lots of things you can do on your rest day that will still allow your body the time it needs to recover.
Extra time with friends and family: Spend some time with your non-runner friends and family. Running can take up a large chunk of our day, so use this time to spend time with your friends or loved ones. Maybe you could call home when you'd normally be on your run or spend some extra time cuddling with your pups at home.
Work on other hobbies: Running is a great hobby, but you probably have other hobbies as well. You can use the time you would normally be running doing something else you love. I love using my rest day to do some extra writing and drawing personally. If you don't have another hobby, maybe it's time to pick one up!
Catch up on chores: Though it's not the most fun option on this list, rest days are great for catching up on chores. More often than not I find myself using my rest day to wash dishes and fold laundry that had been forgotten about.
Plan race logistics and workouts: If you're really insistent on doing something running related still you could start planning race and training logistics. If you have a race upcoming you could do some research on the race you plan on running and plan how you'll travel to and from the race. Or if you don't have a race coming up, you could figure out your workouts for the month or maybe write a periodized training plan for the season.
Gentle movement: If you REALLY need to move then you should stick to gentle movement. This DOES NOT mean go out for a run or a bike ride. This means, taking some time to walk, foam roll, stretch or do some gentle flow yoga. I really like to take some time (20 to 30 minutes) on rest day to focus on foam rolling and gentle yoga.
When to Take a Rest Day
Periodization: Its best to schedule regular rest days into your running schedule. This can look different for everyone. Some runners prefer to have a rest day a week, some runners are fine only taking a rest day a month. As a coach I prefer to schedule 1 rest day every 1 to 2 weeks for experienced runners and 2 to 3 rest days for beginners.
Listening to your body: Sometimes you'll need a rest day when it isn't scheduled on the calendar and that's okay. You know your body best. If you're feeling abnormally fatigued or an oncoming injury or illness it might be a sign you need to take an extra rest day.
Signs you might need a rest day
Lack of appetite
Elevated Resting Heart Rate