To run faster and injury free every athlete needs to incorporate two critical training principles into their program. The first is a personalised, adaptive and varied training program. The second is adequate and timely rest.
The vast majority of athletes understand the importance of the training sessions themselves but far less really understand the role recovery plays as part of their program. As a result, athletes often overwork themselves believing that constant physical activity is the fastest way to achieve results. This approach can quickly lead to overtraining, increasing an athlete’s risk of injury and putting the entire training program at risk of failure.
Rest should be easy right? Well, yes. Rest involves taking time away from intense training to allow the muscles in the body to heal. An article from Greatist highlights that intense exercise causes damage to muscle fibres. Putting too much repetitive strain on the muscles (overtraining) can cause injury, decrease performance, elevate blood pressure, weaken the body’s immune system and more. During rest periods, muscles have time to recover and rebuild, forming new structures while growing in strength and size. So in reality, running faster, faster actually happens when you put your feet up after a solid training session.
What are the other benefits of rest days?
The Runners Guide notes that one of the most important reasons for including rest days within a training program is to promote joint health. Due to the constant impact of running on the joints, resting is critical to allow them to heal and prevent injury. A rest day allows the body to absorb the training that has just occurred, and prepare itself for the next session.
Distance running also takes quite a toll on the immune system. A study in 2003 found that the body trauma faced by distance runners lead to a lowered immune system, increasing their risk of illness and infection. A rest day gives the body an opportunity to recuperate and strengthen the immune system.
Rest days also allow for the body to re-energise. Energy is stored as glycogen within the muscles and the liver. For distance runners, glycogen is one of the most important forms of energy to keep the body going. According to Runners Connect, the average human body can run about 20 miles until their glycogen stores are completely depleted. When training intensely for several days straight, the body’s glycogen levels can drop dangerously low, causing muscles to lock, often referred to as ‘bonking’. Including scheduled rest days within a training program allows the body to restore its glycogen levels and prevent muscle burn out and fatigue.
The challenges of a rest day
The first challenge many athletes face when taking their rest days is not knowing what to do. However, even on a rest day, it’s still important to stay active. Try taking a walk or stretching to soften the muscles without straining the body.
The second challenge many athletes face is staying hydrated. Without the structure and routine of a training day to keep themselves organised, drinking those 8 glasses of H2O suddenly becomes a chore. But keeping those damaged muscles hydrated is essential so don’t swap that bottle of still for a soft drink or worse a beer. Stick to water and maximise your return on training.
Finally, athletes should pay close attention to their nutrition, as what’s eaten on rest day is the fuel used to repair the body. If you’re not sure what to eat check out our simple guide for athletes here.
In summary, it’s important to think of rest and recovery days, not as being separate to your program, but as being an integral and essential part of your training that will ultimately assist you in achieving your goals.
Run Theory’s training programs are designed with rest in mind, while machine learning continually monitors your fatigue, adjusting training load and optimising your recovery. The result is an intelligent coaching experience that carefully balances both the physical training and the requisite recovery to help you run faster, faster.