The Importance of Rest

Will the world come to an end if I take a day off running?

You are coming off the back of a great block of training or have just run that PB you‘ve been chasing for years, but now you’re hobbling about with your body asking what have you done to me?

Having pushed that redline on race day or been on the edge in training, flogging yourself in every session for months, you felt a light twinge or was it a cramp or a pop… maybe it’s just nothing but some severe DOMS from showing your body who’s boss in chasing down that finish line. The question now is do I push through and hope it’s nothing but some bad soreness or do I take a day or two off to let my body recover.

The problem for any runner severely addicted to the endorphin rush that is running is that many of you think that if you miss a session, an easy jog or god forbid the sacred long run, the world may never again see the light of day. What will my hardcore running friends think of me for not showing up? Will I get fat? How can I make the session up later on in the week (I can do a double on Thursday and then a triple on Saturday then my mileage on strava won’t drop), will this trigger a butterfly effect that leaves me broken and unable to run in 5 years’ time?….

Runners are possibly the most dedicated (or obsessive) athletes in the world, but sometimes this dedication to hitting the trails can be our downfall. Yes we sometimes need to push through soreness, heavy legs or tiredness, but we also need to be able to listen to our bodies to know when it needs some rest. No, not just donning every piece of compression garment you have and drinking protein and electrolytes every hour on the hour to try and speed up recovery, but actual recovery – as in not running! Sometimes our best tool against injury is patience. Being patient enough to give the body the time it needs to recover. Injuries recovery quickest when treated early, so if you feel it is more than general soreness and fatigue then it might be best to let it settle down now so you don’t have to miss a month of training a few weeks down the track from trying to push through it.

So what is going on when you take a few rest days? Or first of all, what happens to your body when you train?

When you train (or race) you are applying a stimulus to the body telling it that it needs to be stronger (weight training) or faster (speed work) or have more endurance (long run). This stimulus in the short term disrupts your body’s homeostasis and it becomes fatigued (and less fit). It’s then that we need to add recovery to our program in order for the body to adapt at the cellular level to the applied stimulus. Every stimulus and every athlete will need different amounts of recovery depending on age, training, injury history and goals. If given adequate recovery your body will adapt and you will become fitter. If you do not give your body the recovery it needs you will progress into a state of overtraining where your performance will start to drop and your injury risk will increase.

On the flipside however is the detraining effect where if we allow too much time between bouts of exercise the body will adapt to the now lack of stimulus and there will be a decrease in strength, speed and endurance. After as little as two weeks off there will be a decrease in fitness with losses accelerating as the time off extends.

Obviously training is vital but the smart application of recovery (complete rest) is a very important and often overlooked aspect of training, performance and injury prevention. So next time you know your body needs a day or two off to let the soreness and niggles settle but you are fighting with that part of your brain that is completely addicted to running, try and convince it that the day off will let you come back stronger, faster, injury free and fitter!