Rest– It Does the Body Good
Serious runners either love or dread rest days. Most likely, the majority of runners actually dread them, especially when they have gotten deep into their training program and are seeing progress. These runners feel a rest day will hinder their improvements and cause them to have to take a step backwards. Although most training plans and information on this topic clearly state how beneficial a rest day is, you will find that most runners will continue to skip it and go on with their training. Whether it be once a week, a couple of times a month, or even just once a month, a planned rest day will actually help get you stronger and lead to more successful training runs down the line.
Studies have shown that back-to-back days of hard running can have damaging effects on our health as well as increase our risk of injury. One study reviewed the effects of frequency and volume of training programs on running related injury risk, and determined that high frequency was most definitely a culprit to sustaining injuries. The highest rate of injuries occurs in individuals training hard six to seven days per week, but it emphasized that overall weekly volume and duration of runs plays an important role in the increased risk. This particular study concluded that the ideal frequency for running is between two and five days per week. Recovery runs in between harder efforts and full rest days are beneficial for several important reasons that will make or break your fitness progress.
During training runs, as well as strengthening sessions, tiny tears are created in our muscle fibers. In order to repair these tears, the specific muscles require rest. Most people believe that our muscles are getting stronger during exercise, but in reality, it is during the recovery period that strength is gained. This is why it is recommended to vary the muscle groups you are working during strength training by alternating days throughout the week. Running, on the other hand, pretty much works your entire body, so if you are tearing all of these muscle fibers with a hard workout one day, it is ideal to incorporate rest the following day.
In order for muscles to grow in size and strength tension should be applied by way of challenging workouts—meaning performing running sessions that are much greater in load than what our bodies were previously adapted to. This mechanism leads to the muscle damage we feel in the form of soreness, although soreness is not required to be present after the muscle damage. Following this damage, inflammatory and immune system cells begin to activate to initiate the repair process. This is where rest comes into play.
Helps Prevent Injury & Illness
The immune system plays an important role in the repairing of muscle tissue. It is constantly activated during exercise, especially during hard marathon training. If the training period consists of intense work on a daily basis with little to no rest, the immune system will have a difficult time keeping up with the repairs and this may eventually lead to overuse injuries and illness. Another reason why the immune system weakens in runners undergoing hard training routines is due to the cortisol that is secreted from the high stress levels in the body. The downtime in training cycles helps prevent excess cortisol secretion, which will only disrupt the repair process of the muscles.
You have probably heard that it is common to get sick during the taper weeks. This is because the taper period follows the highest intensity weeks of training, when the immune system has already been weakened. After an intense workout, the immune system naturally weakens but returns to baseline within one day. If there are several hard runs one day after another or runs are not scheduled at least 24 hours apart, then the immune system will remain weakened until the body undergoes a rest period.
Helps Cure Fatigue—Physical & Mental
We all know how physically exhausting marathon training can be, especially during those last few weeks before tapering. What most runners ignore is the impact mental exhaustion has on training progress. If you are exercising every day on top of working or being a parent or caregiver the body is in definite need of a break several times per week. Even twenty minutes of downtime daily will help ease mental fatigue. It is not uncommon to go through phases of feeling unmotivated and burnt out. At the first signs of these symptoms, the best course to take is start with one day off of all exercise. You may even need several days to recharge.
Understanding these reasons for why rest is extremely important during training will only lead to success and faster race times down the line. Having a healthy balance between exercise and recovery will help keep your body and mind energized and always ready for more work. Some runners may benefit from one or two days of rest per week, while others can take a rest day every ten days or even once a month. If you are the type to skip rest and push to exhaustion, it is essential to make sure you are scheduling easy runs and workouts the day after the hard sessions. Keep these benefits in mind as undergoing an injury or illness will push you further away from achieving your goals, whereas one or two rest days will actually help you reach them.