Contrary to popular belief, rest days do not reduce your fitness. In fact, rest days are essential to keeping your body fit, strong, and constantly improving. Here is the truth behind the importance of rest days.
When does detraining start?
Detraining is the phenomenon where rest days lead to a loss of fitness and athletic performance. Many runners are concerned that, by resting, they will lose ground on all the work they have put in. Studies show that detraining only really begins after rest periods of longer than two weeks. A day here or there is very important for you fitness however – but, if you are training towards a goal, taking a three-week training vacation might do more harm than good.
Why do rest days help your training?
Rest days allow your body adjust to the work that has been done in running training and improve. Pushing yourself adjust how far, how fast, and for how long you can run, and the adjustments your muscles have to make to get you going further are accounted for during rest days. Well worked muscles are repaired and strengthened during periods of rest – even days of cross-training, instead of solid rest days, help with this.
Rest days and injury prevention
For runners who are training hard a rest day every seven to 14 days is a good addition to a training schedule. Rest days allow time to replenish glycogen stores, reduce fatigue on one’s muscles, and gain strength. This way, when training commences after a rest day your muscles are refreshed, strengthened, rested, and rearing to go.
The adaptations your muscles have to make during training may happen on the fly, but only short-term changes can happen without rest days. Consistent resting, even in the form of cross-training, is shown to reduce injuries caused by overuse and prevent ITB syndrome (which will have you out for three to four weeks anyway).
Another important addition for the fitness junkies
Light recovery runs are a second component in an ideal rest-and-recovery-aware training schedule. For those who would prefer to add cross-training instead of pure rest days, a light run after a tough run can be your saving grace. Light runs after a push the day before help to work your muscles well enough to prevent stiffness and lethargy, without, potentially, doing damage to your body.
Taking rest days between running training days is good for more than just your body. Your mind and body are complexly linked. Sometimes a little time taken to sit back and admire how far you have come, and dream of where you are going, is part of the rehabilitation process. Be at peace on your rest days so that both mind and body have a well-earned break.