When you’re training towards a sporting goal, whether that’s a marathon runner, a long-distance triathlon, cycling sportive, or making gains in the gym, taking time off can be harder than it sounds.
Training makes you feel good, it blows away the mental cobwebs after a hard day in the office, and, let’s face it, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others on Strava or Instagram who might be getting in the reps while you’re putting your feet up.
Taking time off can leave you feeling a teensy bit guilty that you’re neglecting your training, and there’s always that nagging doubt that squeezing in just one more workout could be the difference between a PB and an also-ran.
But if you’re a rest-day shirker though, stop right there! There’s a reason everyone – yes, even pro athletes – schedules quality rest into their training schedule.
Downtime gives your body the chance to repair and grow stronger so you can perform at your best. It allows your mind to focus, boosts motivation, and it reduces your chance of injury from overuse, too. From the benefits of rest days and how many you should be taking, to how you should be fuelling to maximize recovery, here’s everything you need to know about the art of easing off.
Rest days give your muscles a chance to grow
When you train, whether that’s pounding the miles on the road, interval training, or lifting weights in the gym, you create microscopic tears in your muscles. It’s these tears that cause DOMS after a particularly intense workout or new training session.
As your body repairs these tears, your muscles grow stronger so they’re able to perform the same workout with less effort next time. How much time they need depends on a number of factors including genetics, age, current fitness level, and how intensely and for how long you’re working out. As a rule of thumb though, you should have a minimum of one rest day per week and throw in some easier workouts alongside the tougher sessions.
Rest days reduce the chance of injury
You know those microscopic tears we were talking about? If you don’t give them time to repair they can become muscle sprains, which means a lot more days with your feet up than you were planning.
That’s why bodybuilders often alternate the muscle groups they use, spending time working on arms the day after leg day to ensure their legs are fully recovered before they go hard again.
Rest days are important for giving your bones a break, too. This is particularly pertinent for runners whose legs absorb a lot of shocks. Like muscles, bones grow stronger with exercise as the impact of running stresses the bone tissue. And, just like muscles, bones need time to strengthen and remodel.
Running without periods of rest could also be a fast ticket to a stress fracture – a fracture caused by repeated stress – as your bones don’t have the time they need to fully repair.