REST: Not a four-letter word
When you’re training for a race, it’s easy to let enthusiasm propel you out the door to run every single day. Maybe it’s nerves that rev you up. You’re worried you won’t be ready at the starting line if you give yourself a break from running before race day.
Regardless, you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then repeat after us: Recovery is as important as running.
It may seem counterintuitive, but to reap the benefits of your workouts, you need to take a day or two a week off from working out. Not to get all science-y on you, but exercise makes little tears in your muscles. When you give those muscles time to repair themselves, it makes them stronger. If you don’t give them time, guess what? They don’t heal and eventually your performance—and even your health—can suffer. Rest and recovery is as much a part of race preparation as eating right, stretching and doing weekly longer runs.
Rest comes in two varieties: complete and active. A day of complete rest means no exercise, just going about your daily living: going to work, grocery shopping, hanging with friends or family or even watching a movie. Active rest, as its name implies, involves doing some activity, like swimming, walking, or yoga, instead of running. The former is good because it keeps you mentally fresh, so you’re looking forward to the next workout (and gives you a day off to take care of tasks you may not have had time to complete when training), while the latter is helpful because movement speeds oxygen-rich, healing blood to get to your injured muscles faster. Both are beneficial.
Rest and recovery, or R&R, sounds easy, but just in case it doesn’t feel easy to you, here are some pointers:
- Experiment with what works for you. For some people, taking a complete rest day each week makes them stronger and more energetic; others prefer active rest to complete rest.
- If you opt for active rest, realize the optimal word is rest. It doesn’t mean intervals on the bike or an ultra-intense yoga class that gets your quads shaking. It means an easy 20 to 45 minute workout that gets your blood flowing and heart pumping. Walk with a friend, take your dog on a fun hike or take an easy yoga class—whatever suits your mood.
- Listen to your body on a daily basis. If you don’t have a rest day on your schedule, but feel sluggish or achy, take the day off totally and pick up where you left off the next day. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy; it means you’re smart.
- Recovery doesn’t only happen on rest days. Also key is ample amounts of sleep; seven to eight hours nightly is ideal. When you’re training, eat the way you know you should, being sure you refuel within 30 minutes after a workout with carbs and protein (a glass of chocolate milk does the trick). If you can swing it, get a massage regularly or invest in a foam roller to keep your muscles supple and ready to run.
Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell are the authors of Another Mother Runner and official contributors to runDisney.