Form, pace, and mileage are just one part of running. The other part of the equation might not be what you think! Without rest days, the hard work of training can actually become harmful – and you might find yourself injured or overtrained. The harder you train, the more important recovery becomes. Your body needs rest to recover and get stronger from hard workouts. Rest and active recovery are both tools you can use to achieve your goals.
Difference between Rest and Active Recovery
Rest days do not involve any exercise at all. While it also doesn’t mean being a couch potato (you can still do light errands) try to avoid more strenuous tasks like rearranging furniture, washing your car. Focus on resting and relaxing!
An active recovery day will include activities such as running or cross training at an easy to moderate level. The function is to get your blood flowing to your muscles to help them recover.
Why do I need a rest day?
Running causes microscopic tears in your muscles. Rest days allow your muscles to repair the damage and recover from the muscle breakdown. Rest days are essential to becoming a faster, stronger runner and achieving your goals.
Mentally, rest days benefit your mind by giving you a break from training and giving your mind fresh. It also prevents burn-out from over-training and keeps your runs something fun instead of a chore.
What to do on a rest day
Rest days don’t have to boring and static! Here are some ideas on what you can do on rest days to aid recovery.
- Relax! Elevate your legs to help with blood circulation. For even better results, lie against a wall and lift your feet at 90° for 3-5 minutes.
- Stretch – whether at home or at a yoga class, static and dynamic stretches will keep you limber
- Foam roller/Massage – Indulge in a massage, or save your buck and DIY it by using a foam roller to massage your muscles.
- Soak – soaking in warm water can help relax muscles and loosen stiff joints. Add some bath salts for extra relaxation
- Leisurely short walk – go for a gentle walk around the neighborhood to loosen your muscles
- Rehydrate – Take your rest day to focus on replenishing your fluids
- Sleep – Use your rest day to get a solid night’s sleep.
Why do I need active recovery
Active Recovery reduces your risk of overuse injuries and stress fractures and allows your body to adapt to the training load. Active recovery can actually help speed up the recovery process after a hard effort by increasing blood flow in the legs. Not only can this help flush the lactic acid from your muscles, it can also cut down on some of the muscle soreness after a long or hard workout.
How to do active recovery
Active recovery can be done through low- or no-impact activities like cycling, swimming, yoga, or strength training to complement the demands of your high-impact running workouts. Runners who run more than three days per week can use easy runs as active recovery, too.
Here are some suggestions on what you can do on active recovery days:
- Go for an easy to moderate hike with your friends or family
- Take an easy bike ride
- Go for an easy swim
- Do strength training
- Light Cross-training
- Take a brisk walk
- Play with your pet/kids
- Do some sort of fun sport or activity (not too vigorous!)
Basically, get moving—but not too much. Remember to take it easy! A fun way to add variety to your training routine is to join different classes for your active recovery days. Check your local gym or sign up for class trial credits such as ClassPass for new workout ideas to mix it up.
When to take rest days and recovery days
Optimal recovery includes both complete rest and active recovery. Scheduling rest and recovery days depends on what type of runner you are, when you run and for how long, and if you are training for a specific event.
If you plan for a long run on the weekends, for example, then you might want to schedule your rest day for Monday. Likewise, if you’re training for an event which falls on a Saturday, you can plan a rest day on Friday so you have fresh legs. Active recovery days can be scheduled in between normal running days to avoid your muscles stiffening up.
For beginner runners, try to schedule running every other day, with alternate rest and recovery days in between. You can slowly add more active recovery and eventually full runs to your training once your endurance and speeds builds up, but don’t completely remove a full rest day from your weekly training schedule.
The most important thing is to listen to your body. If you feel like you need a rest day, take it. Don’t be fixated on reaching a goal number of miles in a week if you are feeling fatigued or sore. Pay attention to pain and soreness so you can head off a potential injury. For us girls, we tend to get extra tired during our period, so make sure you don’t overexert yourself.