The importance of rest in your training schedule 

If you’re anything like me there’s a distinct point in your running career where you go from struggling to make yourself run to struggling to make yourself not run. Early on, I’d force myself out of the door for a few miles of plodding and then use the fact that I’d done that as a justification for taking most of the week off. Now, I love running – it makes me feel good about myself, it suppresses anxiety, it reduces stress and it makes me eat well and sleep well. If it was taking a drug that did all of those things, it would probably become pretty addictive, and so it is with running. That’s fine to an extent since running is largely good for you. However, any serious athlete knows that, particularly when working towards a specific training goal, rest is vital. Rest helps prevent injury and sickness, and it increases performance. In simplified terms; you tire yourself out with a run that is at the edge of what you can do, then you rest and recover, and you come back stronger and able to do the same run more easily. It is this constant process that makes us faster and better at endurance.

So, I know I have to have breaks from my drug, but I don’t particularly like doing it. I feel restless and annoyed with myself when I don’t do any exercise in a day, even if I know I’m ‘allowed’ to have it as a rest day. If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips I’ve found work for making it easier:

  • Do some stretching and flexibility work. Feeling I have done nothing all day annoys me, but at least if I put some gym kit on and spend an hour doing some gentle stretching and flexibility work that helps. It’s worth doing anyway since most of us don’t really do enough stretching, except perhaps some dynamic stretches before a run and some slightly-too-hasty stretches afterwards before jumping in the shower.
  • Do another sport. It’s important to have proper rest, and some days should be complete rest, but if you need a day away from running but still want to do some kind of activity, find something that is relatively low-impact and low-intensity. Swimming can be good for that, as long as you don’t absolutely thrash yourself, as is a bit of moderate indoor climbing.

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  • Plan something completely different. Make your rest day the day you meet up with friends, go for dinner or to the cinema, go for a walk in the park, or whatever. If your rest day is spent at home in front of the TV, you may find it harder not to end up just going for a little run, whereas at least if you have something planned to keep you busy, you can focus on that.
  • Prep your food for the week ahead. I’ve never really been able to get into the whole food prep thing – I have a bad habit of planning my meal for the night that afternoon while shopping for it. However if you want to train effectively nutrition is a vital part of that, and planning and preparing food in advance makes it much easier to eat the right stuff for the rest of the week. Make one of your rest days your food prep day; you’ll have something to do, you’ll have more time to do it, and it’s still a ‘training’ activity.

How about you? Do you struggle to enforce rest days on yourself, or do you struggle more to enforce training days? What do you do on your rest days?

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