How to Rest Easy

>> Monday, March 1, 2010

Stephen and I don't exactly see eye to eye on the perfect number of training days to complete in any given week. I typically max out at 5 days. He runs 6. And, really, lately I've mostly been running 4 days a week due to weather and a mystery injury I've been plagued with since early July (more on that in another post). But I argue that every day is a training day. And that's a topic upon which we both agree.

Many people, including my younger running-self, get caught up in routine. When I was a sophomore in college, for example, I used to rise early to get in my 4 or 5 miles a day. Every day. Same demanding pace on the treadmill. Without fail. And I often had knee problems. What I discovered when I started logging miles for longer races, following training plans, and talking to fellow runners is that rest days are just as much a part of training as easy runs, tempo workouts, and long slow distance.

But how is doing nothing at all actually doing something productive? 

1.) Recovery for your muscles and joints. No matter where you are with your running program, you're likely pushing the limit at points. A good rest day (or two) can help give your body time to heal. Day after day of relentless pounding makes your limbs -- especially legs -- tired and worn down. Rest days give muscle fibers a chance to heal and rebuild. They come back stronger and better than before. 

Just keep in mind the timing of those days you take off. It's a good idea to reserve them for days after your hardest workouts (like long runs -- I always take a day off after my longest run of the week). And if you're feeling sick and still wondering if you should run, read this post.

2.) Revival for your over-trained body and mind. Shin splints and stress fractures are sure signs of over-training. But lesser-known symptoms include a cold that just won't go away. Feeling tired all the time. Not feeling like you want to go out and run (the whole motivation thing). It's difficult to exactly pinpoint if you're over-trained, but if you're feeling symptoms of anything I listed above, incorporating more rest into your schedule might be what you need.

Sometimes rest days aren't the best way to attack motivation problems, though. So, if you're struggling with wanting to run in general, you might want to read these tips on how to stay motivated.

3.) Fitness for the rest of your body. Rest doesn't necessarily mean rest from all activity. Like I said, I run typically 5 days a week. One of my rest days is PURE rest. Nothing more than crashing on the couch and the walk to and from my car to my office. But the other day I try to do yoga. It gets me moving, but not pounding my legs into a bloody pulp. It gives me the opportunity to cross-train and gain much-needed upper-body strength. Other days (when the weather is nice), I go for a 30 minute walk or bike ride around my neighborhood.

(And if you'd like to give yoga try, check out our new Wednesday series entitled Hump Day Yoga!)

Maybe you already know all of this information. But we're not talking about the feeling of guilt that often accompanies rest. I've broken through this curse in my own life, but remember all too well how guilty I used to feel missing a workout. How I'd drive home and see other runners plodding along and get all panicky . . . Would this missed -- rest day -- workout mean I'll lose speed/forfeit fitness/get fat/etc./etc./etc.??? I'd put myself through a barrage of similar questions whenever I considered taking a day off. Always feeling negative at the end of my internal discussion. I'd all too often ignore the need for rest. And ultimately not give my body and mind the respite needed.

What most helped me break through this cycle of internal self-abuse is getting older. I know that sounds ridiculous coming from a 26-year-old. But I've noticed my body responding to running and other activities I put it through (random front handspring for the first time in five years, anyone? OUCH!). I'm listening to that because I want to run for the rest of my life. And if I don't take care of my spry joints and muscles now . . . by the time I'm 80, there won't be anything left . . . and it'll be all rest, all the time. And at age 80, I'd still like to be scaling mountains and doing spontaneous outdoor yoga poses with the one you see pictured with me (above).

I'm sure this topic might be up for a hot debate. So, I'm wondering how many days you all train. Do you feel guilty missing a run? Have you found specific activities you particularly like to do on your rest and light cross-training days? Leave us a comment or email us at


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