With so much emphasis placed on improvement, progress and never giving up, it can often be hard to settle down when it’s time for a rest day. We know that just about any training plan involves some off days, but when we try to recover, we often feel as if we are just being lazy or halting our progress.
Many runners struggle to truly rest. We find ourselves trying to squeeze in missed strength training sessions or make up a few miles on our rest days – never providing our body with the time it needs to properly recover.
However, there are many benefits of rest days.
Not only do rest days provide your body and mind with some much-needed recovery time, but they allow muscle fibers to be rebuilt, lactic acid to be flushed out and provide aches and pains time to heal.
Rest days play a crucial role in avoiding injury and staying strong throughout any training plan.
Making the most of these rest and recovery days can greatly impact your training. Skipping out on rest days may not have an immediate impact, but repeated training with no break often leads to injury or burnout. Rest days provide variety and necessary breaks to avoid overtraining and all the dangers that come with it.
So what should you do to make the most of a rest day?
The answer varies somewhat, based on the intensity of your training and your individual body. Whether you benefit most from active recovery days or complete rest varies from person to person.
However, there are a few simple activities you can incorporate into your rest days to make the most of this time and avoid going stir crazy.
How to Make the Most of Rest and Recovery Days
Stretch and foam roll.
It’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself with more time than usual on rest days, and a great way to spend this extra time is stretching or foam rolling. Designating a little extra time to stretch and/or foam roll on your rest days is a great way to enhance your recovery.
Stretching and foam rolling both help reduce lactic acid that may have built up throughout your muscles after hard workouts and long runs. These simple recovery measures can greatly speed up your recovery time and help reduce your chance of injury after tough weeks. And the best part – they can be done right in your living room while relaxing!
Incorporate some active recovery.
Many runners struggle to sit still and do nothing. After days of structured workouts, finding yourself with nothing on the agenda can feel a little unsettling. Luckily, you don’t have to spend your entire rest day off your feet.
Incorporating some active recovery into your rest day helps keep your muscles from getting stiff and flushes out lactic acid. Activities such as walking and yoga are a great way to stay busy without adding any extra stress on your muscles. Use your rest day to walk with a friend, complete some recovery yoga, or simply stretch while you’re watching TV.
Ice, heat or elevate.
When training intensity and mileage increase, rest days often become a welcomed break from challenging workouts. After a tough week of training, you might find yourself approaching your rest day with a few extra aches and pains.
Take advantage of the down time on your rest day and ice, heat or elevate those sore spots. Try an ice bath for any sharp pains, heat up muscles that are particularly tight, and elevate your legs to promote natural blood flow. These simple recovery measures really help enhance your body’s natural recovery from training and ensure you remain injury free as long as possible.
Spend time off your feet.
One of the best things you can do during a rest day is simple: rest. Although it may be tempting to squeeze in a few miles you missed during the week or make up strength training from when you were sick, treating your rest days as a true off day is likely the most effective thing you can do to enhance your training.
Use your rest day to catch up on some reading, organize paperwork, catch up on emails or binge watch your favorite TV show. These rest days are meant to include time off your feet, providing your body with the activity (or lack thereof) it needs to recharge and prepare for the upcoming week. Enjoy some of your favorite relaxing luxuries guilt free during your rest days!
Fuel your body.
Just because you don’t have a workout scheduled doesn’t mean you need to skimp out on the calories. Your body requires protein, healthy fats, carbs and even some sugars to rebuild those muscles and help you gain strength.
While you might not burn as many calories, filling your body with healthy fuel is just as important on rest days as it is active days. Not to mention the need for hydration as you recover. Find a good mix of healthy snacks, hearty meals and plenty of water on your rest days. Be sure to eat up regardless of your step count.
Plan and evaluate.
A great way to fill your extra time during recovery is to evaluate the previous week of training and prepare for upcoming workouts. Spend time thinking through past workouts – determine how you were feeling, what went well and what didn’t. Use your reflection to help you as you prepare for the upcoming week.
Spend time planning out your workouts to best suit your schedule, and make any adjustments that are needed. Did working out in the morning not happen last week? Plan to run after work instead. Was your foot feeling a little sore after your long run? Spend a little time stretching and icing, and scale back mileage (if necessary) to allow it to fully recover.
Remind yourself of the purpose of rest.
It’s easy to get so focused on feeling unproductive during a rest day that you’re tempted to squeeze in an extra workout. Runners are notorious for being unable to sit still. We thrive on structure and challenge, which is what makes the idea of doing “nothing” sound really awful.
When you’re feeling extra antsy during a rest day, remind yourself of its purpose. While it may feel as if you are doing nothing, remember that your body is making important gains when you are off your feet. Fill your time with activities or tasks that may have been neglected throughout the week, and remind yourself that rest is a crucial component of training.
Whether you’re training to win a marathon or training for your very first 5k, rest days serve a crucial purpose in your training. Incorporate these simple strategies to make the most of your rest days, utilize active recovery, and avoid injuries and burnout.
Rest days provide an opportunity for one of the most important, yet over-looked elements of training: recovery. Make the most of this time and you may even find that sometimes during training, less is more.
More rest day tips and strategies:
- A Guide to Long Run Recovery: What to Do Post-Run
- How to Recover Quickly from a Marathon (or Half)
- 15 Essential Post-Run Stretches for Runners
- The Best Foam Rolling Exercises for Runners