While exercising regularly is extremely beneficial, it’s important to get the balance right. If you’ve been following one of our training plans, you’ll have noticed there are a few run-free days each week.
Why is this? Are rest days simply a licence to be lazy?
We chatted to David Beard (Exercise Physiologist at Metabolic Health Solutions and WA Chair of Exercise and Sports Science Australia) to find out.
“Any exercise, particularly running, places a stress on the body. It is only when you rest that your body can adapt to get fitter and stronger,” says David.
He shares why taking time out is so important:
When you run, you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. This is why you may experience soreness the day or two after a long or hard run.
In repairing the micro-tears, your body builds more muscle fibres, helping increase your strength and endurance.
However, this response only occurs with time off. Without adequate rest, the body has no opportunity to rebuild and strengthen muscles.
But how long do you need to rest?
It depends on the duration and intensity of your workout, with up to 36-48 hours required to completely repair the damage and rebuild fibres.
Often people are so focused on running as much as they can, prior to an event, that they end up with a stress fracture.
Yes, running is great for your bones. The impact of running stimulates cell turnover and forces the bone to remodel with stronger structures.
But, if you run today, tomorrow and the next day, your bones never have time to fully repair.
The last thing you want is to miss the event due to the pain of a stress fracture!
Unlike muscles, tendons don’t receive a great blood supply, so it takes longer to repair any tendon damage.
If your tendons aren’t given time to recover post-training, the constant tension can cause chronic damage, like tendinitis.
Any sign of constant tendon soreness needs attention from a health professional. Prevention is better than cure, though, making rest days extremely important.
Exercise can be a great form of stress relief for many people.
However, every time you head out for a vigorous run, it increases the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body. This is a natural response to any demand placed on your body and perfectly normal.
Yet, adding a demanding training regime to an already busy life can cause chronically elevated cortisol levels.
It’s okay to have one or two ‘harder’ training sessions in a week, but without rest days to even it out, your stress response can become unbalanced.
A rest day doesn’t mean you have to lay on the couch all day! Giving your sore muscles a break, while activating others, will still help your body recover and strengthen.
If you decide to make today an active rest day, be mindful of taking it easy in your activity of choice.
Gentle exercises like swimming and yoga are good options, as they stretch out your muscles, help you to control your breathing and strengthen your body without applying too much pressure.
Finding the right balance of running and rest is crucial to keeping you motivated.
Incorporating rest days into your training plan can help you turn this routine into a healthy habit for life. as well as an event you’ll remember and want to do again next year.
This content is provided by David Beard, an Exercise Physiologist at Metabolic Health Solutions and WA Chair of Exercise and Sports Science Australia.