How many times a week do you run? How many days do you have when you don’t run? Do you look at people doing running streaks with envy because you know your body couldn’t take it? Getting the balance between running and resting isn’t always easy but it is very important.
What happens when you rest?
Despite what you may think, it isn’t when you run that you get fitter. It’s afterwards, when you’re resting. During your recovery hours, your body heals the stresses caused by running and strengthens itself so it can perform even better the next time. The micro tears in your skeletal muscle fibres are repaired, joints adapt to the impact they’ve been under and inflammation settles. This process of stress, repair and strengthen is what makes us fitter. Missing out the repair and strengthen bit eventually leads to body breakdown.
How many rest days do I need?
The balance between running and rest is a very individual thing. It often takes a lot of trial and error and most runners will get it wrong from time to time. Overtraining can lead to injury, illness and reduced performance. Plenty of runners seem able to cope with running daily and just having an overnight rest where as others seem to need frequent days off. Neither is right or wrong.
There are some situations when more rest is required:
New runners. Many a seasoned runner could easily cope with five runs per week but when you’re a beginner, your body is undergoing huge adaptations. It’s best to include plenty of rest days when you’re starting your running journey and avoid repeatedly running on consecutive days.
Older runners. Our repair processes slow down as we age. We may need to adapt the frequency of our running and take more recovery days. Many women find that during the peri-menopause they become more achey after exercise and need a bit more rest.
Training intensity and distance. Obviously, it’s not just how many days we run that we have to factor in, it’s what we run. Speed sessions, hill repeats, long mileage and races place much more strain on our body than a gentle cruise round a 5k. If you’re racing frequently or following a progressive plan, you’d be wise to think about adding in an extra rest day to allow for the increased demand you’re putting on your body.
Life events. Something I’m always going on about is getting runners to look at the big picture and what else is going on in their lives. Maybe you’ve always been fine on four runs a week but suddenly your job becomes super stressful, your parent is ill and your child is having problems at school. Life can really take it out of you and you need to factor that into your running plan. Dropping a run or two a week in the short term might just give your body the best chance of keeping strong and healthy.
Getting the rest-run balance right
If you’re feeling good, enjoying running and making the progress you want, then your recovery is probably adequate. If you’re finding runs harder than you feel you should, getting injured or really cranking up the weekly miles, think about adding in another rest day.
Listen to what your body is telling you. Be flexible with your training plans. Keep an eye on your energy levels, amount of sleep you’re getting and any niggles. Acting early when you feel a bit overtired or unwell can help prevent longer spells off running. Rest and recovery days are not a time to feel guilty, they’re an essential part of getting and maintaining fitness. We should plan them and embrace them.
How many times a week do you run? Do you think you allow enough recovery days? Are you on a massive run streak and feeling great? I’d love to hear you opinions. Leave me a comment here or on social media.
There are hundreds more running questions answered in my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. It’s packed with tips and advice for every level of runner.
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