The Endurance Dietitian: Why the Rest Day Should Be Part of Your Routine

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on September 25, 2014 , categorized in Active Living, Put Yourself First

rest day

While our personal pace and distance preferences differ, we runners are typically all out there for the same ultimate goal: to constantly seek better. And so we make training calendars and shift social plans.  We push our body to its limits and often are hard on ourselves for not being able to give more. We do speed work and hill repeats. We do fartleks and long runs. And while this rigidity and routine, determination and drive, typically propel the everyday runner into PRs and mile markers, it can be detrimental to us too.

Runners don’t like rest

Because, rest isn’t what us runners do. We run. And so when we identify that our body needs a break, it forces most of us type-A personality runners out there to sometimes miss workouts, adjust our schedules, and be (gasp) still.

Identifying when we’re being too hard on ourselves, when we notice something feeling “off” in our body, and when our fatigue is suddenly extending beyond just the muscle, can be difficult to acknowledge and accept.

Accept that rest days can be hard

Rest is something I’ve personally had to work at, and I think many of you reading this post can share in this sentiment, too. While not the case today, when I first started on my running journey 8 years ago, rest wasn’t part of my vocabulary. The reason? Fitness level.  I was afraid that a day or week from running would inordinately set me back from all I had accomplished to date.

Pushing back lets you push more

The truth is, if done right rest might actually improve your fitness level.  Rest can be an essential part of the training plan, and your recovery process.

Regularly scheduled rest

When I’m building out an 8 or 12 week running schedule I always make sure to incorporate not only rest days per week, but also a lighter week every 4 to 5 weeks of hard training. Why? Rest days and easy runs can give us runners even greater reward; helping, not hurting, performance. Rather than losing fitness, rest days can help to support your strength and endurance.

Rest days versus rest weeks

We ask a lot of our bodies as runners.  For me, a huge sign that rest is important (and even overdue) is when I’m both physically and mentally struggling with my normal runs. It’s during this time that it’s important to step back and remind yourself of your ultimate goals, accepting that it’s OK to miss a scheduled run day or shift around the training calendar.

While rest days during training are important, it’s also important to think of training in cycles, and to incorporate rest weeks throughout the year. The secret to successful rest is to take a break long enough to allow all systems to recharge and signs of fatigue disappear.

Some successful runners build annual breaks into their running. These breaks are not just lower mileage. They are weeks of no running. And while fitness level does decline slightly, and weight may slightly increase, you may come back to the sport stronger and tougher, both mentally and physically.

My favorite ways to incorporate rest                            

  1. Build a rest week (or two) as part of a training plan after completing a large race.
  2. Incorporate active recovery and rest days to ease yourself in, such as a gentle yoga class.
  3. Incorporate one day of complete rest into each week of training.
  4. Revel in the day. Make it a Sunday. Let your body sleep in and your mind rest. Snuggle more with the family and indulge in a yummy brunch. Wear sweats and tell yourself, “It’s OK to watch a trashy TV marathon.” Most importantly remind yourself that you earned it, and that this day is just as important as the 10-miler you had the day before.

Personally I think missing a day or even week of training is better than the alternative – getting hurt and missing the race.

How about you? Do you struggle with rest?

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Kim McDevitt, MPH RD

Kim McDevitt works at Vega as a National Educator. A runner, cooking enthusiast, plant-focused flexitarian, Kim has passionately built her career in nutrition. Noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in Dietetics and Public Health, to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle.

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