For many active people, rest isn’t always an easy thing to do. I mean, I get it, if I am aiming for a (insert goal race here), shouldn’t I be out training every day? When motivation is high, it is really easy to want to keep pushing hard every single day, but in reality, that is not what is optimal for performance.
There are a lot of reasons that rest days are important, including some crazy scientific concepts like our hormone, cortisol, and glycogen levels. However, going into the details of all of that would require a rest day for our brain. Looking more at big picture ideas, rest days are necessary for the following reasons:
1. Decreased Injury Risk
Being a runner means that we subject our bodies to a lot of impact. No matter our pace, our bodies are under a significant amount of stress every step that we take. Over time, this stress can build up, causing injuries that can have us taking days, weeks, or even months off. By building in a rest day into our week, we allow our bodies to heal themselves from all of this stress.
2. Long-Term Adaptation
Endurance athletes typically are in the sport for the long term. Even the newly minted marathoner who crosses the finish line saying, “I will never do that again” will often find themselves signing up for another race before long. Long term progress happens when we slightly stress the body, but then give it adequate time to recover, over the span of many years.
3. Preventing Burnout
All things are best in moderation, training included. When we chase goals over the span of years, it is unreasonable to try to be stoked every single day and to relentlessly chase those goals. Rest days can give our brains a break, which often is the most important part of them. Rest days are for doing the things you enjoy - spending time with loved ones, taking your dog for a longer walk, baking cookies, and anything that brings you joy.
All of my athletes are required to take at least one full rest day per week, often more depending on their preferences and life constraints. It doesn’t matter if the athlete is a beginner runner or chasing spots on the podium, the time for rest is vital for all.