Runners have a strange relationship with rest days. Early in the year, it’s hard to get them to take a day off because they fear they’ll lose momentum. Later in the year, when their training loads are heavier, those same runners might be grasping for days to take a break. But no matter how far along you are in your training, resting is important because it keeps fatigue from building up and lets the body lay a solid foundation for the work to come. Here are five things you can do to rest, refocus and relax when your running schedule calls for a rest day:
- Take a yoga class.
Yoga offers great benefits to runners. For one, stretching and lengthening leg muscles undoes some of the damage caused by repetitively tightening those same muscles when running. Stretching in a structured class environment ensures you’ll stretch your entire body, rather than just those trouble spots like your legs. Perhaps more important, yoga helps clear your head and focus on your breath. When practiced correctly, yoga combines a centering, clearing and calming environment with movement and balance exercises. Together, these factors make yoga the perfect rest day complement to your high-energy daily runs.
I’ve often wondered if I should change the name “rest days” on my running schedules to “focus days.” Off days provide much needed time to think and reflect on your progress, your goals and your motivation for running. As the months wear on, failing to take a break to check in with yourself can ultimately lead you to a sad state called burnout. As a runner for nearly my entire life, I look forward to rest days to reflect on how I’m doing, talk with friends about their running and make sure things are on track for my season. Spending some time quietly reflecting on the joy of running goes a long way when it comes to recharging our mental batteries and allowing us to do more when we get back to it the next day.
For runners who have too much energy to simply sit and think, I suggest lacing up some walking shoes and heading to the woods, a park or near a body of water for a stroll. By getting out and moving, you’ll get a bit of your fix for doing something. And, walking’s low intensity won’t set you back in your body’s need for rest. Add to that the calming nature of the outdoors and you have a perfect rest day activity. Just make sure you don’t overdo it by walking for hours and hours.
Hardcore runners share a secret: They know napping is a great way to supercharge recovery. If you’ve got the time set aside on your calendar for your workout anyway, use it to grab a 20- to 30-minute power nap. Sleep is extremely refreshing for the body and mind, but many of us don’t snooze enough in the first place. Naps can also be super important in the taper phase of a marathon training program (two to three weeks before the race) when your body is working overtime to consolidate all the gains of your training. Keep your naps short so you don’t interfere with your overnight sleep schedule.
What list of things to do on rest days would be complete without giving you permission to just take the day off? If your inner voice is telling you to watch a movie or go to the electronics store to look at computers, do it. We can all be refreshed in different ways. It may be that taking a yoga class or going for a hike would feel to you like “just one more thing” to do. If that’s the case, listen to that feedback inside you.
Remember, runners: Rest days play a key role throughout the year in refreshing and refocusing your mind and body. Embrace them! May you run longer and more motivated all year long. This is a great article by Joe English and has some excellent advice for all athletes not just runners.