Form, pace, and mileage are just one part of running. The other part of the equation might not be what you think! Without rest days, the hard work of training can become harmful in the long run (pun intended!) and you might find yourself injured or overtrained. The harder you train, the more important rest and recovery become. Your body needs rest to recover and get stronger from strenuous workouts. Rest and active recovery are both tools you can use to achieve your goals.
The difference between Rest and Active Recovery
While it may be confusing as they sound quite similar, there is a big difference between rest and recovery days. Rest days do not involve any exercise at all. While it also doesn't mean being a couch potato (you can still do light errands) try to avoid more strenuous tasks like rearranging furniture, washing your car, or scrubbing your whole house down. Focus on resting and relaxing! An active recovery day, on the other hand, will include light activities such as running or cross-training at an easy to moderate level. The function of active recovery activities is to get your blood flowing to your muscles to help them recover.
Why do I need a rest day?
Running causes microscopic tears in your muscles. Rest days allow your muscles to repair the damage and recover from the muscle breakdown. Rest days are essential to becoming a faster, stronger runner and achieving your goals. Mentally, rest days benefit your mind by giving you a break from training and keeping your mind fresh. It also prevents burn-out from over-training and keeps your runs something fun to look forward to instead of a chore you dread.
What to do on a rest day
Rest days don't have to boring and static! Here are some ideas on what you can do on rest days to aid recovery.
- Relax! Kick up your feet and elevate your legs to help with blood circulation. For even better results, lie against a wall and lift your feet at 90 degrees for 3-5 minutes.
- Stretch - whether at home or a yoga class, static and dynamic stretches will keep you limber and flexible.
- Foam roller/Massage - Indulge in a massage, or save your money and DIY it by using a foam roller to massage the tension out of your muscles.
- Soak - soaking in warm water can help relax muscles and loosen stiff joints. Add some bath salts for extra pampering relaxation!
- Leisurely short walk - go for an easy walk around your neighborhood or park to loosen your muscles.
- Rehydrate - Take your rest day to focus on replenishing your fluids
- Sleep - Use your rest day to get a solid night's sleep.
Why do I need active recovery
Active Recovery reduces your risk of overuse injuries and stress fractures. It allows your body to adapt to the training load you have applied. Active recovery can help speed up your body's recovery process after a hard run by increasing blood flow in the legs. Not only can this help flush the lactic acid from your muscles, but it can also cut down on some of the muscle soreness after a long or hard workout.
How to do active recovery
Active recovery can be done through low or zero impact activities such as swimming, yoga, cycling, and strength training. These activities will complement your high-impact running workout demands. Runners who run more than three days per week can use easy runs as active recovery, too. Here are some suggestions on what you can do on active recovery days:
- Do strength training
- Light Cross-training
- Brisk walks
- Playing with your pet or kids
- Any sort of fun sport or activity (not too vigorous!)
The aim is to get moving, but not too much. Remember to take it easy! A fun way to add variety to your training routine is to join different classes for your active recovery days. Check your local gym or sign up for class trial credits such as ClassPass for new workout ideas to mix it up.
When to take rest days and recovery daysOptimal recovery includes both complete rest and active recovery. Scheduling rest and recovery days depend on:
- what type of runner you are
- when you run,
- how long you run for, and
- if you are training for a specific event.