Why rest is best and how to get it right

Published 8th March 2021 by mymo

Photo credit: Instagram @russell_runner

‘Rest is best’. ‘Rest day brags’. You know rest is good and when you get it right it feels great, so why is it that many runners get this fundamental part of running wrong? 

Resting is a key part of running because it’s the time you get the most adaptation from training. It’s the time you really grow from the miles you’re putting into your legs and the time you spend on the road. While we all know running, strength work and cross-training should form part of a good training plan, how much do we plan rest?

What is a rest day?

It’s exactly as it sounds. Rest days are for resting! While we know it’s hard to be completely inactive if you’re a naturally active person, these are the days to really dial back. A rest day should be a complete break from exercise with the exception of walking and getting some fresh air! 

For marathon runner Russell Bentley, rest days are “A full day off including off work. No cross-training, no stretching, no exercise of any kind. I try to do some conscious relaxing, have an easy walk breathing deeply through my nose, watch some Netflix with popcorn and a beer. I always feel refreshed and ready to go again the next day” … Sounds great to us! 

It’s important to consider that it’s best to leave anything potentially strenuous such as a DIY project out of your rest day too as you will possibly end up working muscles you don’t intend to that will cause a hangover into the next day.

How often should I be resting?

Rest days will vary from person to person and for an individual, may change between cycles of training. Russell Bentley notes that “Physically you can get to a point where going for a run every day doesn’t take anything out of you, it’s more the mental and emotional factor.” 

You might find your body needs more rest if you are training for something longer or if you are doing more high-intensity training sessions. It’s a very individual thing but it’s suggested in ‘Running in the Midpack’ (Bloomsbury) that we should be making time at least once a week for one complete day off running and cross-training - that includes lifting weights. Some more experienced runners take them once every ten days to two weeks, while others need two days off a week. It’s likely your lifestyle and work will also dictate this! 

Psychological rest

Rest days aren’t just a chance for your body to chill and adapt. They are also a really healthy way of taking your mind off running. Whether you’re training for the biggest race in your calendar, or you are just into the routine of regularly running every week, rest days can give your head a break. It’s a good idea to switch off completely from running on a rest day, so don’t spend the day looking back over your Strava from the previous week or planning your next big race day logistics. Your family will also thank you for this! 

Russell added: “Rest days give me that psychological reminder of how to switch off. Less time on social, more time reading, more time hanging with family. I urge people to not feel guilty about it. Training - particularly for a marathon - is not balanced. It’s hard! Factor in some less hard time so you can go further in the long run (pun intended!).”


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