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08 Nov, 2018

Rest vs Active Recovery

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Speed work, long slow runs, hill repeats and strength work are all important aspects of a training programme, but the most important element is recovery, when we gain the benefits from those workouts. – BY RAY ORCHISON, REGISTERED COACH

The body is an incredible creation, with many built-in sensors and monitors designed to ensure that the cells and internal systems function at an optimal level, otherwise known as homeostasis. The moment we take the body above this optimal level, however, alarms begin to trigger. Basically, your body goes into a state of panic and forces you to either slow down or stop completely, so that homeostasis can be maintained.

This has significant implications when it comes to training. The body will only maintain the resources it feels are needed in order to survive, which means that if we keep doing the same things, we’ll never improve. We must therefore push the body outside of the current homeostasis level in order to improve, and then the body begins to create more resources so that it is not placed under the same stress next time. This process is called super-compensation.

However, one cannot simply keep pushing the body each day and expect it to simply throw more resources at the problem and keep shifting the homeostasis levels. This will eventually lead to a breakdown of the body, and it won’t be long before you are injured or sick. This is where rest and recovery come into the picture, when the body adjusts to a new homeostasis range.

Rest is Best
Rest can be seen as either complete rest from any form of exercise, or as active recovery, where you continue to exercise but at a greatly reduced level. This can either be some form of light cross-training, or very easy running at a pace 30 to 45 seconds per kilometre slower than normal easy pace. If you’ve just started running, you should look to have a complete rest day every second to third day. Once your muscles start to strengthen and your body begins to develop the various enzymes and resources required for running, you can gradually push these rest days out a little. You might start with three rest days a week for six weeks, then reduce to two rest days for four weeks, and ultimately to one rest day per week going forward.

For a more experienced runner, there really are no rules when it comes to complete rest days. I am by no means suggesting that you should do more running and less resting, but sometimes in order to reach new levels, the body needs to be stretched just a little bit more. Listening to your body therefore becomes crucial, but as a rule of thumb I suggest at least one full rest day a week. One of the challenges with running is that you continually use the same muscles in a very similar way, which sometimes results in overuse injuries, and thus ensuring that you get adequate recovery from your training sessions is crucial. Rest and recovery days are therefore also ‘training days,’ so be sure to plan recovery days into your programme.

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