Rest and recovery are the most important ingredients in a training programme, and your rest day should be considered a training session, just like any session or interval or long run. – BY RAY ORCHISON, CERTIFIED COACH
Perhaps the most important scientific training principle that leads to improved fitness and performance is the principle of overload and adaptation: “In order for training adaptation to take place, the intensity of the physical activity must exceed that to which the individual is already conditioned. The body must receive a progressive and systematic overloading.” In other words, if we are to become stronger and faster runners, we must stress our bodies beyond our current capacity. However, when we do this, we effectively damage the muscles, by creating little micro-tears in them, and if we do not allow these micro-tears to heal, we do further damage the next time we train or compete, which results in decreased performance and injury.
Therefore, the key to the principle of overload is rest and recovery, which allows the body time to repair these small micro-tears, which in turn makes the muscles stronger and equates to faster and improved performances. Determining exactly how much rest you need is a little trickier, as our bodies are unique. As a rule, regardless of your level of fitness or ability, every runner should take at least one day’s full rest a week. For some runners, however, two days’ rest is required, and if you are just starting out, rather include two rest days in your week. Also, if you’re getting on in years, accept the fact that your body is not going to heal itself as quickly as that of a 20-year-old, so give your body more time to recover.
YOU’LL KNOW WHEN
The key is to listen to your body, then you’ll know when it’s time for extra rest – and you will not lose any fitness or forfeit any progress by taking a rest day. You only stand to gain from rest! The second part of rest is active recovery, when you continue to exercise, but in such a way that you allow the body to continue its healing process. This might entail a swim, bike, gym or aqua-jogging session, where you can continue building endurance or strength, but without using the same muscles over and over. Include one or two of these sessions in your weekly training.
Lastly, be careful not to overstress your body. Running hard every day is a sure way to end up injured, or sick, because your body is not given time to repair itself, so alternate hard sessions with rest, active rest or easy sessions. For example, a hard track session on Tuesday would be followed by an easy 5km run on Wednesday, and a hard hill session on Thursday can be followed by a core workout session in the gym on Friday, or a long, slow run on Sunday followed by a full rest day on Monday.