Rest and recovery is a term we hear very often. Rest is where we stop exercising, training or practising a certain movement or action (in this case, running) for a period of time in order to relax and recover strength. Recovery occurs during rest and it is where we ‘get back’ what we have put in during training. It is the period where we reap the benefits of our effort and our muscles get stronger.

Some people just want to train every day (myself included), with the mentality that if we’re not training, we’re not becoming as good, as fast or as strong as we could be.

Without further ado, here are some reasons to rest to run faster!

#1 – You Get Stronger!

This seems to be a somewhat hard message to accept, but fitness and strength gains all happen when you are resting not when you are training! Although it is true, that the training is required to provide a stimulus for your body to adapt to, it is during rest when your body recovers that the adaptation takes place making you stronger!

#2 – Give your Mind a Break!

Running is just as much mental as it is physical. Having the mental strength to push yourself past the limits of what you might call ‘mortal pain’ allows you to run faster than you would if you ran to the point where the pain is bearable. If you have that mental strength you can get to the point where the pain is unbearably bearable… if you get what I mean! I know, it’s a bit of a paradox.

Anyway, giving yourself a mental break helps to prevent psychological burnout and gear your mind for the next training session so you’re more focused!

#3 – You Reduce your Risk of Injury!

If you get injured, you’re forced to rest usually for a prolonged period of time in which you will likely lose fitness. By resting for a few days, you lose no fitness, if any and if so, it is only slightly diminished. I think it’s much better to rest a bit, frequently than to train as hard as you can all the time and increase your risk of an injury which could put you out anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months (hopefully not longer).

Muscular use during training causes micro-tears in your muscle fibres and muscle tissue. Without adequate rest and recovery, your body will begin to break down. A study looking at 446 endurance athletes found that those who had less than 2 rest days a week during the training season, had a 5.2 fold increased risk of overuse injuries. It’s not worth it!

#4 – It Allows for Full Recovery!

Even pro and elite athletes such as Mo Farah are known to take two week long breaks at the end of the race season. It allows them to fully recover physically and mentally in order to prepare for another hard season of training.

#5 – You Performance won’t Dip

Many runners are worried about losing fitness if they rest for longer than a couple of days. It takes your body, about ten days before you noticeable drops in performance begin to occur. A study focusing on endurance athletes found that after 12 days, VO₂ max dropped by 7% although enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by half. However, once you get back into training these enzymes (succinate dehydrogenase and citrate synthase) will quickly replenish once they are needed and are both used in mitochondrial functioning to produce energy via respiration.

If taking a two week break still worries you, remember lots of elite athletes take two weeks breaks and come back running faster and stronger.

#6 – Your Immune System Recovers

When you think about recovery, you only really tend to think about the physical side, then maybe the mental-psychological part of it. But resting also allows your immune system to recover, because when you train a lot your immune system is constantly working to repair muscles and joints. Without this time for your immune system to recover, you are more prone to injury and have an increased vulnerability to colds and the flu.

Rest for experienced runners vs beginners

If you’ve been running and training consistently for at least a year, you can class yourself as experienced in this case. The point here is that if you’re experienced as your muscles and body have adapted significantly to your training patterns, you can rest with little loss of fitness in order to recover. Just don’t stretch the rest period further and further till you can’t remember when you last ran.

For newer runners, since the body has not adapted in the same way, rest periods should generally be shorter so that your body does not revert so easily more towards it ‘pre-running state’ I guess you could call it.

How many rest days do you typically have a week?