Why is Rest so Important for Runners?

When you’re training for a big race, it’s easy to develop a “no days off” mindset. It might even seem like a good idea.

After all, if you want to perform well during your race, you ought to train as much as possible, right? Not necessarily. In fact, the days you take off from running are just as important as the days you spend training.

Why is Rest so Important for Runners?

Read on to learn more about why rest is so important for runners and what you can do to ensure your rest days are productive and help you reach your goals sooner.

Repair Muscle Damage

When you run, you strain your muscles. This is especially true when you go for long runs while training for a big race like a marathon. This intense training can significantly weaken your muscle fibers.

Your body needs time to rest so that your muscles can repair themselves and get stronger. It’s particularly important to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep after your long runs — most of your body’s repair takes place while you’re sleeping.

Bolster Your Immune System

Frequent exercise with insufficient rest is also a recipe for a compromised immune system. This is because exercise causes inflammation. When the body doesn’t have time to repair the damage caused by exercise, the inflammation persists.

Since inflammation is an immune response, if the body is inflamed from over-exercising, the immune system can’t function properly to fight off germs. This may make you more susceptible to illnesses like colds and the flu.

Remember, if you’re always getting sick, you’re not going to be able to run as much as you might like. This, in turn, will make it harder for you to reach your training goals. It’s better to rest now voluntarily than it is to be forced to rest later.

Reduce Injury Risk

Running too often also increases your chances of experiencing an injury.

If you’re not resting and giving your body time to repair itself, you’re especially more likely to deal with repetitive stress injuries like ankle sprains, iliotibial band syndrome, and patellofemoral syndrome.

In addition to avoiding repetitive stress injuries, regular rest days can also help you avoid some acute injuries.

When you take time to rest, you’ll also have more energy during your runs. This will help you stay alert and avoid tripping or stumbling.

Deal with Long-term Injuries

Rest is especially important when you’ve got a nagging, long-term injury. While it may be tempting to try and push through and get back to your regular training as quickly as possible, this isn’t necessarily the best approach.

You may need to take several rest days, or maybe even a few rest weeks, to give your injury time to heal fully. By taking this time off, and maybe even utilizing mobility aids designed for making getting around easier, you’ll have a greater chance of keeping running a consistent part of your life.

If you try to work through your injury and avoid resting, you could end up sidelined for a longer period of time; you could even permanently hinder your running abilities.

Give Your Brain a Rest

For many people, running is a form of relaxation and stress relief. However, if you’re running too much, you might actually find that you start feeling more stressed out and anxious than before.

This is because overtraining (in any sport) can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Increased cortisol can cause mood swings, sleep issues, and irritability. By giving your body a rest, you may find that you feel happier and more relaxed.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Rest Days

As you can see, there are lots of reasons why you should make rest days a priority. In order to experience the greatest benefits from your rest days, consider giving one of these activities a try:

  • Stretch and/or foam roll
  • Soak in a hot bath or jacuzzi
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get lots of quality sleep

If you absolutely have to move, limit yourself to slow-to-moderately paced walks. This is a form of active recovery that will let you stretch your legs without stressing out your body.

-By James Flemming

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