For most workout junkies the term rest day, is one of the most difficult phrases for workout junkies to endure or even say.
The very thought of not exercising for one day sends our minds spinning in a million directions—none of which are pleasant. It’s almost as if taking one day off will send our bodies into immediate turmoil.
The truth is, all athletes—from beginners to experienced—need to take rest days. Even Olympic athletes are told to take days off from their regular workout regimen.
Rest days are the time when our body repairs muscles and these days are just as important as hard workout days. Not fully allowing our muscles to rest can cause fatigue, soreness and injury.
For runners, it is wise to take at least one to two days off per week. When we make our bodies participate in hard workouts, it causes small tears in the muscles fibers that only rest time can rebuild. If we don’t take the time to let the muscles rebuild themselves, we are prone to shin splints, soreness or even stress fractures—all injuries that will cause immediate long-term time off.
For me, rest days are difficult. For some reason I need daily adrenaline to feel human. I used to be the person who would plan on having a rest day and then find myself lacing up my shoes and sneaking out for a quick five-mile run before the afternoon arrived.
It took me years to fully understand the importance of rest days. Like always, I was sore from running over 10 miles each day, but continued to do it daily. The pain started to worsen and one day my left leg became super sore as I finished up my run. Throughout that afternoon I got to the point that I couldn’t put weight on that leg and by the next morning it was evident that something was seriously wrong.
A trip to a Med-Plus and several x-rays later revealed that I had indeed pushed myself so far that my left foot had a stress fracture. The doctor gave me crutches and instructed me to stay off my feet for a month with no running for at least one more month after that.
That news was shocking. Even though my children had to help me walk into the office that day, for some reason I was hoping for better results. Part of the reason this was hard to hear was because I’d brought this injury on by myself. Because of my stubborn mind and not listening to instructions, or my own body, I was being told not to participate in my favorite sport, and I wasn’t even allowed to walk.
It was during this brief time off—which seemed like an eternity for me—that I began to study about the importance of rest days. I taught myself that instead of dreading this time away from the gym, I needed to embrace it, and think of it as an important part of my life.
If the thought of completely resting for an entire day is daunting for you, try doing other activities. I’ve learned that rest days can be spent stretching, walking, doing yoga or using an elliptical or bicycle, as long as the activity is not strenuous. It is also a day to drink plenty of fluids and continue to eat protein and carbohydrates for the following day’s workout.
Resting is an essential part of life and a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. Since I’ve started incorporating rest days, I’ve found that my muscles fatigue less and my running has improved. Just like it’s almost impossible to work all day after a sleepless night, it’s just as hard for our bodies to workout with tired, sore muscles.
So, give it a break. Take days off. Rest and watch your body improve both mentally and physically.
Author: Jill Carr
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock