With the summer quickly rushing by, many of us are at full throttle in either taking advantage of the hot weather to run, bike or swim in an attempt to maintain that “summer beach body.” Others among us are training for events. Some for their first marathon. Others for their umpteenth marathon or the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure, or whatever event they’ve decided to put on their fall calendar. For still others, the family vacation event is that one chance to slow down from work, actually start AND finish that workout program they’ve been trying to stick to, if only for one week.
Regardless of where you might find yourself, the demanding urgency of physical training late in the season often leaves out or neglects an essential piece of the puzzle, namely REST. The rest component of a training program is an equally demanding and high priority item in the schedule, that is often neglected due to its dismissal as non-essential.
Why is rest so important to a runner and how much rest is considered sufficient?
Many of us runners, swimmers, bikers and other assorted forms of fitness enthusiasts are aware that rest is important, just like we know that drinking a lot of water is important, but applying that knowledge is the trick. Rest is essential for two reasons: physiological recovery and in non-technical terms, “mental zoom.” The physiological stress of exercise increases heart health, develops lung power, breaks down muscle fibers, and utilizes fat stores. The end goal is a healthier, stronger you. That process however, also requires time to rebuild and recover in order to come back stronger. When insufficient time has been devoted to that recovery process, the body is simply not able to handle the stress of the next workout and injury becomes a very real eventuality. The second reason is “mental zoom,” which we will define as the psychological component that drives you to exercise (some more than most!) as well as to exercise smartly. What does that mean? The rest days allow you to sufficiently assess how you are feeling and whether or not you need to back down. In addition, simply by giving your body a chance to recover allows you to feel more refreshed, which leads you to be more driven and focused, and results in a better, stronger and safer workout.
So how much rest is enough? For the majority of people, a general recommendation is to either take a day of total rest or to include easy workout days into your training program. This may either be your normal activity or it might be cross training. For runners, this might look like a leisurely swim or bike ride a couple of times per week. Change up your routine and be creative with it! For those of you who exercise a little less frequently or who are adopting the “vacation workout plan,” is rest still important? Yes!
Getting the proper amount of rest in is not going to be as critical as it is for the more avid workout crowd, but it is going to be important nonetheless in preventing injury as your muscles need time to adjust to the increased stress placed on them and remaining injury free is going to be important in maintaining your workout program. As a general rule, an increase of about 10% of your workout load per week will help to steer clear of those overuse injuries. So for those of you trying to cram a year’s worth of exercise into one vacation week, don’t do it – exercise smartly! Lastly, although this may seem obvious, it is worth repeating – make sure to get your seven or eight hours of sleep!
Play hard – Rest well – and have fun doing it!!
- Vacation workouts: no pain, no gain; no rest, more pain (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Runners Learn to Realize Their Training Limits (online.wsj.com)
- Slow down to go fast (theglobeandmail.com)