4 reasons why rest days are important

Basically, there’s a lot to get done. So when you see the word “rest” on your schedule, it’s easy to breeze over.

Why would you do nothing when there’s always something to cross off the list?

The answer is simple: Not running is just as important as fitting in that long run.

Rest days help strengthen your body, sharpen your focus and reinvigorate your spirit so that you actually want to keep training.

“Rest is not a four-letter word to be ignored,” says Kevin Vincent, doctor and director of the University of Florida Running Medicine Clinic.

“The big reason you need it is recovery and recuperation. Every time you run, your body has to adapt to get stronger.”

Read more: 10 signs that you need a rest day!

That’s because when you run, you aren’t just building stamina and strength. You’re also breaking your body down, causing a tiny amount of tissue damage.

Allowing yourself time to recover afterward is what makes it possible for you to come back better next week, next month, next race.

“As much as athletes focus on their volume of training and the speed at which they do workouts, what they do outside of running is equally important to becoming stronger and more resilient in the future,” says Adam Tenforde, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehab at Harvard University, and former distance runner.

Bonnie Marks, psychologist at the NYU Sports Performance Centre, agrees. “If you don’t have time to recharge, it can lead to staleness and general apathy about training.”

Read more: The overtraining matrix

In other words, rest right and you’ll run better and be healthier. Skip it, and you’ll slowly fall apart.

Follow these training tweaks and build a stronger – more rested – you.

Help your muscles recover from hard workouts with this foam rolling routine:

Whether you’re a recreational runner or regularly training, there’s value in taking at least one day off each week – even if you’re doing a run streak. That off day is when your body uses nutrients and undergoes biological processes and hormone cycles to rebuild itself, says Tenforde. Here, four more reasons to chill:

1. Your muscles bounce back

When you run (or do any exercise), you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibres, and your body likes those about as much as you like trying to open a sweaty GU packet.

So it responds by rebuilding your muscles stronger, in preparation for the next session.

The catch: That response only happens with time off. Dr Vincent says that, depending on the length and intensity of your workout, the body needs a minimum of 36 to 48 hours to reboot.

Without it, the body has no opportunity to rebuild and strengthen muscles; they just continue to break down. That negates all the hard work you put in.

2. You avoid stress fractures

If you’re trying to sidestep an injury (and, um, who isn’t?), rest is crucial. Running is great for your bones – the impact stresses the tissue and, just like a muscle, that increases cell turnover and forces the bone to remodel with stronger structures, says Dr Vincent.

“But if you run today, tomorrow and the next day, it never has time to fully repair.”

Eventually, you could be looking at a stress fracture – and a season on the sidelines.

Read more: 6 common injuries you should never train through

3. Tight tendons are protected

Tendons are connective tissues that hold the muscle to bone, so they work constantly as the body moves. But blood doesn’t get to them easily, so they take longer to repair than tissues that have higher vascularity (like muscles), explains Dr Vincent.

If they don’t get that time, the constant pounding can cause chronic damage, like tendinitis – which is inflammation from overuse.

4. Your brain has time to chill

Yes, running is a form of stress relief. But every time you lace up, it increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body.

Why? “The body doesn’t know if you’re running away from danger or if you’re running for fun,” saysDr  Vincent.

That cortisol bump can cause mood issues, irritability, sleep problems and other health issues if stress levels are chronically high, says Marks.

Think of it like a scale: Overtrain, and you’ve tipped too far in one direction; schedule regular rest days, and you’re back in balance.

This article was originally publised on www.runnersworld.co.za

Image credit: iStock