Runners Take a Rest Day

 In Running

Runners Take a Rest Day

Many runners know that they should do it more often and then feel bad when they finally do it. I’m referring to most runners’ struggle to simply take a ‘day off’ or to schedule and take a ‘rest session’.

The majority of runners find it incredibly difficult to take a day or session off from their training. They fear losing fitness and what has been hard-earned physical conditioning by not training. A runner who is forced to stop running for any length of time will often develop withdrawal symptoms. The runner (or the runner’s spouse) will immediately commence searching for anything that will allow the runner back to their much loved running training! The very thought of not running for a day or several days in a row, or perhaps sticking to a very easy recovery training run, can create unfounded fears and anxieties in the minds of many runners. Ironically, taking a day off from training is an imperative step in the quest of any runner who is legitimately looking to run pain and injury free and faster. You can only ignore rest for so long before the effects of not taking it catch up with you.


If you’re targeting a specific running goal, you tend to spend considerable time in training testing yourself and pushing your limits, training with a ‘hard’ intensity and also training frequently. With a running event looming, most runners in training are all too aware of the fact that they ‘only have x amount of weeks’ until the event.

Your experience with training will normally lead you to draw the conclusion that more running (greater distance and frequency) tends to correspond with improved performance. So your default training maxim becomes ‘if a little is good, more training must be better’. While this maxim will hold true with your training for quite a while, at a certain point the ‘put in and get out’ relationship no longer exists as a 1:1 ratio. Let me explain.

The body has in-built repair mechanisms that track the damage that training produces in the body. The mantra of ‘if a little is good, more must be better’ holds true when the repair mechanisms can keep up with the micro damage that training produces within the body. Often the beginner runner will be able to build, and build, with their training with no obvious damage to the body being accrued, making the runner feel like an almost endless degree of increase in training is possible. However, for both the beginner and the seasoned runner – who are both pushing hard in training, seeking fitness and performance gains – a threshold of ‘too much’ training will eventually be crossed if the training program continues to increase in distance and/or intensity.


This threshold is crossed where doing more training in terms of frequency and intensity does not correlate to better running performance – in other words, input or effort is not reflected by the output in the performance that follows. When this mismatch of input and output occurs, the runner can very easily become discouraged, disappointed and at times disillusioned. Many runners begin to look for factors that may have contributed to their lacklustre or less than expected performance in training or competition. The under-performing runner will often consider everything and anything before they consider that they may in fact be over-training and not factoring in enough rest into their training. Often times, the concept of not scheduling enough rest isn’t even considered and is completely over-looked by the under-performing runner..

It is little wonder that an ‘easy recovery run’ is sometimes forgotten or replaced by yet another hard effort. Turning down the pace on a training run seems logical as a concept, yet in practice can be extremely difficult. Not running slow enough on easy days is an extremely common error that many runners make. In the same fashion, a common running coaching axiom is to remind athletes to not run their fast runs too slow and their recovery runs too fast! Many runners will get this wrong in training – instead racing in what should be steady runs and not having enough zip to put into what should be their faster sessions.

In order to truly experience pain- and injury-free running you cannot afford to overlook the power of rest. Appropriate rest must be factored into a training program. In his highly regarded Lore of Running, renowned medical doctor and exercise physiologist Dr Tim Noakes sums up the need for caution and adherence to rest by quoting Arthur Newton (a remarkable ultra-marathoner whose career spanned from 1922 to 1935): ‘perhaps one of the chief points is to regulate your training so as to be sure of always being on the safe side: even the least sign of overdose will surely lead to trouble’.

So this week schedule a REST day and ENJOY it!

Brad Beer (APAM)

Physiotherapist, Author You CAN Run Pain Free, Founder POGO Physio


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