How to Maximize Your Rest Days

By: Paige Smith

Many runners underestimate the importance of rest days, and often end up squandering them, or skipping them entirely. Rest days, however, are a crucial component of a good running regimen, and just as key to your development as hard training days.

What Are Rest Days And Why Do They Matter?

A rest day, which involves no running or intense physical exertion of any kind, is different than a recovery day.

A recovery day “can include a workout that is about 30 to 40 percent of the intensity of your normal day (for example, a two-mile easy run versus a four-mile tempo run)," says Amanda Dale, an ACE-certified trainer and sports nutritionist, “or a light version of across-training activity (like a long, leisurely bike ride instead of a track workout)."

Recovery workouts like these are designed to “help flush out heavy or stiff legs," says Elizabeth Corkum, owner of Coach Corky Runs and senior coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, but they don't count as rest.

Resting is necessary if you want to improve your speed, strength, and skill as a runner, not to mention prevent burnout.

“A runner needs to run in order to stress the body and force change," Corkum says, “but the actual change occurs when the athlete rests."

During a rest day your body repairs and rebuilds its muscle tissue, Dale says, a process that helps you gain strength and safeguard your body from injury.

How many rest days you take will depend on your fitness, running history, goals, and schedule, Corkum says. In general you should aim to take one to three non-consecutive rest days a week.

Ready to rest? Follow these six tips to make the most of your day off.

1. Score extra sleep

Sleep is essential to recovery. A quality snooze doesn't just help your body repair after a tough run, it also plays a role in improved cognitive function, good eating habits, and immune health, Corkum says.

“Focus on getting at least seven quality hours the night before your rest day," says Dale. To do this, make sure you go to bed at a decent time and avoid scheduling any early morning meetings or appointments on your rest day.

It's also wise to limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption before bed, as well as your screen time, since the blue light from smartphones and computers can inhibit your melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep.

And though you may be able to sneak in an extra hour of sleep on your rest day, Dale says it's best to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Doing so will force your body to get accustomed to waking up and falling asleep at the same times.

2. Roll out your muscles

“The most important thing you can do on a rest day," says Dale, “is address inflammation and any residual tightness or tissue issues." Foam rolling or rolling your muscles with a tennis ball, she says, can help reduce muscle soreness and improve your joint range of motion.

Other good strategies, she says, include soaking in an epsom salt bath, getting a massage, or practicing restorative yoga. These activities can all help refresh your legs and prepare you to run hard the next day.

3. Fuel yourself properly

Try not to drop your healthy eating habits just because you don't have to plan meals around a workout.

“It's important to fuel the rest day with nutrition that supports recovery and rebuilding," says Corkum. That means prioritizing protein, which she says is necessary for muscle repair, as well as complex carbs, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables.

But don't just eat whatever is in the fridge. Make a point to refuel with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and iron-rich foods, Dale says, like leafy greens, berries, fish, and beans, to help facilitate muscle recovery

 


 

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4. Hydrate well

t's easy to skimp on your water intake when you're not breaking a sweat. But even though you may not be as thirsty on rest days as you are on workout days, Dale says, hydration is critical. “If you drink 100 ounces of water on active days," she says, “you still need about 80 to 90 ounces on rest days to maintain hydration levels for the next day's effort."

Drink a big glass of water right after you wake up, then carry a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day to make sure you're sipping regularly

5. Go the extra mile

A rest day is the perfect opportunity to set yourself up for success in the coming days or weeks. You may want to review your training log to make sure you're on track, do laundry so your favorite running gear is ready to wear, whip up a couple protein shakes to freeze, or map out the route for your next workout.

“I'll research my upcoming race," Corkum says, “look for videos of the race, study the elevation, look back over my training, go grocery shopping and do some meal preparation." These extra steps can help you feel more prepared and excited to tackle whatever is next on your training schedule.

6. Don't feel guilty

“It can be tempting to try to work out every day," says Dale, “but that mentality only leads to injury." Aim to do stronger, more quality workouts four to five days a week, she says, instead of pushing through seven consecutive days of mediocre runs.

If you feel depleted or overly sore, Corkum says you can take an extra rest day to fully recuperate. “Embrace rest days," she says, “and don't feel guilty for taking them."