If I asked you the question: how do you get faster? Your first reply probably isn’t going to be ‘Improve your quality of rest’. However, rest for runners is just as vital as the hard workouts and countless miles. If you want to become a better runner, first you have to become a better rester.
More often than not, professional runners are actually extremely lazy. Of course they put in the hard work, putting in two to three workouts a day sometimes. However, when they are not training, they try to do as little as possible. Most of you reading this are probably not professional runners, but the principle stays the same.
We are going to run through a couple reasons as to why you should take your resting more seriously. Whatever goals you are trying to chase with your running – we hope this persuades you to live a little bit of a lazier life. Except for when it comes time to put in the work, of course.
What do we mean by ‘rest’?
The dictionary definition of rest is: to cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep or recover strength. If you take this literally, the implications are pretty apt. If you want to rest then cease work or movement, as the definition states. You can also take two practices of rest from this definition: relaxing or sleeping. Everyone knows what sleep is, and runners should cherish sleep just as much as they cherish running.
When we are in a deep sleep, our body is working hard trying to reset itself after the effort you exerted during the course of a day. During this deeply relaxed state, your muscles are getting stitched back together after all that running you’ve been doing – which causes them to break down. Stitching is actually the perfect analogy here, and we’ll come back to it later. Sleeping also allows your body to reset all the hormone fluctuations you caused the day prior. The more we sleep (therefore rest), the easier it is to return your body back to the status quo.
Thinking about ‘relaxing’ as another form of rest just means taking prolonged periods of inactivity. For example, you may be sitting on the sofa whilst reading or watching TV. This form of rest is also vital for runners. Not all of your recovery occurs during sleep, there is a lot of muscle repairing you can do just by being still. If you up the amount of inactivity in your week (around training), then you up the amount of crucial rest that your body craves during times of intense training.
The physical benefits of rest for runners
For the first of the physical benefits of rest, we’re going to return to the stitching analogy stated earlier. Let’s think of your muscles (especially your leg muscles) as a stitch. When you run, that stitching starts to become loose and breaks down. This is fine, because when it get’s stitched back up it’s going to be a stronger stitch than before. This, in essence, is training adaptation.
If we want our legs to get stitched back up, and to become stronger than before, we need to give them the chance to do so. Rest does exactly that. Whenever you’re sleeping or relaxing your body is slowly stitching your legs back up, stitch by stitch, so they can be ready for the next time they’re needed. If you don’t let your legs rest enough, you’ll be running on incomplete stitches. If you run on incomplete stitches, those stitches are likely to break. Translation: if you run on un-rested legs you are vastly more likely to get injured.
Rest is for more than just muscle repair
When you are training and being highly active, your body releases a lot of stress hormones. These stress hormones allow you to stay in that active state. However, when you are not in this state you need to let your body return to equilibrium. If your stress hormones are too high for too long, your immune system becomes compromised. The longer your immune system stays compromised, the more likely you are to get sick. Again, there is one clear fix to this risk – sufficient amounts of rest.
The final note on the physical benefits of rest are: it gives you the ability to run harder. Well rested legs will do more work for you on a workout/race day than un-rested legs will. I hope this helps to paint a picture as how rest for runners allows their bodies to repair and return to normal. Of course, you can still train hard. Just make sure you structure adequate rest in between hard efforts.
Struggling to structure your training optimally? Or don’t know how to train to beat your personal bests? Head over to our personal training plan page to get a program written specifically for you. Let our experienced and knowledgeable running coach structure your training for maximum progress. Alternatively, head over to our online coaching page for a supportive and hands-on coach to guide you through your training.
The mental benefits behind rest
Running is hard. It can take a lot of mental energy to get out of the door some days. When you are on your final rep of a workout and you’re fighting the urge to slow down – you wear yourself out. It’s quite often people associate running with an elevated attitude and mindset. And it’s true, it’s scientifically proven that exercise raises serotonin and dopamine levels, which usually makes runners some of the happiest folk. However, not allowing yourself time for sufficient rest can lead to severe mental fatigue.
If all you do is run hard, without ever taking time to rest, you’re going to end up hating running. And you shouldn’t hate running, it’s the great free gift that all of us can capitalise on. Take the time to wind down, take your mind off running from time to time and you’ll maintain your love for the sport. It’s really that simple.
In the previous section we mentioned that one of the physical benefits of rest is that it allows you to push harder on your workout/race days. This is also a mental benefit of rest for runners. When you’ve had a day off, you’ll often find yourself chomping at the bits to get out and have a high quality run the next day. I’m sure a lot of you reading this article have experienced this before. Rest between running increases our motivation and eagerness. Motivation and eagerness lead to higher quality runs/workouts, more often than not.
Put it into action
Allow yourself time to rest. Have those lazy Sunday afternoons after your long run. Take that day off on a Friday so you can smash that workout on Saturday. Get to bed for 10pm so you ensure you get at least 8 hours sleep. There are many ways to increase the quantity and quality of rest within your training. So do them. You’ll become a faster, less injured and more motivated runner.
This article was written by our head coach. If you want their insights in helping you reach your running goals then head over to our online coaching page. Alternatively, head over to our personalised training program page, where you can get a custom plan tailored specific to your goals, needs and ability.
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