The benefits of rest days are widely published, but do you really need to schedule a rest day each week?
The short answer is, it depends on your goals. I exercise for my general health and I try to exercise most days of the week. Sometimes work, family, and personal conflicts steal a day or two of exercise from me each week. So my rest is not planned, but inserted into my program as my personal schedule demands.
But there is also a big difference between my training and a performance training program, which incorporates high intensity and high volume workouts to set PBs and achieve greater heights in physical performance. Runners with performance goals need to incorporate rest into the weekly schedule to allow the body to recover. It takes your body nearly 48 hours to recover from a hard effort. Sometimes, that may require “exercise abstinence” – a day of no activity. Other times, a low intensity alternate activity, like swimming or yoga, could give your body a break from running. The definition of rest may be relative.
Rest also includes sleep – an adequate volume and quality of sleep will improve training and performance. Good nutrition is also essential to keep you running well.
If you are training well, not getting injured, and achieving your performance goals, you may be safe to take a rest day when you feel you need. However, if you start to break down, add a designated rest day to your schedule.
As with all training tips, it’s worthwhile remembering the “pancake story.” A top age-group runner came into the hotel café on race morning and ordered a stack of pancakes. He devoured the cakes and asked for seconds. Other runners seeing his fueling strategy also ordered and ate pancakes. As he was leaving someone shouted out, “Good luck today,” to which he replied, “Oh, I am not running today, I injured my leg yesterday. I am headed out to watch the race.” Point being: Do what works for you and do not copy your buddy (or rival), as there is no “one size fits all” in training.