Once you have been running for awhile, it can be more difficult to take rest days than it can to hit the road. And with the mild winter we’re having in Maine, it’s even tougher to pass up any opportunity to run on a warm December day. What’s more, once you become accustomed to the mood boost and feeling of accomplishment that you get from running, the days can feel more stressful without your regular workout.
But rest is a critical ingredient to any workout routine, as it lets the body adapt to the stresses of training and get stronger. Neglect rest, and you risk burning out, getting hurt, and being sidelined for weeks or longer. Many people fear rest because they’re worried about losing fitness. But taking one to two rest days will not undo the hard work you do the rest of the week.
There is more than one way to take a rest day. Here’s are are five ways to work regular breaks into your workout schedule so you stay healthy for the long term.
Do nothing. This can be the toughest way to rest, especially if you look forward to your regular doses of outdoor exhilaration. Studies have shown that time spent in nature helps lower blood pressure, and offers a raft of physiological benefits. To get through a day of total rest, plan a stress-relieving non-running activity to do during the time that you would usually run. Do you usually run at lunch? Schedule a date with a friend, a spa appointment or haircut instead. Use the hour you would run to wrap holiday presents or finally clean out that messy drawer in the kitchen.
Take a walk. As runners we tend to dismiss walking. But walking puts your muscles through a similar motion as running, while giving your legs a break from the pounding. Walking also allows you to get some quality time outside, that you would miss if you were staying in. You don’t have to do a manic power walk to get the benefits. If you find it too tempting to run once you lace up your shoes, try taking a walk in your street clothes. Or walk your errands instead of driving them: return books to the library, drop off your dry cleaning, or knock out some holiday shopping.
Do a mini workout. Want to shake out the muscles to avoid stiffness on your next run? Take a one to two-mile mini workout. Keep the pace slow—resist the urge to speed up the workout to make up for the fact that it’s shorter. Just 20 minutes of easy running is often enough to get the exhilaration of a run. But it’s short enough that you will still be giving your body a break from the impact of regular workouts.
Do something different. Cross-training activities like rowing, paddling, yoga, hiking, and snow-shoeing allow you to work different muscles and develop full-body fitness that ultimately will help your running. They also allow you to give the running muscles a break from the routine, and get you the outside exhilaration that you enjoy during your run.
Build your strength. Strength training boosts metabolism, and ultimately helps you run faster and get fitter. Ideally you should strength train on workout days and reserve your rest days for rest. But busy work and family commitments often make that impossible for many people.
Develop a strength-training routine that you will regularly do. There are many workout options— the most important factor is that it’s convenient and enjoyable. If it feels like a hassle, or you just don’t enjoy it, then you’re not going to keep it up consistently. It’s wise to pick a routine that you can do from home that doesn’t require travel to a gym or special equipment. Some of the most challenging and effective exercises—like pushups, pullups, squats, and planks—require nothing but a little floor space.