“Should I take a rest day?” Is a question that plagues all runners at some point in their running career. For type A, overachieving types, which many runners are, it can be more difficult to take a day of rest than go on a run. The thoughts, “what if I lose my edge?” or “I need to get in x number of miles this week” or “I won’t get stronger if I rest” plague runners. It doesn’t help that we often hear advice telling us to go longer, faster and more intense. However, sometimes to do our best, what we really need is rest, not more running.
This week I had to heed that advice as I tweaked my ankle when I was running in the 10K last weekend. I tried to continue running on it for three days, but the pain became more intense with each run. After my run on Wednesday night when I had to hobble down the stairs afterwards, I knew that a rest day was in order.
But how do you know when you should take a rest day and when you should push through? Ask yourself the following:
Does anything hurt? You know the difference between delayed onset muscle soreness in your muscles after a tough workout and a sharp pain that indicates an injury is lingering. If you have any sharp pains or any area that feels worse after your run, take a day off and follow RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation to heal the area.
Are you mentally burned out? We’ve all had days in which we didn’t feel like working out, but if you find yourself consistently dreading your workout or if you are having trouble focusing either take a day off of running or mix it up with yoga or weight training.
Do you find yourself constantly sore? At one point I was running so much my legs were sore each and every day. I began to forget what it was like not to have muscle soreness. This didn’t allow any room for me to get stronger because I was constantly breaking down my muscles, but not allowing them to recover. We get stronger in the recovery, so it’s essential for fitness.
Are you sick? Studies have shown that the immune system is compromised after running a marathon distance, which can increase the chances of a running getting the flu or cold. If you feel sick, it’s best to take a rest day now, than keep running and continue to compromise your immune system. You will do much better over the long run if you take a rest day early than continue to push through illness.
Research shows that taking seven to ten days of rest will not significantly diminish fitness. Many studies have found that there is little reduction in VO2 max in days following inactivity. In fact, even up to two weeks after running V02 max only decreased by six percent. The benefits of rest outweigh the detriments, as you will gain strength, prevent injury and possibly come back even stronger after a few days of rest. The hardest part will be preventing yourself from going on a run during those days you need off!
Have you ever had to take rest days due to injury or illness? How did you decide if you should rest or push through?