To run faster, faster, every athlete needs to incorporate two critical training principles into their program.  The first is a personalised, adaptive and varied training program.  The second is adequate and timely rest.

The vast majority of athletes understand the importance of the training sessions themselves, but far less really understand the role recovery plays as part of their program.  As a result, athletes often overwork themselves, believing that constant physical activity is the fastest way to achieve results.  This approach can quickly lead to overtraining, fatigue and eventually injury, all of which put the entire training program at risk of failure.

Train with rest in mind

Intense training causes damage to muscle fibres.  Putting too much repetitive strain on the muscles (overtraining) can cause injury, decrease performance, weaken the body’s immune system and more.

Rest involves taking time away from intense training to allow the muscles in the body to heal.  During rest periods, muscles have time to recover and rebuild, growing in strength and size.  So in reality, running faster actually happens the moment you put your feet up!

Another important reason for including rest days in your training program is to promote joint health.  Due to the constant impact of running on the joints, resting is critical to allow them to heal and prevent injury.  A rest day allows the body to absorb the training that has just occurred, and prepare itself for the next session.

Distance running also takes quite a toll on the immune system.  A medical study in 2003 found that the body trauma experience by distance runners led to a lowered immune system, increasing their risk of illness and infection.  A rest day gives the body an opportunity to recuperate and keep its defences healthy.

Rest days also allow for the body to re-energise, replenishing glycogen stores within the muscles and the liver.  For distance runners, glycogen is one of the most important forms of energy with the average human body only able to run for 20 miles before its glycogen stores are depleted.

When training intensely for several days straight, the body’s glycogen levels can drop dangerously low, which could cause an athlete’s muscles to lock, often referred to as ‘bonking’.  Rest days allow the body to replenish its glycogen stores keeping future training on track.

The challenges of a rest day

The first challenge many athletes face when taking their rest days is not knowing what to do.  However, even on a rest day, it’s still important to stay active.  Try taking a walk or stretching to soften the muscles without straining the body.

The second challenge many athletes face is staying hydrated.  Without the structure and routine of a training day, drinking those 8 glasses of H2O can suddenly become a chore.  But keeping those damaged muscles hydrated is essential if you are to maximise your return on training investment.

Finally, athletes should pay close attention to their nutrition, as what is consumed on rest day is the fuel used to repair the body.  If you’re not sure what to eat check out our simple nutrition for athletes guide.

In summary, it’s important to think of rest and recovery days, not as being separate to your program, but as being an integral and essential part of your training that will ultimately assist you in achieving your goals.

Run Theory’s training programs are designed with rest in mind, while machine learning continually monitors your fatigue, adjusting training load and optimising your recovery.  The result is an intelligent coaching experience that carefully balances both the physical training and the requisite recovery to help you run faster, faster.

You can download Run Theory’s intelligent running and recovery coach on iOS and Android, or find out more at www.runtheory.com/sunrun.