When starting out in endurance sports, it is generally accepted that you need to train for time and distance. Collectively, we want to improve how long we can maintain a certain speed. Although the recovery aspect is often mentioned by coaches, a lot of new endurance athletes do not understand the importance of a rest day. As you will often hear any Davey Black Triathlon Coach say, “do your hard days hard and your easy days easy”. This blog explains why this saying is such a high-level philosophy in any Davey Black Triathlon training program.
To define it in simple terms, a rest day is a day where athletes reduce their physical activity to as minimal as possible without just vegging on the couch and watching TV all day. On a rest day, you do not train. Your objective is simply to rest. You may keep the body moving by going for a short relaxing walk, or shooting hoops with the kids, but the goal is to minimise your activity.
Despite what most athletes think, physiologically, the body is designed to value the effort as much as it does the rest. Think of your house cat, sitting in the couch most of the day but capable of running up to 30 kms/h or jumping impossible heights. Rest becomes as important as training. This is the time where your body repairs the broken tissue from your previous sessions, adapts to the new aerobic demands and prepares itself for the next challenge. Rest becomes the perfect balance to training, allowing your body the time and space it needs to come back stronger than it was while you were breaking it down by training hard.
Most athletes tend to forget the importance of these days. Even the best athletes tend to forget about the importance of having an easy day. In the same way as specific training days have set parameters in terms of speed, technique, form, strength, etc., a rest day also comes with specific rules that need to be followed. Some of them might change depending on your program and the way your coach plans your session, but overall there are important rules to try and adhere to on rest days.
Rest Days Are For Resting
A rest day doesn’t mean that it is the day to hammer out all the other chores or stay up to all hours to catch up on work. If it can be avoided, try to bring your body to a relaxing stop. If you are still stressed from work, your body won’t have the chance to recover from your physical efforts. If you stop training but keep stressed about any other aspect, your body will keep on producing cortisol and adrenaline, slowing your recovery process.
Cross Training is Not Resting
If you are meant to be resting from your sports specific training, then don’t replace it the other sports or high energy activities. Make sure that you are allowing your body to rebuild and relax from your everyday effort.
Rest Days Are Not Zero Days
When mentioning a rest day means doing nothing, we need to define ‘nothing’. A rest day doesn’t mean staying in bed all day watching movies. It means that your activities should focus on recovery, an easy walk around the neighbourhood is completely fine. It is all about finding that balance for your body.
Recover in Recovery Weeks
If your coach is writing your program around your work and life balance, then they may add in a whole recovery week when your training load reaches a certain level. A rest-week may come every 3 to 4 weeks for athletes that consistently train week in week out. For athletes with busier life schedules who can’t make every session every week, then these rest weeks may only come periodically, or may only comprise of 3-4 days. When you do get a rest week, try to sleep and relax more every day. Make sure that you complete the recovery sessions at the recovery intensity that is programmed to get the most out of your recovery week. This will mean that you are fresh and ready to lift the efforts in the quality sessions that are ahead.
So how do you know if you need a recovery day or a recovery week? Stay in touch with your coach and make sure they know if you are not getting much sleep, if work is stressful or if the kids are driving you crazy. All these things cannot be seen by a coach through training platforms such as TrainingPeaks. The only way your coach will know is if they can see your tiredness at a session, or if you let them now if you are training remotely. Listen to your body and if you experience one or more of these symptoms, it means that you need to allow your body to recover;
- Trouble sleeping
- Higher than usual resting heart rate
- Altered hunger, eating more or less than the usual
- Muscular pain that does not subside as quickly as normal
Not using your rest days wisely will take you to a point of discomfort that might end up in an injury due to overuse. Soft tissue injuries are just one example of what can happen if you insist on neglecting the importance of rest in your training plan.
Finally, remember that rest days are just one of the many strategies you have at your disposal when thinking about preparing for any endurance event. Other good strategies are proper sleep, nutrition, stretching, yoga, S&C, a healthy social life, balanced work stress, a proper work/life balance, and even active recovering such as walking. Endurance sports are a lifestyle, and as such they require to be balanced with a proper recovery process.