Recovery Day For Runners -
Take Advantage of the Benefits of
By Dale Guilford
Light Days and Rest Days
There are as many different types of runners
as there are people who run. But one misconception that many runners hold in
common is a work ethic that too often precludes rest.
runners have to be held down in order to get the rest the body requires. Sooner
or later that will come by way of injury or overtraining syndrome. For those
runners, understanding that rest and recovery does not mean doing nothing, can
break through the mile-aholic's misconceptions and change training habits for
For starters, we need to differentiate
between rest and recovery days and light workout days. They are
two different things.
Rest and recovery days are just that.
They are days primarily designed to rest and recover. Healthy runners need rest
maybe once per week, or even just once or twice a month. Obviously injuries,
illness, aging, staleness, increases in distance or intensity, and overtraining
can create demands for more rest.
Although rest is needed, it is still
important to remain active on those days. The body, just like the mind, needs
stimulation every day. Even after a grueling marathon, many people find it's a
good idea to move around, maybe take a walk, as early as the day after to avoid
Even people who suffer heart attacks are
encouraged to get out of bed and move around as soon as possible. On rest and
recovery days it is important to avoid doing the worst thing you can do for
your body ... nothing.
Examples of rest and recovery activities are
walking, static stretch exercises (after a warm-up and loosening-up period),
swimming, water running, and riding a bike.
Keep in mind that increasing respiration and
heart rate to a level just slightly above normal and challenging your range of
motion are generally good things to do almost any time. Rest is a variable to
apply in response to the feedback your body gives more, or less, but
Light workout days are days in which
you are actually working out. The difference is that your activities are
lighter, less demanding and generally performed at a lower level of intensity.
Or the activities are executed at a high level of intensity for a much shorter
period of time.
Light workout days are just as important as
heavy workout days. They allow development to take place without breaking
yourself down and acquiring overuse injuries, experiencing training plateaus,
and developing a generally stale, flat, bored attitude that can come from doing
the same thing day after day. In short, the light days make the heavy days
They should enhance and complement your more
intense workouts. They can and should be equally enjoyable. If your workouts
include heavy days and light days in proper sequence, you should not need as
many rest and recovery days.
An important guideline for light workout
days is variety. Providing a change in the workloads to shock the system, is
what is important. When changing the emphasis on workouts from heavy to light
workout days there are a number of things that can be accomplished. Some
training objectives that are good to consider on light workout days are
flexibility, developing range of motion, improving running form, strength
training, hill running, and speed interval training.
If you can, schedule the same amount of time
to train on light days as heavy days. A good idea is to spend less time on the
track on light days and spend the balance of your training time with strength
training. Strength training can improve running times right away.
Of course there are many other benefits from
strength training, such as injury prevention, improved bone density, and
increased range of motion that research has shown to help people well into
Even a little strength training can convey
major improvements. There is a plethora of strength training activities and
exercises that can be done with no equipment at all. Weights and exercise
equipment can be helpful but are not necessary.
Light days can also provide the opportunity
to work on running form. Training to improve running form is very important for
two reasons. It can help you to move more efficiently and therefore improve
your times right away. Even the most advanced runner can improve his form.
While improving your running times may not
be important to you, improving running form still has important benefits. If
your form is more linear and more stable, it can help prevent injuries.
Start out by jogging for a short distance or
complete some other activity that will thoroughly warm your body up. Then
continue for short distances, concentrating on one element of running form that
will improve your efficiency.
You may need to consult a trainer or
strength and conditioning coach for an analysis of your form and constructive
criticism for means to improve it.
A similar procedure can be followed while
executing hill runs. Hill runs are great for developing strength as well as
adding variety to cardiovascular training. Bleachers or stadium steps can be
used if there are no hills where you live. However, it is important to remember
to concentrate on running form when running hills and stairs.
Many runners will sacrifice form for what
they think is speed when they are making an all-out effort. An all-out effort
is not necessary when executing hill runs. Run as slowly as necessary to
maintain good running form. Increased strength and, as a result, speed will
Sprint build-ups or interval work can be
incorporated into your light day running workout in a similar way. Start out
with a light jog. After you warm up, gradually build up speed until you don't
feel like running fast any more. Then slow down to a comfortable pace until
Repeat this build-up-and-recovery procedure
until you have completed the amount of running or the amount of time you have
planned for running that day. You can get a lot of conditioning done in a short
period of time.
Overall, training must be approached
intelligently. One of the best favors you can do for your body and your running
performance is to respect the need for rest and recovery.
However, that doesn't mean becoming a sloth.
It is that misconception that leads some runners to avoid rest and recovery and
just train-hard, harder, and hardest.
That won't work in the long run. A better
approach is to understand recovery as a training tool and use it well. Remain
active on rest days and use light days to address training objectives directly.
This is a winning way to train.
Volume 18, Number 4, Running &
© The American Running Association.