Do Runners Need Rest Days?

One or More Rest Days Can Build Your Fitness Faster

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"I've heard that runners should take at least one day off a week. Is that true?"

One of the biggest misconceptions among runners who want to get faster is that they should run every day. In reality, the body actually needs rest days to recover and repair muscles to get stronger. So, if you run every day without taking days off, you won't see much improvement.

The American College for Sports Medicine recommends one to two rest days per week to reduce your risk of injury.

 Running puts a lot of stress on your joints, and taking rest days will give your joints a chance to recover from all that pounding. It's also good to take a mental break from running, so you don't lose motivation by running every day.

Most runners need at least one, even two, days off from running and other exercise. Research has shown that taking, at least, one day off a week reduces the frequency of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures.

Even the most elite runners take rest days, although rest days for them usually involve a low-impact cross-training activity, such as swimming. Those types of cross-training days are considered to be rest days because they give the joints and muscles you use in running a break.

Easy-Hard Training Concept

Many training programs are designed with hard workout days followed by a rest day or an easy workout day. A hard workout may be either one at a faster speed, a longer duration, or including challenges such as hills.

If any of your running workouts fall into the harder-day category, you should take a rest day the next day. Easier activity such as walking can help work out muscle soreness while not contributing more stress to your body.

Rest days give your body the chance to capitalize on the training effect of your runs.

As you challenge your muscles, you are encouraging your body to repair and build new muscle and build blood supply to that muscle. Your fitness will improve faster if you get enough sleep and schedule a rest day after harder training days.

Consistent Exercise and Schedule

You also want to avoid "weekend warrior" syndrome where you only do a long, hard workout on the weekend, with nothing in between. If you find yourself with a schedule where you are running every day or only running on the weekends, you need more structure. Sit down with your calendar and schedule the times and distances you will be running for the week. Schedule the rest days so you they are part of the plan. Perhaps you feel worried that skipping a day will lead to a break down of your commitment to running. If you can visualize with a schedule that you won't be abandoning it, that may help.

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    Sources:

    Mary D. Nadelen, MA, ATC. "Basic Injury Prevention Concepts," American College of Sports Medicine, January 10, 2012.

    Overuse injury, Mayo Clinic, February 9, 2016.

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