Why You Should Rest From Running
Have you ever heard the adage that improvements in fitness are only made when resting? It’s true. Through a pretty incredible process called supercompensation, the body responds to stress (like a long run or hard workout) by going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to making repairs.
If you rest sufficiently in between hard sessions, your body will not only adapt to the workload but increase your fitness specific to the ways you challenged it. Running shorter, faster reps will make you more proficient at speed. Long runs increase endurance. This is the hallmark of all training.
Generally, when we talk about sufficient rest from running, we are talking about getting off the feet as much as possible and running easily between hard workouts. With the harder sessions triggering hormonal responses (think: growth hormone), down time allows your body to handle necessary repairs and improve your fitness.
The problem is that it’s not a perfectly linear system. You can’t just keep getting better and better and better ad infinitum. There comes a point where the body needs a true recovery, a chance to rest and consolidate all the gains of the previous training. Sometimes these periods happen against our will, like in the case of an injury or illness. Straining your calf may sideline you in the short-term, but three weeks later you feel better rested and more energetic than before.
Ideally, you would skip a forced layoff and have a designated rest period in mind. It could be after a goal race or during a time of year when the weather is worst (hello, February in New England!). Besides offering a respite from the mental stress of training, this break offers an opportunity for you to fully “absorb” the training, as the great Australian marathoner Rob De Castella phrased it. This is the chance for supercompensation to go into overdrive. Although some short-term fitness gains may be lost in the process, the longer-term picture is rosier for it.