Rest days are so important because they are an opportunity to recuperate from the stresses of training. Unless you are injured, doing nothing isn’t ideal. Try a light active recovery day with exercises that will help increase the blood flow to the muscles. If you are listening, your body will tell you when you need a rest day. Pay attention to the signs–if you have sudden low energy, depressed moods, an elevated resting heart rate, interrupted sleep, dehydration, illness, pain or soreness–you may be at risk for injury.
Active recovery days can soothe aches and help you prepare for stronger workouts. Many runners take the day off after their longest run of the week. The idea is to give your muscles a break from running, so you’ll feel fresher faster moving forward. Sitting around and doing nothing on a rest day could lead to you feeling stiff the next day.
Below are six tips to help you with your recovery:
1) Rest. Your brain and body both need sleep to recover from the physical and mental stresses of training. Getting plenty of sleep and resting your body may be the most effective treatment. Try to get a solid seven to eight hours of sleep a night to give your body adequate time to rebuild and repair.
2) Active recovery. Active recovery is light exercise during the recovery phase, which can stimulate blood flow to the muscles to help reduce muscle pain. Riding a bike, swimming laps, or walking your dog for about 30 minutes are all good forms of active recovery. The idea is to keep the intensity low, which means you shouldn’t be out of breath. On a scale of 1 to 10, your effort level should be at about a 5.
3) Listen to your body. If you’re limping or experiencing sharp pains, take that as cue to listen to your body. Take a true rest day —you need to kick your feet up and just relax because you might be on the brink of injury.
4) Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps prevent dehydration, which can make muscle soreness even more painful. I recommend a good starting point is to try and drink somewhere around half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
5) Fuel your body. Taking a day off running shouldn’t be an excuse to eat terribly. Take this rest day to stock up on nutrients you may not be including during a typical training week.
6) Stretch. Gentle stretching and massage and are great for recovery. Stretching while the muscles are warm is best. Try self-massage with a foam roller to hit tight spots.