When is the right time to take an off day from running? Some would argue that every day is a good day – but “those people” certainly are not runners. From a coaching perspective, some days are better than others for taking a rest day and some days, not so much.
There are obviously exceptions and none of this is set in stone, but these 5 situations are typically a good time to take an off day from running. They’re not in any particular order, however, you’ll find that some of these situations clearly present themselves as more opportune than others.
After a Peak Race
Nothing says “I deserve a rest” more than the day and most likely the week after a peak race. It’s time to recharge your batteries, let your body recover from the hard race and the months of training you’ve done leading up to the big race.
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Depending on the race distance typically dictates how much time off you need. If you’re wrapping up a half marathon or longer, I suggest somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2+ weeks of little to zero running. Yes, two weeks of no running. The goal is to let your body fully heal AND it’s to let your mind and soul recover. You might get to 5 days and decide you’re good, but you might also get to the 5th day and decide you need another week. That’s totally normal!
Spread Evenly Throughout a Week
As a coach, I believe in off days. I think they are a very valuable part of the training demands we put ourselves through. Unfortunately, they aren’t always used correctly. I think the best way to use off days is to spread them out throughout the week. A good option would be directly following your hard days – maybe a Thursday after a hard Wednesday workout and Sunday after a long run.
What I don’t really like to see is 5 days straight of running and then 2 days consecutively off. I find that runners take too long to get in and out of days off and they feel rusty and stiff for the following 2 days, so they aren’t maximizing their recovery and they’re always sluggish.
When Something Hurts
You would think this would be obvious, but it makes sense that not everyone abides by this. If you feel something hurt (this doesn’t mean sore) then you should absolutely take some time off to let the affected area recover. Sore muscles do not equal hurting. You might very well be sore, but that doesn’t require an off day.
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Feeling Run Down
In the middle of training for a big race and you just can’t shake the funk you’re in? Then you’re probably due for an extra off day built into your schedule. Typically, cutting your mileage for a few days – from 100% down to about 60-75% plus an additional day off should get you out of your funk. On top of adjusting your running calendar, you should also aim to get in a nap + a few hours extra sleep.
Have a Chest Cold
The saying goes “give it a neck check” – above the head, you’re good to go; below, settle for a rest day. I think this is a really good tip to use when you’re stuffed up and not sure if you should run or not. If the cold is up (in your head), give it a go. The running will help open you up and clear everything up. If it’s in your chest, you’re better served taking some time to let your body do what it needs to do to fight off the sickness.
Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so if you’re unsure about getting sick and trying to work out, you should seek medical advice. It’s in your best interest to get over the sickness as fast as you can, especially if you are training for something, and working out can only make the bad feeling linger for longer. Resting – complete rest – will allow your body to recover and get strong enough to fight off whatever you’re dealing with.
There are good times and bad times to take a day off from running. You’ll have to experiment to find out what works for you. As a good rule of thumb, if you take a day off and you feel really sluggish the next day, you will want to avoid taking a day off before something important like a big workout, a longer long run or a race.
Each of the 5 situations I outlined above are guidelines, they aren’t rules. If you find that after your really big marathon you can jump right back into training the next day, then by all means, go right ahead. I wouldn’t suggest it, obviously, but you have to figure out what works for you.