So, it’s time for the dreaded rest day in your current program. If you are like me, and I’m assuming you are since you are reading this post, you can’t stand sitting still or not feeling like you are doing something to be proactive in your own development as an athlete or in your career.
In life, I choose to be proactive rather than reactive whenever I can. As the above quote from legendary Oregon Track Coach, Bill Bowerman highlights, it’s time to change your thinking about the dreaded rest day. If you fully accept the day on your training calendar you have the opportunity to embrace that rest is being proactive in your growth and performance. The struggle of course, is that the payoff is delayed.
So, to help you think about ways to be proactive during your next rest day, I’ve put together my five favorite rest day activities. Before jumping in I do want to note that some rest days can be active, others might be more passive. It all depends on where you are in your training cycle. If you aren’t sure, make it passive.
I’m not talking about going for a hard run or even an easy run, though an easy run does have a place for restoration during an active rest day. I’m talking about using movement on the rest day to change up your routine.
On a recent rest day, I made myself walk. But I didn’t just go for a walk around my neighborhood. I made myself walk a little over a mile to the University of Kentucky library, where I proceeded to make myself “take the stairs” and walk up 7 flights to the Graduate School study area. I also made sure to load up my backpack with as much extra stuff as possible to add a little load to increase the easy effort.
Don’t want to walk? Try a new activity or sport. Last spring, I used a rest day to go to the driving range (something I never seem to have time to do) my swing was awful, and I had blisters on my fingers the next day, but I had a blast. That is really what the rest day is all about, having fun!
A rest day is also a great opportunity to take care of all the little things you’ve been neglecting for yourself. On a recent rest day following a period of “super compensation” in which I had increased my weekly mileage to an all-time high, I met my Mom for a pedicure. True story. The thing is my feet really needed that pedicure, I had just broken in a pair of brand-new running shoes and I had blisters that wouldn’t go away on both feet. The next day, I felt like a new man, perhaps it was a placebo effect, but I swear my feet were healed and the blisters have not since returned.
Don’t need a pedicure? Get a massage, go to a chiropractor, try cryotherapy, go put some Norma Tech boots on, get a haircut. The activity doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are taking some time for you!
Your first inclination might be to eat less on a rest day. It is true that you will most likely be expending less energy than you would on a hard workout session day, but the reality is that a rest day is a time to refuel your body. I personally ensure that I’m taking in adequate carbs to help top off glycogen stores that may have been depleted during hard training the day prior. I’ll also take in healthy fats and protein to help with muscle repair. It’s also a great time to try a new recipe!
This is an awesome activity for a passive or active rest day. During my most recent rest day I forced myself to sit down and finish reading Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in what the science actually says about various recovery modalities.
I also believe that the activity of reading about other areas of training carries over into performance when it is, time to go. Don’t want to read a book? Look up a study about a carbohydrate ingestion for endurance, check out a website from a coach you respect. All of these activities require introspection, which only enhances the proactive focus on recovery.
It’s been said that the single great performance enhancing drug, is sleep. Guess what? It’s FREE! All you have to do is make yourself do it. On a rest day, I try my best to push towards 8-9 hours of sleep, when possible. If time allows, I’ll force myself to take a nap. The sleep or nap not only help the brain recharge and refresh, but a great night of deep sleep can also provide an increase in growth hormone production, which we know will surely help us when the rest day is over.
You know what’s been shown to be great for sleep? Movement during the day, pampering yourself/hygiene, eating whole food carbohydrates at the end of the day and reading.
About the Author
Rob (Hardin) Anderson is a nationally certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Nutrition Coach. He is currently pursuing a M.S. in Nutrition & Food Systems at the University of Kentucky. His research focuses on exercise, food behavior, weight loss and how the three intersect. When he’s not coaching a client or working on research you can find him pushing his body and brain to the limits training for a Marathon or Spartan Race. You can follow him on social media @RobertHardin or learn more about him at his website, robhardinfitness.com.