How to take running rest days

Why Running Rest Days Are Important (and How to Do Them Right)

When it comes to running and running training plans, it seems all the attention goes to the mileages and distances covered, the cross training, the gear.  But a critical and often overlooked component of any running training plan is rest days!  Why are running rest days important?  Let this guide show you just how to make rest days from running work to your advantage and improve your overall running performance!


How to take running rest days

Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!  Enjoy this guide to running rest days!



Why Are Running Rest Days So Important?


As a large majority of runners can tell you, you can either take voluntary rest days from running now, or forced rest days later.  For more proof of this, check out this study that shows just how prevalent injuries are among runners.  Hence the reason to take running rest days seriously.


Running rest days are a crucial part of your overall running health.  If you are healthy today, enjoy that!  But be sure to give some of the credit to rest days. And don’t treat a healthy today as an excuse to not build in running rest days for tomorrow.  It’s the running rest days that largely allow you to have both a healthy today AND tomorrow, so don’t take them for granted.  


As I coach clients for various long distance running events and goals, I absolutely don’t skirt around the fact that my running training plans are hard work.  But I also emphasize the importance that running rest days play.  Overuse injuries and burnout are a real obstacle, especially for new runners diving head on into a months-long running training plan (like this 16 week half marathon training plan for beginners).  How do you keep the motivation going, as well as combat common injuries and burnout?  While there are plenty of strategies I offer my running clients, one of the biggest is to take regular and consistent running rest days during their training plans. 


Of course, I understand the struggle of feeling like you have to get more miles in.  Mileage and distance increases are absolutely important. But not at the cost of sacrificing a rest day from running.  That is why you will see intentional, scheduled rest days in every single one of the customized running training plans I develop.  You want that mileage, but you also want running rest days to solidify, cement, and process that mileage, in order to build the most stable and solid foundation that will hold up over time!



WHEN To Take Running Rest Days


A common question I get when developing running training plans is how many rest days a week should I take?  And while that is a question I answer when collaborating with clients to develop their customized training plans, a better and more specific question to ask in many cases is how many days in a row should you run or cross train before taking a rest day from running and cross training?

>Check out my favorite forms of half marathon cross training here!


  • While there is no one size fits all answer for everyone, generally I recommend taking a running rest day at least once every 7 days for more experienced runners, or 2 rest days a week for less experienced runners.  


  • For example, if your weekly long run happens on Saturday, your running rest day will be Sunday.  If there is a need for another weekly rest day (and many times there is), it would maybe land on a Wednesday.


Consistent running training can actually become counterproductive if you train hard for more than a few days in a row without a rest day from running.  That is due to the breakdown that occurs amongst the muscles, muscle tissues, and organs, all the way down to the cellular level.  This is when you see overuse injuries pop up.


How do you overcome this potential breakdown?  With running rest days and active recovery.  


Over time, the body is capable of adapting to the stress and breakdown caused by a tough training regimen, and with rest and recovery, actually comes back stronger, which is where you will begin to see gains.  While it is totally normal on a scientific level to get microtears in muscle tissue while you train, the key to success is to allow these microtears to heal and actually get stronger.  Running rest days also allow for the tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints to all reset. Highly simplified, this looks something like: “wow, a month ago I struggled way more on those 3 mile runs.  They seem to be getting easier now”. 


If you don’t give these breakdowns and muscle tears time to heal, they will become stressed, and that can lead to those pesky injuries that so frequently pop up among runners.  If you want LONG TERM growth, progress, and health, rest days are critical.  


Another important reason to take running rest days is due to the impact of repeated and consistent running.  You won’t see this being as much of an issue with swimming, cycling, or yoga, etc., but with running, rest days are all the more important because running is an impact sport.  The breakdown, burnout, and overuse that can realistically occur with any strenuous workout regimen, can occur even more easily with an impact sport like running.  Don’t skip those running rest days. 


Finally, there’s the mental benefit to taking regular rest days from running.  Burnout is a real thing among runners, and like it sounds, it is largely mental.  Rest days are important for your mental longevity as well as you pursue your running goals.  



Be Proactive with Running Rest Days


Don’t start taking running rest days only after you’ve started to notice a twinge in your knee.  The key to effective running rest days is to know when to take them ahead of time, and to intentionally build them into your running training plan.  Running rest days should not be reactive, but proactive.  This is how they are the most effective at PREVENTING injury, not just reacting to injury.  


I’ve had those days when I was scheduled to run 5 miles, but I was in a groove and just knew I could pull off 10 miles if I wanted.  It is hard to reign it in in those situations, but one thing that has kept me proactive and diligent in keeping my running rest days is to remember this fact: 


  • Taking running rest days makes you STRONGER!
  • Taking running rest days (instead of running more) makes you a BETTER runner!
  • Taking running rest days promotes LONG TERM running (and I personally want to be doing this for a long time)!


If you approach running rest days from that mindset, it is much easier to celebrate the work you are doing for yourself and your goals by taking a rest day from running.  After all, runners like to work hard and don’t shy away from training, but taking rest days from running is all a part of working hard!



WHAT Can You Do On Running Rest Days?


Do running rest days mean you have to sit on the couch and not move all day? Absolutely not!  In fact, some easy movement can be highly beneficial.  A running rest day can be an active recovery day, as long as you understand what that entails.  Above all, you should avoid high impact workouts on a running rest day / active recovery day.  Active recovery on running rest days could look like:


  • A short walk at 50% effort
  • A short, low impact yoga session
  • An easy spin on the bike
  • Foam rolling
  • And don’t forget a good night’s sleep!



Final Thoughts on The Importance of Running Rest Days


Whether you look forward to your running rest days, or find yourself chomping at the bit, remember this helpful piece of info.  Running rest days won’t set you back, but injuries will.  Two running rest days a week can potentially save you two months out of commission due to an injury.  Some running injuries you may not ever fully come back from. So remember:


  • Be proactive in scheduling your running rest days
  • Don’t skip your running rest days
  • Do engage in active recovery on your running rest days (without high impact)
  • Embrace the mindset that running rest days make you a STRONGER, BETTER, LONG TERM runner!


If you want support developing a customized running training plan for you that takes into account running rest days as well as cross training days, running days, and weekly mileage increments, check out the 1:1 coaching plans that I offer, or fill out this INTEREST FORM to get started!





How to take rest days from running

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