I was once told that good athletes never take a day off. Commitment, so it seemed, required 24/7 focus on my sport. At the time, I bought into that lie. In fact, my eating disorder latched onto it as an excuse to do as much training as possible. No breaks.
This mentality is problematic for multiple reasons–many of which I will share in a forthcoming article. For now, I want you to know that rest is good. It’s not a “guilty pleasure,” nor is it something we have to earn. Whether you occasionally dabble in sports or are an elite athlete, your body deserves rest and you are more than your fitness level.
Not sure if you should take a rest day? Here are five key signs it’s time to rest.
- Your body is exhausted
- Your brain needs a rest
- You’re operating from a compensation mindset
- If you trained, you would compromise your values
- Something hurts
Your body is exhausted
You know that feeling when your legs are tired and you’re pushing through to get to the next level? This is not that.
The fatigue hits a different level when your body is utterly exhausted and/or overtrained. Here’s the thing: training is designed to break down muscle tissue. Within a well-balanced training cycle, the muscle tears are healed and the muscles are strengthened through rest. But if an athlete doesn’t have enough rest commensurate to their training load, the body just continues to break down. At that point, training is doing much more harm than good. If you continue compulsively exercising, there will be serious consequences.
You are more than your fitness level
If your legs feel beat up, achy, and brick-load-heavy; consider taking an unplanned rest day. In the long run, listening to your body will bring much better training results (and overall wellness) than rigid obedience to a schedule. Any good coach will not only permit this flexibility but will encourage it.
Your brain needs a rest
Despite what we like to believe, physical performance isn’t merely built upon muscle mass and a solid training plan. The mentality we bring to sport (and life in general) impacts how we perform. So, even if your legs feel good, if your mind isn’t “in gear,” a rest day could be incredibly helpful. Life happens, and sometimes we are thrown under its waves–beyond stressed, anxious, depressed, weary, or overwhelmed. Our bodies feel that mental strain, which is why many sport performance professionals recommend taking time off when the brain needs to unplug.
Whether you exercise casually or for elite performance, joy should be a part of the experience–for your body and your brain.
You’re operating from a compensation mindset
Nowadays, it is rare to visit a restaurant and not hear the inevitable comment about someone “earning” or “deserving” the food they are eating. It’s as if we feel the need to justify giving our body fuel–especially when the fuel is something diet culture has deemed “unhealthy.”
News flash: food has no moral value. It is not good or bad. This is something I’ve been learning lately. Another thing I’m learning is I have an ongoing relationship with my body. The way I nourish it is not a calories-in-calories-out equation.
If you notice that you’re overriding your body’s needs in favor of control, weight manipulation, or rigid standards; it’s time to take a rest.
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Personally, I only run when I’ve been diligent to fuel my body adequately. If I find myself slipping into restrictive patterns, it’s my agreement with myself and my treatment team that I will not engage in movement that day. You might not need to be as strict on that as I am during this stage of my eating disorder recovery. But regardless of what helps keep you accountable, please stick to it. You need to nourish your body regardless of what you do or don’t do.
If you trained, you would compromise your values
I’m gonna let you in on something a bit painful: mental health battles are all-consuming and leave little room for community. I know because I have missed countless family meals, gatherings, and chances for connection. For years, I turned to my sport for comfort rather than living in accordance with what I value.
If you’re debating between running and visiting your grandma for her birthday, please choose wisely. Running will always be there, and the strength we gain when we prioritize comprehensive wellness and flexibility is invaluable.
Be flexy, friends. Every scenario in life and sport rewards those who are psychologically flexible and rooted in more than just one thing. Flexibility is key. If your physical fitness trumps all else in your life, it’s a recipe for disaster. Life shouldn’t be dictated by your training schedule, no matter who you are.
Every scenario in life and sport rewards those who are psychologically flexible and rooted in more than just one thing.
Choose to honor your values. They will help anchor you to the way you want to live your life and impact the world around you.
It seems obvious, but don’t run if you have sharp pain or the onset of a muscle injury. Just don’t. I’ve had the triple crown of stress fractures (pelvis, femur, and hip), and it’s not a feat I’m proud of.
Yes, injuries are opportunities to grow in multiple ways. But let’s not wish them upon us by popping Advil and slapping tiger balm on to mask pain. I abide by the Three Day rule, myself: if I have a niggle that isn’t cleared up or significantly improved after three days of training, it’s time to rest and treat it.
Sometimes, it means our pride takes a hit or we have to miss some time with running friends. I promise. It’s worth it in the long run (no pun intended… 🙂
Among runners, there’s strong value placed on hard work. I get it, and I’ve lived it. But what if hard work isn’t always synonymous with more work? By that I mean: sometimes, the hardest thing we can do as humans is to not do. In a world that’s spewing productivity hacks left and right, rest is often demonized. I used to cognitively grasp the concept of rest; I never really grabbed hold of it though. That lead to a lot of disordered habits, overtraining, fatigue, and lackluster performance.
Sometimes, the hardest thing we can do as humans is to not do.
Whether you’re running for performance or running for fun, I encourage you to let the sport be an expression of appreciation for your body–a way to work as a team to live out who you intrinsicly are.
Don’t believe me that rest is crucial? Test it out. It can be scary to rest when it’s not your norm. And yet, try it out in a small way and just see if listening to your body amps up your overall wellness. It has for me and for countless runners I know and respect.
Enjoy the miles. Enjoy the thrill of seeing the world around you and feeling strong. Remember, however, to enjoy rest too–curling up in bed and reading a book, hanging out with friends, pulling out your journal and pouring our your heart.
Experience it all, and your experience in this life will be all-the-more winsome to a world that needs hope, life, and a little kick of zest. 🙂
EmBODYing Strength: Lily Porth
In this article, I got to speak with NCAA runner for the University of Vermont, Lily Porth. We talked about balance, health in sport, and more!
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