As a coach I hear this a lot: ‘shouldn’t I be logging more kilometers to become faster/ better?’ NO. Absolutely not (unless you are going to do ultra marathons). That’s the mistake a lot of runners make. The focus should be on the quality of your trainings instead of the quantity.
To use the example of Jan: he wants to improve his time on the half marathon. To improve his PB of 2h to 1h45, he has started to increase his training volume from running two times a week to four times and has added some extra core trainings too, because the more he trains the faster he will become, right? What Jan doesn’t consider is that the stress he puts on his body has increased significantly and his time to recover reduced.
After some weeks, Jan starts to notice that he is not really improving but rather stagnating and feeling more and more tired. Jan still has no clue what he is doing wrong, because if you look at all those runners on social media they barely take a rest day, so he shouldn’t do that too. Unfortunately, Jan couldn’t be further away from the truth.
Every time when you finish a training, whether it be cycling, running, swimming, …, you create little muscle tears. The main reason that you improve when you train in a SMART way, is because your body repairs those tears and prepares itself for your next session. However, when you never take rest, your body won’t be able to fix the damaged tissue and has to come up with the second-best solution. Instead of properly repairing the tissue, it will use scar-tissue as an alternative. This is only a temporarily solution and you will be more prone to injury.
So during a training week you should AT LEAST have one complete rest day. No excuses such as ‘I was planning on only a small ride or swim session’. REST = REST. But what if you run four days + one rest day = five days and a week counts seven days? Well, that means that you still have two days left on which you can perform ‘active recovery’ sessions. This kind of recovery includes all kind of sports that do not put too much stress on your lower body.
All good, but if you look at those athletes on social media they barely take one rest day. How come they are so different than us? They are used to a big training load and use complimentary tools to speed up their recovery (cryotherapy, boosting boots, …). So comparing yourself with them is not a good idea.
To end with, if your body is giving you signs that you should take a rest day, do NOT ignore this. It probably has a thorough reason why it is sending you these signals. And remember, taking a rest day is not bad. It allows your body to recover and make you a better runner. It is not because of training you become better, but because of the rest you take.