March 1, 2024

Rest Days – Respect the “Days Off”

Author: Charles Miller
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This piece is a collaboration between Mud Run Guide Crew Members Charles Miller and Julie Abbott. 

Whether performing at an elite or recreational level, as mud run enthusiasts we understand that training and preparation are crucial for success on the race course. However, recently, we’ve noticed a surge of fitness fanatics claiming that disciplined training and taking no rest days is the way to achieve physical greatness. The argument being that forcing oneself to train on days that your mind and body say “no” keeps you disciplined. But to that, let’s take a moment to be cautious and challenge the potential danger in such intense discipline. As an avid believer in the value of rest and recovery – for the physical, mental, and social benefits – we’re here to demystify the current trend that is “all out, all the time”.

We also spent some time with some well known OCR coaches who spend a lot of time considering these issues to get their takes on the value of Rest Days.

Science Speaks

Recovery and rest days allow the body to repair and strengthen itself.  When you don’t take that time to recover, as Coach Richard Diaz and Coach Yancy Culp point out, you can run the risk of doing more damage than good.  As athletes and enthusiasts, we also have to be cognizant as well and recognize when we’re hitting those points of training to require adequate rest.  Pace yourself, and use the tools available to you to understand how much effort you’ve put into your workouts to gauge the time to rest.

The Risk of Refusing to Rest

Injury from over-training, burnout, performance plateaus.  We all get it, there’s the idea that if we’re idle, someone else is doing more and we’ll fall behind.  But what we have to accept is that rest is a part of recovery.  Rest gives the muscles time to strengthen and improve, relieve us from plateaus, or from bad races. 

Rest days prevent overuse and subsequently, injury.  But even more so, some reasons for rest days can be seen as below rather than just the physical benefits.

Socially: rest days allow for greater time you can devote to other areas of interest and relationships in your life.

Mentally: rest days allow for time to study your training, refresh motivations, and prevent burnout. Mental fatigue can be every bit as damaging as a physical injury.

Physically: rest days allow your body to repair and strengthen itself.

We have to remember we are probably training for more than just ourselves.  If we don’t take that mental or social time for ourselves, we’ll run into our own roadblocks.  Training is also very much about being mentally ready for that next workout, I’ve done some workouts where I wasn’t mentally ready and it showed because I had been burning the candle on so many aspects.  Once I just took some days for myself, I came back to that previous workout and nailed every aspect of it.  Sometimes, we just need a break from what we love to come back and appreciate it even more.


Active Rest and Recovery 

MRG contributor Peter Dobos believes that “For any serious training plan, the rest and recovery are not gaps in the plan: they are where the magic happens.”

For some though, giving oneself permission to take a day of rest or recovery is easier said than done. With social media messages highlighting all out, all the time mindsets and personal motivations being challenged as a lack of discipline, it’s easy to fall prey to the mindset that one has to keep moving.

You may not be taking enough rest days if…

If this sounds all too familiar, I challenge you to re-frame your relationship with rest and begin to view it as an equally important part of your training. Avoid feeling like rest days are lazy days by planning and structuring them like any other workout day. Schedule and plan for rest days (1-2 per week) and plan what you’ll do in that time. Will you use it socially to catch up with an old friend?  Focus mentally by researching the latest recovery tools and supplements?  Maybe you focus on active muscle recovery and take a yoga class, do some mobility work, or schedule a deep tissue massage? 

Just remember that if you choose to do something on a rest or recovery day, don’t do something you’re not comfortable with.  I’ve heard stories and so have the coaches of people choosing to pick up something for the first time, and then they injure themselves.  Tennis and you pull a back or shoulder muscle from overdoing it, rock climbing the day before a race where it’s all grip strength and you rip your hand.  Choose something you know.

Rest days: Admit One

Taking one day completely off from physical activity and one day for active rest seems to be a popular recommendation and one that is achievable in any training plan.  

Stay on track with your goals by scheduling “mental training days.” The idea here is to take the day off physically, but read up on new training programs, obstacle techniques, recovery tools, healthy recipes, etc.  We have plenty of technique and other articles to read up on here, so take a look!

Giving respect to rest days will strengthen your body, sharpen your mind, and rejuvenate your spirit so that you can race stronger and happier time and time again.

How do you prioritize your own rest and recovery and do you have any tips for the rest-refuser? Let us know in the comments below.

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