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Brief 411 on Rest/Recovery

Written by Rebekah Glass
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For those of you in an active training cycle and probably gearing up for all of the fun summer races, you may be wondering about how to include rest days. We know exercise is good for you, but the body does have its limits and it is possible to get to a point that you are breaking down more than you are building up. A study completed involving endurance cyclists showed that after only 7 days of increased training intensity with low recovery time there can be detrimental effects. The study showed a “9.3% reduction in maximal heart rate, a 5% reduction in maximal oxygen uptake, and an 8.6% increase in perception of effort.” As athletes we all want to stay at the top of our game, and constantly increasing the intensity is NOT the best way to do that.

Rest/recovery days are important to give your body re-building time. USAT Level 1 coach Maria Simone explains that a rest day “allows for extended recovery, thus permitting the body to adapt more fully to a previous training cycle. Rest days also give the body time to refill glycogen stores, prevent overtraining and avoid mental burnout.” And Runner’s World magazine reports “a day off every 7 to 14 days restocks glycogen stores, builds strength, and reduces fatigue.” If you have been hitting the trail running 7 days a week, it may be time to take a rest. I know that rest may be a 4-letter word to some athletes, but rest does not have to mean sitting on the couch and watching TV for a day straight! Trying a yoga class or other cross training that is performed at a lower intensity may be the best option for you.

When you are deciding between active rest (lower intensity workouts- around 60% of max) and inactive rest there are a couple of factors to consider including phase of training cycle and type of exercise. One study did show that active recover during a cycling power test yielded better power performance than a still rest period in between testing bouts. This study was looking at rest between close bursts of energy expenditure and not monthly exercise programs. Another study involving rugby players that researched the affects of an active rest found that “the addition of low intensity exercise to the rest period did not adversely affect physiological recovery and had a significantly beneficial effect on psychological recovery by enhancing relaxation.” A good form of active rest may be cross training. So if you are a triathlete take a break from swimming, biking, and running and do a strength or stretching workout.

You can do a mini self assessment to see if you are in need of a rest day. Signs that you may need a rest day include: irritability, low energy, trouble sleep, illness, nagging injuries, and/or difficulty maintaining a steady heart rate. Your body does a pretty good job at telling you how it is doing; we just have to be better listeners! So do not feel guilty for taking a rest day; your body needs them periodically! Enjoy your summer training!


Eyeston, Ed. The rest is easy: why you have to back off in order to push hard. April 2, 2009. http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/rest-easy.

Halson SL, Bridge MW, Meeusen R, Busschaert B, Gleeson M, Jones DA, Jeukendrup AE. Time course of performance changes and fatigue markers during intensified training in trained cyclists. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1 September 2002. Vol. 93no. 947-956DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01164.2001. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/38/4/436.abstract.

Signorile JF, Tremblay LM, Ingalis C.The Effects of Active and Passive Recovery on Short-Term, High Intensity Power Output. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 1993, 18(1): 31-42, 10.1139/h93-004

Suzuki M, Umeda T, Nakaji S, Shimoyama T, Mashiko T, Sugawara K. Effect of incorporating low intensity exercise into the recovery period after a rugby match. Br J Sports Med2004;38:436-440 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2002.004309 

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