Exercise and Wellness

Runners: Listen to Your Body and Know When to Rest

A couple takes a break during a workout.
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In our “go-go-go” culture, rest is often frowned upon. We’re taught to stay strong and push our way through stress and fatigue. There’s a time and a place for this, of course. But for athletes, rest and recovery are essential parts of training. Knowing when to push and when to back off can make the difference between healthy longevity and being sidelined by injury and sickness.

We spoke with Sheila Klausner, a physical therapist for AdventHealth, about how to listen to your body to relax, replenish and renew.

Plan for Rest and Recovery

Life will always throw unexpected curveballs. But as a general rule, it’s easier to take preventive action and plan for the need to rest and recover, rather than waiting until injury or burnout. This sounds obvious, but without guidance from a coach or a quality training plan, many runners don’t allow for enough recovery in their schedules.

Physical therapist Sheila Klausner notes that over-training is serious and should be addressed immediately.

“Symptoms of overtraining can include difficulty completing normal daily tasks, noticing your run times getting slower as you train over time or pain from everyday tasks. If fatigue and/or pain are beginning to interfere with normal life, then it’s time to take a break,” she says.

Runners vary tremendously in their training — some may run three days a week while others run seven. Cross-training and strength work may be part of your schedule, as well. No matter how many miles you log, always aim for the 80/20 guideline, meaning that 80% of your mileage should be at an easy low intensity, and 20% can include more challenging workouts.

Rest and recovery can mean different things to individual runners as well. For a competitive, seven-day-a-week runner, recovery might mean logging a short, slow easy run. For others, it means a day off from running, or maybe an easy walk or bike ride. It’s essential to plan these days into your schedule, rather than waiting till you’re feeling so frazzled they become a necessity.

Learn to Listen to Your Body

According to Sheila Klausner, if you experience “soreness that lasts for more than 48 hours, pain in a joint that hurts just with walking or feeling excessively tired with normal daily activities,” then it’s a good idea to rest.

If you’re following a training plan that has built-in adequate rest and cutback weeks but still find yourself struggling, then what should you do? Knowing yourself and your own tendencies can be incredibly helpful, so be honest.

Are you a type A personality who never wants to skip a planned run and pushes through at any cost? Or are you the opposite — easily derailed when life gets a little complicated and quick to put off your run?

While it can be valuable to have a coach to help you determine the best course of action, ultimately you have to learn to listen to your body and know what works. For those that always want to keep pushing, allowing yourself a total rest day can be incredibly valuable. But if you have a tendency to back off a little too easily, then try either rearranging your schedule (e.g., swapping an easy and hard day), or just starting your run and reevaluating how you feel after a mile or two.

When to Push Through

As a general rule, you can try to push through your planned run or at least run easy under the following circumstances:

  • “Above the neck” illnesses such as a cold or nasal congestion
  • Early in the training cycle when you’re trying to build fitness (but may feel more challenged by your runs)
  • Mild fatigue from a hectic schedule
  • Mild soreness/tightness from previous runs or workouts
  • One or two nights with slightly decreased sleep

While you should never try to make up days with missed runs, swapping hard and easy days during the week can be a way to get out the door without overwhelming your system.

If you have flexibility in your schedule, rearrange faster workouts or long runs to days when you’re less fatigued.

Sometimes when you manage to push yourself out the door you feel unexpectedly good once you get going. Never judge a run by the first mile. They can often feel a little rough, especially on an early morning or during inclement weather. But once you loosen up, you may find you can handle more than you anticipated.

When to Rest

While trying to push through may be your default mechanism, some days rest and recovery should be a priority. Pay attention to any of the following and know the signs that you need to rest or cut back:

  • Coming back from injury: If you’re working your way back from an injury, plan to come back slowly with extra rest as needed
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed and burned out: If these persist more than a few days, it’s time to back off and reevaluate
  • No recent rest or cutback week: If you’ve been logging miles day after day for weeks on end, allow yourself a break. All athletes, no matter how competitive, can benefit from a day of total rest once in a while
  • Post-race recovery: While it’s tempting to jump back into training, now is the time for a little extra recovery. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it
  • Race week: When you’re tapering for a race, always err on the side of caution. One day of extra rest during race week will usually be more beneficial than trying to cram in one last workout
  • Sharp pain: Any sharp pain should be a warning sign to stop running and figure out what’s wrong, so you don’t do further damage
  • Sickness “below the neck”: Illnesses that involve chest congestion, fever, nagging cough or GI issues are all reasons to give your body time to heal
  • Sleep-deprived athletes: If you’re a new parent or going through a period of high stress at home or work, cut yourself some slack and get extra rest where you can

Running and training is an ongoing process that requires you to know yourself and learn to listen to your body. By planning recovery into your schedule and taking extra rest when needed, you’re more likely to stay happy and injury-free in the weeks and months ahead. To make an appointment with a physical therapist, or for more information, click here.

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