Updated: Mar 3
“My predicament was the just punishment of that most fatal of human follies, our not having known when to stop.” – Henry James, The Aspern Papers.
About 7 or 8 years, before I began studying exercise prescription and physiology, I was a very naïve (read: stupid) individual when it came to training.
After months of hard work, I ended up with medial-tibial stress syndrome and a couple of hairline fractures just one month before I was due to complete a multi-day team event.
Ever since I first started training, I’ve kept training logs. I was a sticker-chart kind of child, so seeing my training recorded makes the accomplishment feel a little more real for me (and now makes me very aware of when I’m training too much or not enough).
Yesterday I decided to look through my old training logs. Knowing what I know now, it immediately became obvious to me why I ended up so injured all those years ago.
I only flicked through the 5 weeks leading up to the point that my injuries became apparent, and there was a consistent theme. Every single run or workout had a comment along the lines of “Sore legs,” “Strange feeling on the inside of my ankles,” “Legs still sore from yesterday.”
If this wasn’t bad enough, it was also almost always coupled with, “I meant to have a rest day today…” or “I ended up running for twice as long as planned!”
Sometimes, when we’re all-consumed by a goal or competition, we stop listening to our bodies. So here a few questions you can ask yourself to help you decide if you need to take a rest day.
1.Did I train yesterday?
If the answer is yes, this doesn’t automatically rule out training today. But ask yourself, “How did I feel in my training yesterday? Was there any pain?”
If you felt shattered or sore, today might be the day for a rest or an ‘active recovery,’ particularly if you’ve had a high training load recently.
If you sprinted or ran a distance at race pace yesterday, consider a gentle bike or swim if a complete rest feels like too little.
2. How do I feel today?
Are you feeling under the weather because of injury or illness? Do you have a fever, or a chesty cough? If so, today might be the day to take a rest. Training may only exacerbate your illness and increase the overall time you have to take off from training!
If you’re just feeling ‘bleh,’ (for lack of a scientific word!) training today might do you some good, no matter the intensity.
Think of the feel-good chemicals your body releases after exercise, and think of the little self-esteem boost you receive for having done something good for yourself, even when you’re not on your A-game.
3. Have you been advised not to train?
This can actually be a hard one for some athletes! If your medical professional or coach has advised you not to train (or not to complete a specific type of training), heed their advice.
It can be tempting to think, “But I’m feeling much better…” or “My injury/illness seems to have improved a lot quicker than I expected…” but don’t fall into that trap.
You risk lengthening the amount of time off due to your injury or illness, and potentially causing lasting, more damaging effects. Look after your body now, and it will treat you well when you’re allowed to train again!
4. When did I last have a rest day?
Are you having rest days at all? Consider when you last gave your body the time to recharge.
This is where a sound programme written by an exercise professional can really come in handy.
Fitness adaptations cannot happen without rest. If we’re not resting, we end up with ‘overtraining syndrome,’ performing at a lower level than when we started.
Your personal trainer or coach can help taper your programmes so that you’re not working at 100% intensity all the time. Meaning that you’ll take rest days when you need them, and that your body will feel better and stronger with training.