TIt is one of the strangest sights in sport. Right in the middle of the toughest cycle race on the planet, the riders in the Tour de France have a rest day.
Now, there are plenty of things that we can imagine doing on a rest day after a few thousand kilometres of hard cycling (if we ever got that far) – a spot of sightseeing maybe, a gentle walk or maybe just lying down in a dark room for a few hours. But pretty much the last thing we would want to do is get on a bike again: which is why it is always so odd to see so many of the pro cyclists either out on a ‘short’ training ride or grinding away on a spin bike. But this is what they do – and like every other aspect of their training and racing it is all a part of a carefully planned out system to keep them in the very peak of condition.
Now, we’re not suggesting that any of you are going to be taking part in one of cycling’s Grand Tours any time soon – but the professional riders’ example does offer an interesting angle on the importance of rest and recovery days as we all try to get fitter and perform at our best. So, here are a few quick tips on making the most of those rest and recovery days.
Take them, don’t skip them
It is very easy to give rest and recovery days a miss when you are feeling great. It is particularly hard when you have just taken up a new sport or activity – it feels good, it makes you feel better, and you just want to keep doing it. But it is incredibly important to take a break from time to time – we would suggest at least one day a week off if you can, and maybe even more frequently if you’re just starting out at running.
You don’t always have to put your feet up
There is a difference between rest days (which are pretty much what they sound like) and recovery days, which usually include a ‘recovery run’ of some sort. The principle behind these – a little like the rides that the Tour de France riders do – is to give your body time to repair itself while keeping it moving. The idea here is to run at around half your normal speed, and by keeping the muscles moving and the blood pumping you should actually be recovering even more quickly than you would on a day on the sofa.
Mix it up
When you are running, don’t run at your limit all the time. While it is good to push yourself, we really don’t recommend that you do it every day. Depending on how many days each week that you are heading out, we suggest that you make at least three of your weekly runs at ‘recovery’ pace. It is all about building some variation into your routine – not only does a change of pace help your body to repair itself, but it also keeps things more interesting.
Don’t just rest on your rest days
‘Rest’ in this context doesn’t just mean sitting in front of the TV all day. Even if you don’t do a recovery run, we still recommend that you try to get out and do some form of gentle exercise. We’re huge fans of walking here – it is a great way to warm up and cool down before and after a run, but it is also a perfect way to keep moving without too much of that damaging impact you get when running.
Listen to what your body is trying to tell you
Our final tip is just learn how to listen to your body when you’re not on a rest day, in order to make sure that you take the breaks you need, when you need them.
We always recommend running without headphones – not only is it safer, but it is also a way for you to focus solely on your body, how it is moving and how it feels as you run, without any distractions. While you hopefully won’t literally hear your body cracking and groaning under the pressure of running, you should certainly feel more in tune with it – so listen honestly to the feedback it is giving you, and do the right thing.