Updated: Oct 12, 2022
We've touched on this in our first conversation with our triathlon coach, Indie Lee, but there's a real abundance of 'no pain, no gain' culture out there - if you're not working hard, you're not progressing. Phrases like "no one cares, work harder" or "you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when you're done" are making the rounds. Add to that easily accessible training data from the pros and you've got amateur athletes pushing far beyond their recommended strain levels. That's never good. So let's take a step back and check in with coaches Matt, Sam and Indie to remind ourselves that sometimes the best training you can do is just chilling out. This is our love letter to the rest day.
First of all, it's important to remember that we are all different. Each athlete will respond differently to strain and need different periods in their training cycle. Some might need lots of rest on a regular basis, some might only need to take a breather every few weeks. Some might have to be dragged into a rest day kicking and screaming, others will count down the days until they get permission to put their feet up. That being said, the same basic principles apply to creating a macrocycle, says Sam.
"Reducing volume and intensity does wonders for the athlete's body," he explains. Sam introduces significant rest after his athletes' 'main event' to allow their body to stabilise and repair all the damage incurred during the event. We're talking muscle fibre repair and just regaining homeostasis. Beyond that, he recommends small, regular reductions in volume and intensity to allow the athlete to recover mentally and physically from overload: "that's where the progress is made."
That's right - all that training, all that graft, all that hard work only translates to fitness when you recover. Might seem kind of obvious, but it's worth putting it down in writing and reminding yourself every once in a while. Sam sees it as a way to refill your 'glass of willpower'. "Everyone has a glass of will-power each day. They pour out a little bit for every task they take on, and once this glass is empty its really hard to get going," he illustrates. That's on the day-to-day level. In a more zoomed-out lens, the rest day allows the athlete to peak at the right time and avoid overtraining, fatigue and plateau-ing.
So, here are Sam's hot tips on making the most out of your rest day - just because you're not training doesn't mean you can't absolutely smash your rest day!
Get a full 8 hours of sleep
Take some time away from your phone
Get yourself a sports massage
Make sure you get 3 nutrient-dense meals per day and 2 solid snacks (more on nutrition later)
Do some light mobility work and some yoga, if time allows
Practice some mindfulness, meditation & breathing techniques
If you have time, whack out the recovery gadgets - the Normatec boots & Silent Mode at SUMMAT do some wonderful work
When you think 'impact sport' you might think rugby, ice hockey, Aussie rules footie... but you don't think running. Yet, with every stride, you send several times your bodyweight in impact through your entire body - from your feet to your head. You're literally pounding the pavement! So, running coach Matt takes a well-structured approach to the rest day.
"Every good physio I've worked with has recommended working a regular no-impact day into the training schedule. Reducing the running week to six days and taking one day to bike, swim, gym or just rest can significantly reduce the risk of injury because it can give little niggles and bits of inflammation enough time to settle before they become big problems".
There is more to it than just that, though: "Personally, I think the regular no-running day can also act as a mental reset and break up the weeks without everything blurring into one single tired training block."
It comes down to simple risk/reward calculation, really. What Matt looks for in a training week is 2-3 quality runs and a certain amount of easy running. In most cases, this can be achieved in 6 days without any need to overload any particular day or extend into a 7th day. As we've alluded to in a previous blog, the big picture for Matt is to chain together months and months of consistent training without much need to fluctuate between down periods and peak periods. Introducing this weekly no-impact day seems to be doing the trick for his Stable.
For our KOTWF professional athlete and triathlon coach, the trick lies in the mental approach to rest. "You've got to take it seriously and treat it like a training day in and of itself," she emphasises. If you can, avoid taking the opportunity to catch up on loads of chores and spending loads of energy elsewhere. This is easier said than done, of course, but try and conserve your energy levels as much as possible so that your body can allocate all it needs to repairing your engine. Maybe try and spend some of that extra time on extra sleep: "sleeping is one of the most valuable skills in the athlete's toolbox - it's basically a superpower!"
Perhaps even more important for Indie is the nutritional side of the rest day. "Don’t get into thinking that because it’s a rest day you don’t need to eat as much. Get ahead, top yourself up and avoid starting the next training week in deficit." And this draws us right back to the mental approach thing from the previous paragraph (wow... meta) - you have to consider the rest day as a single dot in the bigger picture. If your mindset operates on a day-by-day or even a week-by-week basis, it's easy to see some down time as a long, drawn-out pause. But if you consider your training as a process that takes years and years of commitment, the rest day becomes a tiny blip that contributes to the greater goal.
Have a chat
Resting is a staple of any training schedule. The easy days are the mirror image of the hard days - one can't exist without the other. How you allocate those easier periods should be decided by you and your coach together. It's about mutual trust and open, honest conversation. Neither of you should think you are above a bit of down time, but you should also know when to push through a bit of fatigue and dip into overload. That's tricky, and that's why two minds are better than one.
So, next time you feel like you're due a rest day or you just really fancy one - go ahead. It's not an indulgence, it's not a moment of weakness, it's not something to fear. If you feel like you need one, it's probably going to do your fitness more good than another interval session or another hour out on the roads. Do it and thank yourself later!