“Rest” During Training? What Does That Even Mean?

Introduction

As some of you may know I attempted my first hundred miler during the month of March. While the event had an unfavorable ending due to a fall my training taught me a great deal about how important rest is. During that time I was researching and having discussions with my coach as to what this entails. The one thing he said that stood out was that rest was possibly far more important than the training itself.

How the pros train has mostly been a secret. If they do divulge on their training methods it has been in a book or training programs you need to purchase. Even in this instance, it has not been down to the exact detail of how they did it.

Jim Walmsley has blasted the door wide open with showing each of his runs on Strava.
Jim is one of the Coconino Cowboys, more commonly referred to as “The Cowboys” in ultra trail running. His story is definitely one to read up on.
What makes his training exceptional is that he runs in the range of 120-170km a week. To add to the mystery even further, is that these runs are often done at high intensity. The first question that came to mind for me was how does he achieve this without getting injured!? The theory, as mentioned above, tells us that rest is just as if not more important than the actual training. This sparked a few weeks of frantic research on the concept of muscle recovery and “rest”. Clearly, Jim is incorporating rest in a different manner as to the traditional rest day.

What does rest mean?

To my amazement, I discovered that “rest days”don’t actually mean you sit and do nothing. In fact athletes and patients that have muscle and or tendon injuries that are stagnant in fact recover slower from injuries than those that don’t. The only reason this was a starting point… was that when searching for rest after exercise the majority of hits were more about injury recovery. Right, so during injury recovery you should not be completely immobile. Why though, surely lying down, sleeping and eating would be optimal? Just on this point, one could submit an article to the medical journals of the science why movement assists in injury recovery. Research further reveals that slight stretching should be incorporated daily combined with foam rolling. Here however they hammer on that the muscles be warm before doing so, and that the intensity is very light. This can be achieved with a warm shower or bath, and or warm packs before doing stretches and foam rolling.

I was able to deduce that injury recovery entails movement of some sort if you wanted to heal faster. This still doesn’t answer what to do for recovery between exercises. However, it does bring us closer to understanding “rest”. Clearly, if injury rest and recovery process entails movement then it would be correct to assume that muscles recovery or in short “rest” needs to include muscle movement.

When is this “rest” period though? For most of us, we think of it as the “off days” or rather the days where we don’t run. Some incorporate cross training on days they don’t run to train other muscle groups around the ones they use for running. The point is we associate the rest time with the days we don’t run. How does that relate to Jim or Ryan Sandes, South African 100 mile champion and red bull runner, who doesn’t take many if any rest days? The truth is… “rest” period for them starts as soon as the exercise comes to an end.

Maximising Rest Period

When your running activity comes to an end, the gap between the end of your current activity and the start of the next activity is essentially a rest period. What the professionals do is they maximize this period by aiding the recovery period. Thus making the hours between activities be as effective as doing nothing for a day or two. This became very apparent when filtering through articles that have been written on effective training and the average day of a pro runner.

Let’s have a look at the summarised “routine” of a pro or a semi-pro athlete:

  • Wake up and consume water with supplements;
  • Eat breakfast;
  • Hot Shower;
  • Stretch and foam roll while muscles are warm;
  • Warm up and exercise for the day;
  • Warm down;
  • Post-exercise drink recovery drink that is pre-made;
  • Stretch and foam roll;
  • Eat;
  • Ice bath or Ocean bath;
  • Nap 3h;
  • Eat;
  • Walk;
  • Hot Epson salt bath;
  • Stretch and foam roll;
  • Drink Supplements;
  • Sleep 8h.

This has been the rough design that I have come up with after combining some of the articles I have read. This excludes Lyno and massage therapists days.

From the above, we can clearly see that “rest” starts as soon as the activity ends. This is also extremely time-consuming for a non-professional athlete. It would almost be impossible to incorporate a normal working day into this. I say almost but I can’t see myself being able to do all of that effectively and work a full days work. Does this mean we should throw in the towel because what’s the point then? Absolutely NOT, what it does give us though is the insight into the concept of the loosely used term “rest”. From this, we might be able to shorten the number of days we “take off” or, more importantly for me, can make the long run days post-exercise feel more comfortable. Not to mention, make the Monday post a hard training weekend feel a little less blue.

Framework

While the above gives a high-level framework it doesn’t go into detail as to what exact stretches, foam roll exercises, length of ice-bath, the amount of Epson salts per liter of hot water nor the exact supplements or diet. What a framework like this does do though is help with incorporating routine and discipline.
I am personally in the process of implementing a framework like this for myself, only been toying around with the exact structure for the last week after weeks of research. Below will be the “work in progress” framework for myself, a non-professional ultra trail runner, to give you an idea as to how you might like to incorporate some type of “rest” framework for yourself.

Weekday structure:

  • Wake up and consume water with supplements – 5 min;
  • Prep and Eat breakfast – 20 min;
  • Hot Shower – Depending on water restrictions, if none then 5 min;
  • Stretch and foam roll after a shower – 15 min;
  • Warm up and Exercise for the day – 1h to 1h 30min;
  • Post-exercise recovery drink and quick shower – 5 min;
  • Stretch and foam roll – 15min;

Therefore 2h 5min or 2h 35min before my workday starts;

  • Eat Lunch – 30min;
  • Walk – 30min;
  • Sneak in another meal at the desk;
  • Dinner;
  • Hot Bath, dependant on water restrictions, otherwise a  short shower;
  • Stretch and foam roll – 15min;
  • Sleep 8h.

Weekend structure:

  • Wake up and consume water and supplements – 5 min;
  • Prep and Eat breakfast – 20min;
  • Hot Shower – 5 min (dependant on water restrictions);
  • Stretch and foam roll after shower 15min;
  • Warm up and Exercise for the day – Anything from 1h to 4h;
  • Post-exercise recovery drink and shower – 5min;
  • Stretch and foam roll;
  • Ice bath – 20 min (normally eat during the long run exercises so can wait);
  • Eat a large meal;
  • Nap 3h;
  • Eat;
  • Walk;
  • Hot Epson salt bath 20min (water restriction dependant);
  • Stretch and foam roll – 15min;
  • Drink Supplements;
  • Sleep 8h.

As to the details of the supplements, diet, stretching and rolling exercises, and the training I won’t be sharing on that. Purely because it is going to be different for each person based on the type of running and training they are doing.
I hope that this has been an insightful and fun post to read and would like to hear what you have tried and found to work or just simply your thoughts even if you haven’t tried this before.

One thing is for sure, “rest” does take up a whole lot more time than the actual training. Makes sense why it is just as important as physical training.

Happy running, until next time!!!

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