A Recipe for Fitness: Don't Forget to Rest

If exercise is good, then running seven days a week is better than six, right? Wrong.

Leave the gear at home once in a while. (Photo via Stockbyte.)

Today marks my first post for Boston’s Hub Health, and ironically, it’s also day four of a bout of forced rest for me. Normally, I’m the kind of girl who hates taking a day off. Seriously. If I run once a day, I tend to put the qualifier “only” in front of it when I tell people — as in “I only ran ONCE today, can you believe it?” But when you’re sidelined with an injury like I am, you have to rethink these things, and I’ve come to this conclusion: runners, exercisers, athletes of every kind — you need to rest.

Exercise is easy for an athlete. The hard workouts, long runs, and lifting sessions are the rewarding part of staying fit. They get us outside every day, enjoying fresh air, and they give us the excuse to wear those sleek, fitted running shirts. And I’m not kidding anyone if I fail to mention that part of the reward is also that it means I can eat as much chocolate as my tastes desire.

In comparison, resting is much harder. For me, I think this is because it demands trust, faith, and a belief in myself and my ability to come back from my injury. But I also know that I’m a better athlete when I incorporate rest into my routine than when I don’t. Research has proven that resting between exercise allows for more fitness gains after a hard workout than repeatedly pounding the pavement day after day. It’s taken a while for this idea to sink into my die-hard mentality, but the principles of training are simple: stress a system, then let it adapt. That’s it. That’s the cardinal rule of training.

So the next time you do a hard workout, treat yourself later with a little bit of rest. Whether this means you take the next day to run slowly (as in two minutes slower than 10k pace per mile), or you sleep in rather than go for a morning run, or you even take a day off, it’s not going to cause any loss of fitness. On the contrary, it will help. As long as some part of your week incorporates a new (exercise) stress, you are increasing your fitness level.