What exactly is the right number of rest days each week? I used to steadfastly say one and only one. But now I’m not sure sure. Nine months with an injury that’s never really gone away will make you reconsider what the body needs in order to recover between workouts.
I’ve been doing some reading on the subject and paying attention to patterns with my own body and the long and the short of it seems to be that everyone needs to decide for themselves based on a number of factors:
—Age: As much as it pains me to admit it, the older you are the more time it takes to recover from vigorous activity. Particularly with injuries, they just don’t heal like they used to. Of course, other factors below influence the extent to which your age requires more or less rest days (particularly overall health, fitness, and nutrition). Still, aging is going to have some impact on the speed of recovery and healing. Enjoy your youthful healing while you’ve got it!
—Injuries (past or present): This has been my cold, hard reality for the last nine months. It takes more recovery and rest time when you have current or past injuries. During my acute injury phases, the more I’ve incorporated an extra rest day or two into my week, the more quickly I moved through the acute stage and was ready to tackle more ambitious workouts. When I’ve stuck stubbornly to one rest day, I tend to experience setbacks.
—Pain level: Over time, most of us get pretty good at distinguishing bad pain from ‘good’ pain (the pain that comes from challenging muscles in ways they’re not used to). Bad pain should equal more rest days whenever possible, though you can tell from my posts that I am pretty terrible at following this rule.
—Fitness level: It’s one thing to say one rest day per week is sufficient when you’re in good shape, and quite another when you’re first getting started. As a rule of thumb, the less fit you are at your starting point, the more rest days you’ll require. I’ve re-learned this with my injury. I continued to try to work out as though I was still at my previous, high level of fitness. Though it’s hard to admit, I’m way less fit now. Sometimes that means when I’m trying new things or trying to work my way up to my old fitness levels, I may need to take an extra day here or there to let my muscles recover in between workouts.
—Type of Activity: Even though I’m less fit, I can easily do 6 workouts a week if running’s not in the mix. Running is my wild card activity. It’s hard on my body and injury in a way that nothing else is. Each of us has our activities that are ‘easy’ for us or from which our bodies more quickly recover. Other activities are more taxing either because we rarely use the muscles, or because they require a different level of fitness, or because–not that I would know anything about this–they have greater potential to aggravate an injury.
As you can see, all of this is really just an exercise in learning to listen to your body. For me, currently at least, I am still good with one rest day per week but only if that week includes a maximum of one run. If I am going to run more than one day a week, I plan to include two rest days and make sure that one of those rest days falls the day after a run. Staying injury free and experiencing long-term improvements with my injury are my primary goals this year and I think this adjustment to my training schedule will help immensely.