Adding Downtime To Your Training Plan

Are you taking your time away from training seriously enough?

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Seasonality and cyclicality are engrained in our bodies, from the annual trip around the sun to the monthly cycle of the moon to the diurnal rhythm of day and night and on into smaller periods of alertness and sluggishness we experience every few hours. In each of these swings, the down periods are just as critical as the up periods. Do you have enough down in your training plan?

Rest and recovery need to be built into your training—not only in the offseason, but throughout the year. This happens on both the micro and the macro levels. Each day should have some downtime; each week should have lighter days—and probably one full rest day; each month should have a lighter week; each year should have a lighter month (or more); and across many years, there should be a lighter year for every few harder ones. Many of us push, push, push, and don’t plan for the periods when we can stop pushing.

Just as muscular imbalances lead to overuse injuries in endurance sports, life imbalances do, too. Without a positive, healthy balance of your time and energy spent on training, work, and family, you’re putting your mental and physical health at risk. Step away from the computer and go do something fun. You’re reading a training website, so you’re obviously serious about your training. Are you as serious about your downtime? If not, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice and losing the opportunity not only to have more joy in your life, but also to race better. Remember: training stresses your body and leaves it weaker; rest and recovery, where adaptation occurs, makes it stronger.

Does this sound familiar? You get up early, nail your workout, head to work, slam through nine or 10 hours of tasks, hit workout No. 2, eat, and collapse. Where’s the rest in that routine? In the collapse? Sure, we need our nightly sleep—and probably more of it than we are getting—but we also need unstructured downtime, with a focus completely separate from the usual demands of work and training. Even in the periods when you should be relaxing, do you feel jittery, on edge? Learn how to really relax, and you’ll get more recovery from the quiet moments in your day, no matter how short they are.

It’s easy enough for me to command you to relax; the actual relaxation is the hard part. We’ll work on that in future articles. For now, seek relaxation in time spent with family (unless that’s also stressful!). Or try reading, cooking, playing with the dog—whatever brings you joy and is separate from your usual duties. Most likely this downtime is done far from electronics, especially if you’re tied to them for most of the day. Ideally, it isn’t too physical and instead gives your body a chance to coast.

Schedule a little of this downtime each day. You may need to block out time on your schedule, just as you would your workouts, but try to do something without too many structured goals. Even a few minutes of this joyful rest each day will make a big difference for your health, your personality—and, yes, your running.


About The Author:
Endurance sports coach Sage Rountree is author of books including The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery and The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. Sage writes on sports for Yoga Journal and on yoga for publications including Runner’s World, Lava Magazine, and USA Triathlon Life. Find her on Twitter at @sagetree.

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