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Q: Am I setting myself up for burnout or injury if I have no rest/recovery days?
A: Rest days are one tool in your recovery toolbox. Others include post-workout refueling and rehydrating, dynamic stretching, foam rolling and active recovery. Without adequate recovery, your long-term improvement will be hindered. So it’s helpful to understand how rest days can help you adapt to your training load.
A rest day allows for extended recovery, thus permitting the body to adapt more fully to a previous training cycle. Rest days also give the body time to refill glycogen stores, prevent overtraining and avoid mental burnout.
However, weekly rest days are not always a necessity, and when you take one depends on your history, lifestyle and training period (i.e., off-season, base, build, taper). Typically, beginners should take weekly rest days; experienced athletes can space them out more. Generally, rest days are a good idea after long or intense training blocks (e.g., several weeks of build training or following an extended base training block), during taper and after racing. Regular rest days, or non-swim-bike-run days, are a good idea during the off-season.
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Heart rate can offer some clues as to whether you need a rest day. If you have trouble getting to or maintaining a steady heart rate across several workouts and/or your resting heart rate is elevated or variable, you likely need a rest day. Other signals include:
- Irritability and low energy levels
- Increased hunger, especially with cravings for sugar.
- Trouble sleeping or disrupted sleep patterns.
- Injury or a nagging “tweak” that won’t go away.
If you decide to skip weekly rest days, you should incorporate weekly active recovery workouts, such as an easy short swim or bike at about 50–60 percent of your max effort. Depending on where you are in your training cycle, these workouts might be included one to three times per week.
USAT Level 1 coach Maria Simone is the owner of No Limits Endurance Coaching and is an active triathlete and runner, with several podium finishes to her name.