Train Smarter, Not Harder

Resting well can do wonders for your running.

Here’s a simple concept that could unlock your best running: You get faster when you rest, not when you train. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can set your best race times simply by lounging around—you need to run before you rest. But, it’s actually when you take a day off, or even two, that your body adapts to the work you put in, leaving you fitter, stronger, and faster. Plus, recovering well helps prevent injuries and helps keep mental fatigue in check—runners at every level can suffer from overtraining. Use these strategies to make the most out of your rest days. 

Sleep Well

A 2020 study published in the journal SLEEP documented that college basketball players measurably increased their performances in shooting free throws and running sprints simply by extending their overnight sleep periods from seven hours to 8.5 hours. According to the Cleveland Clinic, athletes in endurance sports have more to gain by sleeping in than weightlifters or sprinters—scientists believe the extra rest is particularly important for sustaining focus during longer efforts. How much is enough? Sleep patterns can be highly individual but most adults require consistently getting at least eight to nine hours per night to perform their best.

Eat Well

Dialing in perfect nutrition for sports is a complex topic, but it’s easy to make sure you have the basics covered to aid recovery. Carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, and rice) provide the energy reserves that fuel your efforts. A modest but steady supply of protein is crucial for repairing the damage that regular workouts inflict. And don’t neglect those veggies—they supply vitamins, minerals and, perhaps most importantly, fiber for a healthy digestive system.


You lose both fluids and electrolytes (salts) during extended bouts of heavy exercise. Staying hydrated is important, but you also need to replace salts. Water and salty snacks should do the trick; you can tell if you’re well-hydrated by the color of your pee. It should be pale yellow, like lemonade. Darker and you’ll want to drink more fluids. It’s possible to be over-hydrated as well; you don’t want pee that looks like water.

Active or Passive? 

Athletic trainers frequently describe two complementary approaches to recovery. 

  • Active rest sounds contradictory but it simply means that a bit of light exercise on a rest day may help muscles recover better than doing nothing. 
  • Passive recovery, on the other hand, means doing as little as possible—aside from perhaps a short walk or some light stretching (or doing something like gardening). 

Experiment with both approaches. If active recovery leaves you too fatigued to jump back into your training, keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with hitting the couch for a day of maximum laziness. On the other hand, if a light workout that doesn’t drain your energy reserves feels good then go for it, but do something other than run. Consider a short swim, an easy bike spin, or a low-key yoga class.

Find Your Special Sauce

There have been many attempts to scientifically document the benefits of recovery extras such as ice baths, massage, sauna sessions, wearing compression socks, and the like. Few of those studies have been able to present hard evidence—but that doesn’t mean that one or more of these treatments won’t benefit your recovery. If a weekly massage helps your legs bounce back, by all means go for it.

Strive for Balance

The perfect blend of stimulation and recovery is different for everyone. Finding it is probably the biggest challenge of being an athlete—sometimes you’ll be rewarded by toughing it out and completing hard workouts despite feeling fatigued, but at other times listening to your body pays off when you need a break. Beware the very real dangers of overtraining. 

Know the signs of overtraining: sleeplessness, reduced appetite, irritability, etc., and give yourself an extended break if you experience a combination of these symptoms or are sensing and overuse injury. If your gut says it’s time for some much-needed rest, take it.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.