The Importance of Taking Breaks from Training:
A Column By Amity Delaney
As athletes, our love for running and our desire to succeed can often cause us to keep pushing our body and training when we should perhaps be taking a break to let our bodies and minds properly recover. Although hard training is important, it is also equally as important to ensure that you take adequate breaks in order to aide recovery. Doing this can actually help improve performance in the long term.
Contrary to what we might think, taking time off from training can actually have physical benefits for the body. This is particularly the case when you are sick. I know I am guilty of training and pushing myself through a cold and actually prolonging my symptoms. Our desire to run and our fear that if we take any time off that our competitors will gain an advantage over us stops us from taking a break and allowing our body to heal. While some cold symptoms such as a runny nose do not require you to take time off training, symptoms that are below the neck, e.g. a chesty coughs and body aches require a break from training. Taking a break whilst you’re experiencing this allows your body to recover quicker. Trying to train through will just increase the severity and length of the cold, worsening your fitness in the long run. Even with minor cold symptoms, training through can turn a minor cold into a more serious condition such as bronchitis which will be detrimental to your training and fitness into the future. If you are sick you need time to recover just like any muscular or bone injuries do. The trick is to listen to your body. If you are not feeling well enough then don’t train – it is not worth the risk.
Taking time off is also necessary when you are injured or have any niggles. I know I have made the mistake of both training and even racing through what I thought was a niggle, only for it to escalate into a full-blown injury that forced me to take a number of weeks off. My fear of falling behind and my desire and ambition to keep training actually made my condition worse and negatively affected my fitness levels. Although taking time off and/or slowing down training until your condition improves can be frustrating for runners, it is worth it in the long run. If you feel a niggle or injury coming on, it is important to listen to your body and stop. Go and get it checked out and clear yourself of any problems before you start working again. Although this can be disheartening, it is better to take a small amount of time off and clear the injury early rather than overuse it and risk causing extensive damage.
Taking breaks is also just an important and necessary part of a weekly training schedule, even if you are feeling 100% fit and healthy. Recovery is important to help prevent injuries and allow your body to recover as this will allow you to perform at your best. With my training, I usually take one day off running to allow my body to relax and prepare myself for the next week ahead. I find this results in my muscles not being as sore which allows me to push myself through my next week of running. If you feel you must get some work in then another way to do it is to complete a smaller and easier run instead of taking a day off. That way, you still get to run like you want but you will not push your body too hard so that it does not have adequate time to recover. It is also important to take at least one 3-4 week break off per year because it takes a long period of time for your muscles to truly recover. Obviously it is desirable to do this during a down-time in which you are not racing all the time, rather than in peak racing season. Overall, taking breaks can allow your body to recover which prevents injuries, allowing you to train harder and faster for longer periods of time. This allows you to perform at your maximum capacity.
Although as athletes we adore running and enjoy training, there are some times when our motivation can wane. I know there have been several points during my running career where I have been stuck in a mental rut and have had no motivation to compete or race. As a result, my performance suffered heavily. Despite the fact that we want to be performing at peak levels, there are times when the monotony of training and/or other life issues can drag us down. It is at this point in time where taking a break can truly make a difference. We worry so much about taking time off because we are so afraid of falling behind and our racing performance decreasing that we fail to see the long-term mental benefits of taking a break. Take some time to do things that you enjoy and don’t normally do whilst running. Allow yourself to relax and stop thinking about running all the time. If you desire it, do other forms of exercise such as swimming or bike riding to provide some variety to your training. From personal experience, taking a break while I had lower levels of motivation allowed me to perform better in the long run. I returned energised and focused and ready to compete and actually ended up recording some personal bests even though I had only been back training for a month. As many people say, distance running is a highly mental sport so if you are not 100% motivated and focused, your performance can suffer greatly. Therefore, taking a break from training can help improve your mental health and motivation and ultimately improve your performance in the long run.
As athletes ‘taking a break’ is not a phrase we want to hear. We are so motivated and focused on our goals and we love running so much that taking any time off is disheartening. However, taking breaks from training every now and then when it is required can have significant physical and mental benefits which can improve performance in the long run.
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