I hate “rest days.” I really do. Even though I know that it’s on the rest days when the body makes the fitness gains. It’s on the rest days when the body can rebuild the little micro-tears that occurred during a long run or during speed work. That rebuilding is what makes the muscles stronger, so if there is no rest, there is no rebuild. If there is no rebuild, there is no improvement. Logically I get that rest days are essential to training, but the idea of taking a rest day is crippling to my Type-A, controlling, eating disorder brain.
Rest? You want me to REST? But how will you get your steps in? How will you make sure that you’re trained and ready for your race? How will you burn calories, how can you allow yourself to eat if it’s a rest day? You’ll turn into Violet Beauregarde when she blows up into a blueberry and they’ll have to roll you out of the house! You can’t take a rest day!
There are many athletes out there with similar feelings towards the idea of a rest day. Athletes are eager to train and eager to push, shying away from the notion of a rest day. Our motives may be different, my aversion to a rest day coming from my history with eating issues, theirs from something else, but the general anxiety and unwillingness to rest is there. Needless to say, my rest days usually become “active recovery days,” with crazy intense hot yoga classes with weights, biking, long walking breaks, anything to just get moving. But that has started to change, thanks to a simple phrase: Supporting Session.
I came across that term while reading Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. The book is about how to sustain peak performance and burnout, not just in athletics, but in work and life in general. In my opinion, this book is a must read. The term “supporting session” comes from an interview with Matt Dixon, an elite triathlon coach. He is big on getting athletes to recover. Once the athletes start to get the proper rest, they find that they gain more fitness and perform better. But how to convince an athlete to rest? Framing rest days as “supporting sessions” that support growth, adaptation and fitness gains, changes the mindset about rest days as passive to active. A supporting session ACTIVELY contributes to becoming a better athlete. A supporting session is a PRODUCTIVE way to benefit training.
For someone who feels the need to be active all the time, this mindset shift has been a powerful tool. I appreciate
rest days supporting sessions in a new way. They’re essential to becoming a better athlete, they are not a waste of time. I’ve flirted with overtraining and burnout multiple times, but after only about 2 weeks of this mindset shift I feel myself stepping back from the brink of burnout. I’m more energized on my workout days and calmer on my supporting session days. I’ve switched my lens from “rest days are passive” to “supporting sessions are active,” and have almost erased my anxiety surrounding them.
If you’re like me, and always have viewed rest days negatively because the sense of “doing nothing” causes you anxiety, then I challenge you to reframe them as supporting sessions, and see if that makes a difference. The positive spin on the idea might just be the key to a successful training cycle. If interested in reading Peak Performance, you can buy it on Amazon. It is an informative, fun read, and has many ways of rethinking training and life in order to perform at your best.
What is your opinion of rest days? Have you thought of them as “supporting sessions” before?
Happy running and