The amount of rest that endurance athletes need depends on many factors but here are some general guidelines that you can develop for your individual needs.
Once you have been training for a few years, one to two rest days each week are usually enough to maintain health and sustain effective training.
Work with a weekly schedule to determine your recovery needs
Rather than trying to work everything out all at once, it is often a good idea to create a routine and then adjust that to determine how much recovery you need. If you do the same thing on the same days each week, you can adjust things to develop a sustainable routine that leads to consistent training and effectively build your fitness.
A typical week of training might look like this:
- Monday: Rest or easy day
- Tuesday: Higher intensity training such as intervals
- Wednesday: Steady endurance miles or an additional rest day if you need it
- Thursday: Medium intensity or higher volume like a long endurance session or some tempo work
- Friday: Rest or easy day
- Saturday: Longer interval session to take advantage of the weekend
- Sunday: Longer endurance workout to build endurance and develop aerobic efficiency
You can use this weekly routine, or something similar, as the basis of your training. Make notes on how you feel each day and how each workout goes so that you can identify trends and then adjust things as needed. A common trend can be that you are always tired on Tuesdays and that makes it hard to do your higher intensity training effectively. This can happen if you are doing a lot of training at the weekend, which takes more than one day to recover from. The solution to this is to make Tuesday an easier day, perhaps doing a short easy workout and leave your higher intensity work until Wednesday.
Moving the Tuesday workout to Wednesday might mean you have to adjust Thursday but in many cases you will be able to manage a the lower intensity workout on Thursday because doing low intensity is often manageable when you are a bit tired. If not, you will need to adjust the week or put in additional recovery days.
At Endurance Bike and Run, we find that this routine works well for most of our clients that work a normal working week and have weekends free for longer workouts. For others, we adjust things to suit individual needs. If you aren’t sure how things might work for you, make a comment or send us an email, and we will do our best to help by answering your question.
What things influence how much rest you need?
Many factors influence how much rest you need and as these vary, so does the amount of recovery you need. Because of this, it is important to be aware of how you feel and make adjustments to your schedule. Here are some things that can help or hinder recovery, resulting in the need for more or less rest in your schedule.
1. The fitter you are, the more endurance you have and the less rest you need?
The overall amount of training you are doing relative to what you are used to has a big impact on how tired you are. When you first start out in endurance sport you might need a rest day every other day, or even two or three days rest after a very hard workout. As your fitness and endurance builds you will find that you also recover more quickly and will be able to do more with less rest. Recovery is still important but as you recover quicker you may be able to train for two, three or more days without having a day off.
This type of fitness and resilience develops over years of exercise and is often known as Training Age. When coaching younger athletes it is important to consider both Training Age and actual age because a younger athlete that has been training for several years may be more developed than an older athlete that has only just started their journey in sport. These athletes must be treated differently. As adults, training age is also important to consider but we might refer to older athletes as beginners or experienced athletes, it is a similar thing and an individuals training history will have a big influence on how much rest they need.
Modern training diary applications like TrainingPeaks and Strava have sophisticated tools that you can use to help understand how much training you are doing compared to your current level of fitness. Be careful though, these tools aren’t perfect, so use them as a guide rather than relying on the absolute numbers that they produce. These tools are also excellent training diaries for noting down how each of your workouts has gone and understanding how effective your training is.
Elite athletes often train twice a day and don’t take complete days off for several weeks at a time. However, to be successful they have to pay special attention to recovery and build appropriate rest into their routines. Sometimes they will do a shorter, easier workout rather than take a day off completely.
2. Age – in general, older athletes need more recovery than younger people
In general, once you get beyond the age of around 40, you recover more slowly. Remember this is relative to your training age and level of experience but all things being equal, someone in their 60s will recover slower than someone in their 30s.
Because there are so many factors that influence recovery, it isn’t possible to give an absolute amount of recovery that is needed for any given person, or to say how much more recovery you would need when you are 60 then when you were 40. For example, someone may need more recovery when they are 58 if they are holding down a stressful job that requires long hours at work, a long commute and have a family at home to support than the same person at 68 after they have retired and their children have left home. Like most things in sport, and particularly endurance sport, ‘… it depends on many factors’.
A good lifestyle will help you recover quicker
In addition to how used to training you are, how fit you are and how old you are, what you do outside your training can make a substantial difference to how well you recover and therefore how much training you can handle between rest days.
By taking care of yourself, your life and your environment, you can improve your recovery time and therefore train more effectively and more frequently to build your fitness to higher levels.
We all know what is good for us but often find excuses to convince ourselves to stray from the good life. A good resource to help you sort out a good lifestyle is a book by Steve Peters called A Path Through the Jungle.
Factors that are important to a good lifestyle are:
- External stresses from work, family, travel, etc, all create fatigue and it has been shown the mental fatigue is very significant in how we perform physically in training and racing, as well as how effectively we recover.
- Personal security, like adequate finances, a safe, secure place to live and a safe environment to live in. Hopefully, you aren’t in physical danger where you live but creating a safe and comfortable environment where you can live efficiently can make a huge difference to your recovery.
- Supportive community provides emotional support and community, which settles our emotions and helps recovery. A group of like minded friends is also excellent motivation to help with your training.
- Nutrition and hydration; eating a healthy, balanced diet that provide enough calories to fuel your training and enough nutrients to keep you healthy makes a huge difference to your recovery and how much rest you need.
- Sleep; not getting enough sleep will lead to fatigue and potentially serious illness. At best it will reduce the effectiveness of your training as you will be mentally and physically tired and unable to perform at your best. One of the best things you can do if you have some spare time is to take a nap – it is much more effective than playing on social media.
- Down time; personal down time such as time alone to relax or time with friends is refreshing and helps you reset. It is important to make this according to your personal needs, some people need alone time and some are energised by social groups. Also, keep in mind that a night out with lots of alcohol and a poor nights sleep isn’t necessarily optimal for recovery, although a blow out now and again can be helpful if you accept it will take time to recover from it.
- Relaxation techniques like mindfulness, yoga can help make your down time more effective and including these in your daily or weekly routines can be very helpful.
- Freedom from stress; looking for areas of unhelpful stress in your life and eliminating them where possible will be helpful and reducing stress might mean you can get more out of your workouts as well as improving your recovery times.
- Stretching and massage; although there is little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of stretching and massage to promote and speed recovery, anecdotal evidence exists and it is fair to say that these things don’t do harm but can be effective for some people.
Alcohol isn’t helpful to recovery from a physiological standpoint and it interferes with sleep. However, a beer or glass of wine now and again can be helpful to promote a relaxing evening with a good book or a social gathering with friends. Try not to succumb to peer pressure but if a glass of alcoholic beverage helps now and again it is unlikely to do you any harm.
Measurements, metrics and apps
There are many things that you can measure nowadays that allegedly tell you how much recovery you need and whether you are ready to train hard on any given day or at any given time. These come as standalone applications, or built into devices like sports watches or fitness trackers. In our experience and based on keeping a close eye on the market, these things can give useful indications of trends in recovery and fatigue but the daily advice they give is questionable. Having a routine, tracking how you feel and having the best lifestyle you can are likely to be more effective than relying on a gadget to tell you what to do.
However, things are improving all the time and it is reasonable to assume that the advice from smart wearable technology and apps will become increasingly useful over time. Irrespective of how good they are, it is better to be self aware, ‘listen to your body’ and make smart decisions based on how you react to the varying stimuli from training and life.
Hopefully you can see from this discussion that there is no simple answer to how much rest you need, but there are ways that you can plan your time to recover effectively and make sure you get enough recovery to support your training.
Here is a summary of the things that are important:
- Have a routine and adjust it to meet your needs
- Eat a balanced nutritious diet
- Get plenty of good quality sleep
- Give yourself enough down time
- Minimise external stress by learning appropriate life skills
Let us know how you get on and if you have any questions, please get in touch by commenting, emailing or posting on social media at @bikeandruncoach.
Is a power meter worth it? If you can afford a power meter it is worth the investment, particularly if you are training for events that demand higher intensity or you are looking to get to the next level of competition. Think about how much you spend on your bike(s) and maybe spend a bit less on the bike and add a power meter. Obviously you need to learn how to use it properly because otherwise it is a waste of money and could leave you worse off that you would be without one.
Is Tempo training a good idea? There is a lot of debate as to whether training between your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, often known as Tempo training is a good idea. Several studies have shown that greater improvements in various metrics come from working above and below anaerobic threshold with very little training in between to be most effective. This is termed Polarized Training and perhaps recently accredited to Professor Stephen Seiler. However, the performance tests for these studies have been focused on tests of up to one hour and it seems possible that for longer tests or events, the training benefits of Tempo training could be very positive. I certainly use Tempo Training to good effect with many of my athletes.