That's Not a Rest Day!
What do traveling, surfing, and yard work have in common? Hint: They have nothing to do with recovery.
Hands up if you see a rest day on your training schedule and you start running through the list of things you need to get accomplished that day. Or perhaps, you see it as an opportunity to spend more time with your partner and family, enjoying some of their favorite activities. You might even decide it’s the perfect day to be the early bird in the office and stay late to catch up on a project or two.
Before you over plan your next 'rest' day or feel guilty and jump into a last-minute Cross Fit class, take a moment to remind yourself of the purpose of rest; your coach has prescribed the break from the regular swim-bike-run schedule for a reason.
IRONMAN certified coach Jason Lentzke says that he includes rest days for his athletes to allow them to adapt to the demands of training and aid recovery from the work they’ve been doing. "I always encourage athletes to avoid exerting themselves on a rest day," he says. "Be just as committed to rest as you are to hard training."
A rule of thumb that IRONMAN certified coach Chuck Olson offers his athletes for rest days is to avoid any activity that will "push your heart rate into zone two or higher, as well as any activity that will leave your muscles tired, stiff, or sore the next day." Olson acknowledges the greatest problem as a coach is that athletes rarely report what they do on their rest days so it can be a challenge for coaches to monitor deviations.
If you’re unsure what kind of activity you should be doing on a rest day, here are some of the biggest culprits. You might think you're "resting", but if you're doing one of these things, chances are you're not going as easy as you should be. Next time you have a rest day on the schedule, pop on one of your comfy finisher's T's and kick back with your favorite book or a good movie—you'll be better off for it.
Going for an intense massage – I’ll hazard a guess that many of you schedule a massage or other bodywork on your rest days, but IRONMAN Master Coach Matt Dixon prefers athletes schedule massages at the end of tougher training days and on a rest day, to truly "let the body heal."
Jumping into a Cross Fit class – Lentzke recalls one athlete report back that he attended a Cross Fit class with his wife on a rest day that left him sore for the next five days. The high intensity and weights associated with these workouts definitely do not fit the description of a rest day!
Catching waves – Based in San Diego, Olson finds himself having to remind his athletes that surfing all day is—you guessed it—not a rest day. "Surfing can be both aerobically and muscularly challenging, leaving athletes fatigued not just from the activity but also the sun, wind and surf exposure."
Changing time zones – According to Dixon, long drives and plane rides (unless you're in first class!) are more stressful on the body than you might think, even if your feet are up. He recommends avoiding significant travel on a rest day, as well as prescribing a light ride or run at the end of a day of travel to help the body unwind.
Checking off the home improvement – A rest day is not the best day to paint the house, according to Lentzke and Olson. Lentzke suggests that you communicate with your coach if you have any physically taxing project coming up so they can keep the activity light on that day and defer the rest day to another occasion.
Chopping wood – Yes, we mean this literally. Spending an afternoon chopping firewood would better be categorized a strength workout than a rest day, according to Olson.
Hosting a kids' birthday party – Dixon recently co-hosted a birthday party with his wife for their five-year-old son and 30 of his preschool classmates. At the end of the day, Dixon was exhausted from spending the afternoon on his feet, chasing around after the kids. While it was a fun family celebration, it would never qualify as a rest day for his athletes.
Touristing – Yes, that’s a made up word but you know what we mean. If you spend the entire day on your feet touring a new town or city, it hardly qualifies as a rest day. While it might be tempting to see the local sights when you’re visiting for a race, if your coach gave you a rest day then a foot tour of the local attractions is probably out. Consider a bus tour if you must, or opt to chill out on a shaded patio and people-watching instead.
Spectating a race – Two years ago I spectated the IRONMAN World Championship fully hoping to be there for the midnight finish party. After more than 12 hours of standing by the side of the road cheering for friends in the hot sun, I was in bed by 8 pm with a migraine from dehydration. I felt almost worse than if I had raced! It’s important to be out there to support friends and family, but be sure to take care of yourself during the day—and for goodness' sake, don’t call it a rest day!
Lifting a few at a backyard BBQ – Your legs might get plenty of rest hanging out in the backyard and BBQ-ing with family and friends, but according to Dixon, if you imbibe a few too many beers, your system will not get the recovery it needs. While a beer or two is fine, much more than that can be highly stressful on the body.
Playing hard – Participating in a tennis tournament does not sounds like a relaxing rest day to me, but Olson once had an athlete play doubles in a tennis tournament on his day off. The athlete struggled to complete any of his workouts in the subsequent week as his body protested the exertion of the tennis matches. Go ahead and cross train, but be sure to factor it into your triathlon training equation.
Engaging your inner landscape architect – Cleaning up a few weeds might be fine if you do so habitually, but overhauling the backyard can be more strenuous than you realize, says Olson. "If you haven't done any gardening for a while, your body could be quite knotted up the next day," he explains. "Clearly, that would not be a rest day according to your body."