Reader to Reader: Do gym days = rest days?

Is it OK to ditch rest days completely if you mix cross-training days with running days? Here's what you thought


Posted: 11 March 2007
by Jane Hoskyn


This week's question was emailed to me by forum member Little Lizard, who has taken barely a single rest day in years. She reckons gym work is enough of a rest for her legs, but could she be overdoing it and storing up trouble for the future?

"For years I've not taken a complete day off, apart from two days' bad flu and after a couple of hard races. My days in the gym give my legs a rest as I focus on upper-body strength. My fitness-freak boss says I should have a day of complete rest once a week, but when I take a day off my appetite drops and I feel sluggish. After four years of running I've done two marathons, 3:58 and 3:41, so surely I'm doing something right?"Little Lizard

Your best answers

  • If you feel fine, you're getting enough rest
    It depends on who you are. I think some runners waste their time having rest days. If your upper-body weights days leave you feeling buoyant, cheerful and ready to go the next morning, it probably works perfectly well as rest. Even I can manage a couple of sessions of heel-raises and a bit of stretching on rest days. If you feel the weeks merge into one long treadmill, then you need to break it up with real rest days. – Stickless
  • Weight training isn't 'rest'
    Weights do not count as rest. Your body needs a total rest on occasions – surely the body does not "spot rest" (eg rest legs only) any more than it spot-reduces fat. Take one day off a week at least, and your whole body will benefit. – The Hoose-Goer
  • Your schedule is varied enough to work
    Cross-training helps because it's different! Running six days every week can get boring, and a few sessions doing something else is brillint for the mind and motivation if nothing else – it's something to look forward to and keeps your motivation up. – Greenone
  • Don't see rest days as lazy days
    If you see a rest day as a lazy day, you'll beat yourself up. See it as valuable consolidation instead. Even the upper body works hard at your distances, and these muscles need time out to refresh and repair, so have a day off! However, weights are great for runners' upper bodies, especially if they are used to redress the imbalances that running can cause, eg round shoulders. All the best for your marathons. – Cathy Lawford
  • A rest day will reap rewards
    Have a day off completely every week. The body needs it, physically and mentally. Enjoy it, and then look forward to your next training session. – kittenkat
  • If your training ain't broke, don't fix it
    Upper-body weight training probably doesn't contribute anything useful to your running, LL, but provided you enjoy it and don't find it stressful I think it's fine to regard those days as rest days. – Velociraptor
  • Your legs are getting plenty of rest
    It's your leg muscles that need a rest from running, so yes, an upper-body gym day counts as a rest day. – Johnny J
  • How weighty are your weights?
    It depends on what strength training you do. An hour with toning weights isn't the same as a hardcore back session. A big back day will leave you on your knees. No way is that rest. It's dead easy to overtrain. – Stump
  • If it suits you, fine – but no rest days in years?
    Your body is the best judge. If you're treating your gym days as rest days and feeling fine on it, then it probably isn't doing you any harm. But do you not even take rest days in the lead up to a race day? Do you not have holidays, you poor troubled soul? – Martin Pace
  • Rest should mean rest...
    I have a mentor for triathlon. He says rest is exactly that R-E-S-T. That means doing nothing, zilch, zero, nada, nowt. – Cath
  • ... but only if you're training for tri
    Tri idiots (heroes) need a complete rest day because we need our arms for bike and swimming. But if you're marathon only, and you're not weight training your legs, upper body training shouldn't be an issue. If you were complaining of fatigue/tiredness or being "out of it", rest days should definitely be incorporated into your schedule. But you say you're not feeling the strain, so no worries. – Tri Taffia
  • Take a more long-term view
    There are two types of runner. Some think they have to do something every day. Others enjoy regular rest days. In my experience, the people who never give their bodies time to recover are the ones who spend the most time carrying injuries. Sometimes the long-term view of how much you do a year is more important than the short-term of how much you do a week. – Wirral Dave
  • Rest days will improve your performance
    I don't think there's too much wrong with training everday if you enjoy it, but to improve performance you need to juggle rest/easy, progressive build up, changing the load, and recovery/rest. So you may need complete rest days. For a fast race time, science says to taper. But I know loads of people who don't and still get good times. – Captain Snax
  • Don't damage your health
    What drives you to run or exercise every day? Is it restlessness or addiction? When I was younger I was guilty of overtraining, and it knocked my health back for years. But it's always easier to tell someone else to rest than to take the advice. – Hairy Airey
  • Weight training might make your marathon harder
    In my opinion building muscle on your upper body just means extra weight to carry round 26.2 miles. I'd forget the weight training until after marafun, and enjoy the fact that those skinny arms and chest will give you a bit of extra speed on race day. – Ultra W
  • If you were overtraining, you'd soon notice
    I would say your gym days count as rest days. If they didn't, I doubt you could do your long run after your tempo run (well you could, but it would be hard). – kev
  • We mortals don't run enough to need a rest
    I think a full rest day is only a requirement for full-time athletes. For the rest of us, the amount of time we train each day is so small, you probably get 22 hours rest a day anyway! Lots of people (including me) find running every day leads to injuries – but running one day, cross training the next seems fine if your body isn't complaining. – Jeremy Larcombe
  • Horses for courses...
    Upper body weights don't count as rest in my running schedule, but I do count swimming as rest and cycling, but not too much, as "half-rest". – Welsh Alex


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This week's question was emailed to me by Little lizard. Over to you, LL...

"My third marathon is coming up, and my training schedule goes like this:

Mon: Gym - weights upper body
Tues: Speedwork or hill training with club (5-7 miles total including warm up and cool down jogs)
Weds: Gym - weights upper body
Thurs: 8-10 mile tempo run with club
Fri: Gym - weights upper body
Sat: 18-22 mile steady long run (apart from the tapering up and down for a race, I do these pretty much all year round)
Sun: 4-6 mile run. Speed depends on how I'm feeling.

For years I've not taken a complete day off, apart from two days' bad flu and one day last week after a couple of hard races. I figure that my days in the gym give my legs a rest as I do absolutely nothing with them, apart from 5 mins gentle warm-up on the cross-trainer.

My fitness-freak boss tells me off, saying I should have a day of complete rest once a week. But when I take a day off my appetite drops and I feel sluggish. After four years of running I've done two marathons, 3:58 and 3:41, hoping for 3:30 at the end of the year, so surely I'm doing something right? Or should I really take a complete day off?

Readers' opinions (and that of Mike Gratton) would be very much appreciated! Thank you!"


Posted: 04/03/2007 at 18:15

Weights do not count as rest. Your body needs a total rest on occasions. Surely the body does not "spot rest"(eg rest legs only) anymore than it spot reduces fat.

Take one day off at least and all of you will benefit.
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 18:50

I think it depends entirely on who you are. I think some around here are wasting their time having rest days. At the other end of the scale, a rest day for me means doing simple stress free tasks around the house or at my desk, a 2hour afternoon nap and an early night.

If your upper body weights day leaves you feeling buoyant cheerful and ready to go the next morning, it probably counts as rest. Even I can manage a couple of sessions of heel raises and a bit of stretching on rest days. If you feel the weeks merge into one long treadmill, then you need to break it up with real rest days.

Some people manage to up the intensity of their training over a month or so, and thus achieve a new plateau at which they can train comfortably. They feel horribly tired whilst increasing the training, but once they get there they cope well. I have tried, and the consequences are definitely worth avoiding. This is not to say that others won't succeed, but it might be wise to put a limit of four or five weeks on the attempt.

I reckon seriously bad things happen to your head if you push beyond that plateau for too long. Only you, and possibly your family members (!) will know what is too long. They might even be aware of trouble brewing before you are. In such cases you might do well to heed their advice.


Posted: 04/03/2007 at 19:33

More on the matter of rules of thumb: as with marathon schedules, they are aimed at an imaginary (non-existant) 28 year old relatively new to the sport. But the sense behind them applies to youngsters and old cripples alike. The structure of a training week, avoiding over-training, not expecting progress to be linear, or even monotonic increasing. (We may hope it is not monotonic decreasing.) The importance of variety of sessions.

The marathon schedules, the rules of thumb, the training tips are really useful for all shapes of runners, provided we take the trouble to read the ideas, and not just the rules. I can get a lot out of both the elite and the get-you-round schedules.

I have to. No-one writes schedules for me.
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 19:40

Upper-body weight training probably doesn't contribute anything useful to your running, LL, but provided you enjoy it and don't find it stressful I think it's fine to regard those days as rest days :o)
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 19:46

Jane
It's your leg muscles that need a rest from running so a gym day counts as a rest day.
JJ
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 19:47

If you see a rest day as a lazy day you'll beat yourself up. Seeing it as 'consolidation' is valuble. Even the upper body works hard at your distances, and these muscles need time out to refresh and repair so have a day off! However, weights are great for runners' upper bodies, especially if they are used to redress the imbalances that running can cause; for example round shoulders. All the best for your marathons.
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 23:52

I have a mentor for triathlon. He says rest is exactly that R-E-S-T. That means doing nothing, zilch, zero, nada, nowt.
Posted: 04/03/2007 at 23:54


As far as I am concerned upper body weights does count as rest in my running schedule. It would not however count as rest on a pre-race day whereupon I would recommend pies.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Pies :-)

Swimming also counts as rest for me and cycling, but not too much, counts as 1/2 rest.

However, legs days in the gym have to be carefully scheduled about my training and racing as they can leave me walking like John Wayne and unable to run.

Did legs and chest this morning in the Gym so will be creaking up staircases from tomorrow (it always hits the day after) until about Thursday.


Posted: 05/03/2007 at 00:00

Thanks for your replies so far, opinion does seem rather split.

The reason I do weights is that this long distance running lark has given me skinny arms, so I like to keep a bit of muscle/strength on my arms/shoulders/upper body and keep me in some sort of proportion (I've got a hefty pair of legs and hips!)

I really needed that day off last week after a few races as I was trashed, however a weekly complete rest day doesn't really do it for me. Maybe I'd best just keep the total rest for before a marathon or like last week, when feeling trashed? What a conundrum!

I'll await everyone's opinions then decide...

Thank you all, your help is much appreciated :-)
Posted: 05/03/2007 at 08:03

It must depend on what strength training you do.

An hour with toning weights isn't the same as a hardcore back session. A big back day will leave you on your knees. No way is that rest.

It is dead easy to overtrain. Guilty. Are you sure you get those symptoms and that they are not the sign of other issues?


Posted: 05/03/2007 at 08:04

"have a mentor for triathlon. He says rest is exactly that R-E-S-T. That means doing nothing, zilch, zero, nada, nowt"

Thats for TRI so vaild! we need our arms for bike and swim so resting is needed for multisport idiots(heros)

Where LL is mara only and not weight training legs upper body training should not be an issue.
If she was complaining of fatuige/tiredness or being "out of it" rest days should be incoprated into her scheduale. As she says she is not feeling the strain in legs etc so no worries.

Posted: 05/03/2007 at 09:50

My programme has 1 hr on the rowing machine Mondays, and 60-90 minutes swim Fridays. This is in part to reduce the load on a long-term nerve problem but also because cross-training is very important in avoiding other injuries and reducing the impact on my lower-body joints long-term. I think it also might help reduce fat stored in the upper body, and in turn help your weight.

I wonder though if you are doing weights at the gym, you risk putting on unnecessary extra mass which your legs have to carry around when running and this will slow you down overall. On top of this, you may look like you've just walked out of a spell at her majesty's pleasure!! (quite a few prisoners spend their time inside frequently working out but with upper body weights only and can come out looking very out of proportion).

I am firmly in the cross-training 1-2 days a week camp - however it really needs to be cardio-related. Swimming should be a runner's best friend (rant: though don't get me started on my local pool in Westminster that charges £4.20 for a casual session in the WORST fillthiest 25 metre 3-lane pool I have ever encountered, and how this is endemic of this country's overpriced and lack of sports facilities and the resulting teenage anti-social problem /rant) and rowing's good too, you do use your legs in a gentle way but the focus is on toning, not building muscle. Other cardio sports - netball/basketball games, boxing etc that have an upper body element are also good. Mix it up!

The key to making cross-training count, if you want to have it as a successful part of your schedule, is to make sure you do it at the same intensity cardio-wise as you would for the running session you're repacing it with.

And finally, cross-training helps because it's different! Running 6 days every week can get boring and a few sessions doing something else is brillint for the mind and motivation if nothing else - it's something to look forward tyo in the training week.

(Now if only my earphones could work underwater...)
Posted: 05/03/2007 at 10:33

"has 1 hr on the rowing machine Mondays"

Sir a salute you for such an effort!
Posted: 05/03/2007 at 10:38

IMHO building muscle on your upper body just means extra weight to carry round 26.2 miles. I'd forget the weight training until after marafun and enjoy the fact that those skinny arms and chest will give you a bit of extra speed on race day.
Posted: 05/03/2007 at 12:53

I would say your gym days count as rest days. If they didn't then I doubt you could do your long run after your tempo run (well you could do but it would be hard). You don't look excessively bulky from your weight training. How much time do you spend in the gym? Do you do heavy weights or light weights?
Posted: 05/03/2007 at 23:08

I'm not excessively bulky because I don't put muscle on easily up top and have to work for the little I have. I do heavy work with low reps cos the light stuff won't touch me at all, and do supersets, eg, bicep curl/tricep press then repeat another twice. Whole lot goes something like this:

3x8 anteria,medial and posteria deltoid
3x8 chest press/pull ups
3x8 pec dec/upright row
3x8 bicep curl/tricep press
3x12 "bicycles" (sit-up thingies)
3x8 weighted ab machine

Takes about 45 mins the lot by the time I warm up for 5 min then stretch out at the end.
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 00:05

ps, arms gone a bit skinnier than in my forum piccie! Aw!


Posted: 06/03/2007 at 00:07

Matt Fitzgerald wrote in 'The cutting edge runner':
Studies have proven its next to impossible to gain any significant amount of muscle mass while engaging in rigorous endurance training.

Since he had written 'Runner's World guide to cross-training' before that book, I'm assuming he has read some research in that area...
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 08:02

I always reckon your body is the best judge of this kind of thing. I like to have a rest day each week to let any aches and pains die down (today will be such a rest day, and is well timed as yesterday's run involved some foot pain after a hard weekend). Today I will do nowt, if I was feeling a bit less sore, I might have a swim or a gym session. The bottom line is, if you're treating your gym days as rest days and feeling fine on it, then it probably isn't doing you any harm. 2 questions though, in return for my answer to yours:

1) Do you not even take rest days in the lead up to a race day?

2) No rest days in years? Do you not have holidays, you poor troubled soul? ;)
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 09:35

Martin, he he! I swim or run every day when on hols! Sad git, aren't I?!

Imski, yeah see what you mean. I've lost weight all over since running, but far more from my arms than anywhere else and I guess I'm trying to re-dress the balance a bit. I dread to think what I'd look like if I didn't do any weights at all!

Opinion still split on the rest day conundrum by the looks. Taking all comments on board, very interesting, thanks to all so far....
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 11:01

I think there are two types of runners. There are some runners who think they have to do something every day. Then there are those who enjoy regular rest days. In my experience, the people who never give their bodies time to recover are the ones who spend the most time carrying injuries.

There's no point aiming for extra training, or extra intensity, if you're going to end up missing sessions as a result. Sometimes the long-term view of how much you do a year is more important than the short-term of how much you do a week.
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 13:01

hi im a fitness instructor and i generally do something each day including runnign 3 - 4 times a day i am looking to up this to everyday and believe the body is stronger for this unless you carry any injuries
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 13:29

ll unless your a 2 week old kitten activity of any nature will deplete your energy levels whether its weights ,swimming or running .i think we all agree running is the hardest on the body but dont allow any thoughts of cross training to be counted as rest days. i think no rest will catch up with you eventually.the thing that stands out for me is no rest before races ,give a rest day before a race a go or even two god forbid on race day you ll be raring to go or maybe i,ll just read your next item on a to z of injuries .p s im just as bad as you or so my girlfriend tells me
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 18:10

I suspect what I do at work and at home every day - all those tedious, time-on-feet activities - is far more depleting than 45 minutes in the gym, but I'm sure nobody would suggest that on a "rest day" I should down tools and tell the family I'm not doing any shopping or cooking or tidying-up.
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 21:04

What counts as a rest day depends on what a 'non-rest' day looks like. If most days you do say, 10ml+, with a few speed sessions thrown in, then 4-6ml running, or/and a weight session can easily count as a rest day.

Also, I won't knock the benefits of weight training - heavy weights - for the legs and lower body, esp for women. I had a feeling that lack of strength in my glutes and quads was preventing my stride being as strong as it should be. 4mths of once or twice weekly weights seems to have done more for my pace than years (and miles) of running.
Posted: 06/03/2007 at 21:35

I am training for my first mara in May.
I am typically doing four runs per week + a couple of cross training sessions (karate class + 10k bike ride or squash game). I do all this during the week, and then have one or two days rest at the weekend. I personally think that resting has to be good to give the body a break each week.
This system worked well until my running distance got up to 50k in a week (including one slow 30k run in the last week I did this).
Then I started getting stiffness/stinging/aching in the shins.
Worried about shin splints, I increased my cross training and dramatically reduced my running for a couple of weeks.
However the symptoms don't seem to have gone. Is this stinging in the shins just something you can train through?
Any advice?
Posted: 07/03/2007 at 10:24

Interesting debate. When I'm in "the groove" I train 6 days a week....and have a real problem taking a rest day.

However, I do! as I was told/believe that improving strength and muscles etc, actually tears the muscle. A complete day of rest ( no exercise ) is essential to allow them to mend and therefore get stronger!!!

I also use a rowing machine, and add a 10k and 5k row into the week...it actually gives the whole body griff, but of course keeps the weight off your joints.... As per gym work.....throw all the weighs and equiptment away....to cross-train, a rower is all that is needed....

Anyroadup, there yo go, that's my two penneth!!!!!
Posted: 07/03/2007 at 10:26

For what it's worth, I think a full rest day is only a requirement for full-time athletes. For the rest of us, the amount of time we train each day is so small, you probably get 22 hours rest a day anyway! Lots of people (including me) find running every day leads to injuries, but running one day, gym or cross training the next seems fine if your body isn't complaining.
Posted: 07/03/2007 at 14:33

mmm interesting discussion. For what its worth my view is it depends how fit you are and how hard you train. Sometimes a rest day/recovery day for me could be workout in the pool adn for others it could be a 20mile bike ride. I use a heart rate monitor to help me determine hard/easy workouts.

I don't think there's too much wrong with training everday if you enjoy it and aren't getting injured - but if you want to get fitter and improve performance you need to juggle hard with rest/easy, progressive build up, changing the load, and recovery/rest. In which case you may need complete rest days.

For a fast race time science says to taper. But I know loads of people that don't and still get good times. eg they run 20miles the week before the marathon, or do 5hrs bike and a 20mile run the weekend before Ironman.




Posted: 07/03/2007 at 16:31

I would say that not having at least one rest day a week is affecting your peak performance. It isn't the training that makes you fitter, it's the way your body recovers from it. I don't know of any Olympian who has trained seven days a week (although I'm prepared to make an exception for curling).

I would ask you though what drives you to run or exercise every day? Is it restlessness or addiction? I know when I was younger I was guilty of overtraining and that knocked my health back for years. Fair enough at the moment you are able to cope, but what if you had a severe viral infection? Would you continue to train or decide to take it easy?

It's always easier to tell someone else to rest rather than yourself, so I realise that these words are probably falling on deaf ears.
Posted: 10/03/2007 at 23:17

Probably addiction to be honest Airey.

I'm going to take a rest day tomorrow though and see how it goes as I raced the Gloucester 20 last Sunday, did speed training Tues, hard 9 miles Thurs, easy 5 Friday and hilly 22.5 today, all with weight training in between.

Got a couple of races again this week (PSUK x-country 5 on Weds and Silverstone half on Sun)so I'm going to see how a complete rest day helps me perform.

It's so difficult getting my head around doing no exercise at all, but given the replies along with my boss nagging me I'm going to give it another go. I don't know how I'm going to get my head around having one every week, but if I can start by taking one now and then, lets see what happens.
Posted: 11/03/2007 at 18:44

Just another perspective on upper body work/ cross training - I climb atleast once a week. I don't treat it as a rest day, and wouldn't climb the day before a hard running session (especially hills, where I need my arms to drive me up or LSR where back/neck/arms can get stiff.

Overall I think it really helps my running as it definitely strengthens ankles/feet and improves core stability. Plus you don't bulk up.

I always have AT LEAST one day full rest a week, but maybe I'm just lazy!! I used to commute by bike to work (about 14 miles a day) and by the end of the week I'd be noticeably slower and struggling more. After the w/e I'd be good as new!
Posted: 13/03/2007 at 15:22


Baa
"It's so difficult getting my head around doing no exercise at all"

You're not doing no exercise at all - you won't turn in to a sloth on a rest day, you'll still be moving around as normal, doing day-to-day things, it's just everyone's body does need time to repair itself. It might well improve your overall training - don't get too bogged down in the details but look more at the overall picture.

Exercise addiction isn't fun - I work with someone who has/had it, it's not fun.
Posted: 13/03/2007 at 15:31

Baa(!) has got it spot on in my opinion. As I said before, it's consolitation of muscles, tendons, and soft tissues. They need to repair. Body builders,(and they can be very obsesssive), will not take time out if they can help it - it's not in their nature, and to be fair, to get to their desired phsique they have to put the hours in, BUT they find after time,they plateau until they start to put rest days in. Their muscles then begin to build again. Simply put - they have been given the chance to mend.If you ever study this at molecular level it would help you to back off from too much exercise possibly!
Posted: 13/03/2007 at 18:09

I did take a rest day Monday and felt yukky and sluggish, but raced on Wednesday and did really well, so it is helping, I've just got to remain disciplined and take one when needed.

Thanks for your advice everyone, happy training to you all. :-)
Posted: 15/03/2007 at 17:14

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