Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rest is an essential element of fitness

I woke up today with sore muscles, particularly my core and hamstrings. My initial instinct was to go for a walk to stretch things out and get the blood flowing to these over-taxed areas. But today was my self-imposed time out and I'd made other plans. After a productive morning, I headed out to lunch with a dear friend and then hit REI in search for a second pair of Vibrams. Struck out on the Vibrams but thoroughly enjoyed lunch and a break from the usual grind. So, in honor of today's time out, I'm posting an article on the subject of rest that I wrote in my fitness column for a local newspaper:

I wander aimlessly through the house, bouncing between my computer in the office and the seemingly endless pile of dishes in the kitchen.

Eventually, I try to settle down to read a magazine, except I can’t stop my foot from tapping or my knee from bouncing up and down.

I find it difficult to rest.

As an athlete on the brink of my master’s years, I am aware of the ever-increasing importance of taking rest days for muscle repair and recovery.

From my aching feet to my creaking shoulders and sore muscles, my body is constantly reminding me of this need, yet my mind continues to race through all of the things I could be doing to increase my heart rate and decrease my finish times.

“This is the offseason,” my husband reminds me. “It’s OK to rest.”

I know he’s right, but still I fight the urge to lace up my shoes and head out for a run.

While many people try to talk themselves into exercising, I try to talk myself out of it. When I do finally convince myself that it’s OK and, in fact, beneficial, to rest, I spend the next several hours trying not to feel guilty for taking a day off.

For me, exercising is not only addictive — I enjoy the post-workout adrenaline rush and the sense of accomplishment, as well as a free pass to enjoy that evening’s dessert or glass of wine — but as much a part of my daily routine as eating breakfast or brushing my teeth.

It’s difficult for me to skip a workout because exercising is something I truly crave and enjoy. I am not motivated by a desire to see smaller numbers on the scale or to look better in a bathing suit, but by the satisfaction I get from being active and challenging myself to achieve new fitness goals.

I also harbor a lingering fear that one rest day will lead to two, and then three because, as Newton’s first law of motion states, objects in motion stay in motion and objects at rest stay at rest. I choose motion.

However, I do know the consequences of pushing too far too fast.

Three years ago I was training for my first half marathon and foolishly increased my mileage too quickly. The result was a double case of plantar fasciitis that took over a year to heal and forced me to defer several of my 2009 races.

According to an article in, building sufficient recovery time into any training program is important because it allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues.

With this in mind, I occasionally manage to back away from my iPod and reach, instead, for a book or a magazine, sparing my feet and joints from yet another day of pounding the pavement.

But I know my running shoes will be ready and waiting for me tomorrow.

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