Taking Time Off

Across the country, autumn means that marathon season is at its peak, and notably, near 90 percent of all runners who are training for a marathon incur some type of sports-related injury. Women are most likely to have knee injuries related to improper movement patterns that are exacerbated by repetitive movements while men usually have pulled hamstrings from a lack of flexibility. Our bodies are in desperate need of rest. Without proper rest we can incur some side-lining injuries.

Most of our injuries are a result of over-use and under-rest. In an article published in Sports Medicine by Fredericson and Misra, they found that running more than 40 miles a week was considered the threshold that increased one’s risk for developing an over-use injury.

Fredricson and Misra note that stretching is not necessarily a preventative measure, rather muscle imbalances and repetitious movements in the wrong pattern can cause injuries such as iliotibial tract syndrome, knee pain, and lower back pain.

Eskola and colleagues found heavy running (over 2.5 hours at a time) lead to increased plasma cortisol levels (the stress hormone that over time can lead to weight gain) and depressed lymphocytes (which help your immune system). In fact cortisol can increase blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and can suppress the immune system. The body naturally releases cortisol to help restore the body to homeostasis after stress (physical, mental or emotional). Therefore, after heavy running, such as a marathon, your body responds with a depressed immune system and increased stress hormones. This shows how essential rest is after a marathon. Marathons are fine to do with the proper rest between races and post-season recovery for your immune system.

In the European Journal of Applied Physiology, Peterson and colleagues found that leg muscle power significantly decreased (close to a 20 percent drop) up to five days post-marathon. If you continue to push your body after long distances your performance will suffer.

As with any sport, running requires a period of rest. Not only is it important to rest between races during the season, but it is also vital to take a long rest period at the end of the season. All sports should undergo various cycles and periods in which training and racing are scheduled to prepare your body to peak at the proper time. But without a proper rest period your body will not be able to repair itself and to peak when the next season comes along.

The major cycles that each sport entails are pre-season, beginning of season where preliminary races occur, peak of competition season, post-season and rest.

For sufficient muscle repair and recovery your body needs at least a week of complete rest and a total of four weeks to slowly ease back into training. It can be tough but your body deserves some R & R. Some off-seasons can last six weeks or longer, depending on your season and how much your body needs recovery. An off season can vary from a minimum of four weeks to12 weeks depending on your level of fatigue and injuries.

Chronic fatigue can set in without proper rest. After a hard season of training your first level of importance needs to be proper sleep. You should aim for eight hours a night (minimum of seven hours). Your body does its greatest amount of tissue repair while you are sleeping. Therefore, you can train hard and see little results if you area not getting proper shut-eye.

Your off-season is also great for visualizing what you want to do the following year. Set goals and enlist a team of support. Look ahead to the year to come and develop a well thought out plan. Find out the dates of next year’s races and schedule your training around the races that are most important to you. If you are not sure how to set up a running program, ask your local running expert. Local specialty running stores typically have a wealth of information they can provide and many are connected with local coaches that you could contact.

Maybe you need a personal trainer to help you with proper stretching or muscle strengthening exercises. You might also need to hire a physical therapist to help distinguish any muscle imbalances you might have. Remember that muscle imbalances can cause injuries to your knees and lower back. Many people, especially runners, have very tight hamstrings and weak hip abductor muscles. This combination will lead to knee misalignment and pain. Hire a nutritionist to see if you need to re-vamp your dietary intake. You might be missing important vitamins and nutrients. Get a massage or take up a yoga class. Learn how to breathe correctly and increase your ability to focus and push through pain.

Another important reason to rest is for the strengthening of essential core musculature. Without core strength (abdominals, back, hips and buttocks) you risk lower back pain and injury. Forget lifting heavy weights and focus on your core.

The following would be a basic four-week recovery schedule:

Week 1

Complete rest. Take the entire week off from running. Try going for an easy walk in the park or getting a massage. Let your muscles and joints rest and repair. It might feel weird to take an entire week off from running after you have spent months training to run faster and longer, but relish in this week and enjoy how refreshed your body feels. If inactivity is difficult for you then get off the couch and take an easy stroll down the street or a leisurely bike ride. But remember that rest is just as important to your body as hard training.

Week 2

Start easy running again. Your runs should be on non-consecutive days with a day of rest between. Keep your runs short. Opt for flat terrain and make sure you warm up for at least five minutes with a fast paced walk or slow jog. Cool down and take time to stretch. Most runners do not spend enough time stretching so take a few extra minutes that you would normally be running and stretch. Keep your mileage down as well, no higher than a quarter of your normal weekly mileage.

Week 3

Add some longer intervals to increase your stamina and strength. Continue to keep your running to non-consecutive days and allow your body to rest between runs. You can add to your weekly mileage a little but remember that you are still in a resting phase.

Week 4

Now is a good time to add a little speed to your workouts. Try doing a faster (5K pace) workout of eight to 12, 200-meter sprints. You can increase your mileage slightly to less than half of your normal weekly mileage. Make sure your interval days are non-consecutive to allow for your body to adapt.

If you need more time, add another month of active rest. Continue training at lower than normal intensity and mileage. Try to do at least one day of intervals, one day or tempo running, and a longer run each week but not at full effort. Keep your mileage down if you still feel in need of rest and rehabilitation. Take a second month of active rest to build your strength and power before increasing your mileage and beginning you training for marathon distances.

On your days off during your month of rest, try to hit the weight room (during the last three weeks of the rest month). Work on your weaker areas such as your abdominals and lower back. Try doing physioball crunches and lying face down to do back extensions. If you incorporate other weightlifting, try doing all of your exercises on an unstable surface and keep the resistance to a minimum. Use balance discs for standing exercises or sit on a physioball. This will allow your core muscles to learn how to hold you in proper alignment while your limbs are moving. This is essentially what you are doing while running. You want to train your mid-section to hold itself in proper alignment while you are running so that you decrease your risk of injury to your lower back or causing muscle imbalances.

Besides running and weight lifting, take a crack at swimming or cycling. If you are not accustomed to these sports, your body will benefit from using different muscles. If you are familiar with swimming and cycling, try going outside for a hike through the hills. Change the way you tax your body so that you allow the muscles that have been pushed hard through the season to recover.

You will not lose any strength or stamina if you stick to a basic four-week recovery period. Enjoy your month of rest. Instead of feeling guilty about the hard work you put into your past season, look ahead to what is to come. This month of rest might be just what you need to get your body rejuvenated for more improvement next year.

Written by Shannon Simmons

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