Running is a daily habit for many, including myself. It can be hard to get the ball rolling but once runners establish a routine, it’s an enjoyable experience that makes them feel great. Unfortunately, overtraining is a very real issue that plagues runners around the globe. In certain circumstances, a break can be warranted. But won’t that set runners back? Are there real, tangible benefits of taking a break from running? Is it actually good to take an extended break?
It is good to take a break from running when you experience an injury, fatigue, or decreased motivation. The best way to take a break from running is to continue cross-training and stretching to maintain fitness levels and avoid becoming sedentary. Potential benefits include avoiding injury, avoiding burnout, and a strengthened immune system.
Read on to identify the signs that a break from running is needed, learn about the benefits of taking a break from running, and figure out how to properly implement a running break.
6 signs you need to take a break from running
As runners, we need to rest and take care of our bodies. We demand so much from our cardiovascular system along with our muscles and joints when we run; they expect the same effort back from us.
Good recovery practice looks like getting adequate amounts of sleep, eating sufficient amounts of nutritious foods, and regularly stretching to keep your muscles loose and ready to go. Sometimes, this is not enough.
Worst case scenario, runners may need to take a break from running.
Here are six tell-tale signs that you may need to take a break from pounding the pavement:
- Injuries and residual soreness
- Always tired (fatigue)
- Performance plateau
- Dwindling motivation
- Rapid weight loss
- Falling ill frequently
Let’s take a look at what these signs really look like and how to know if it’s time to give the running shoes a rest.
Injuries and soreness
Training too frequently often leads to an increased risk of injury and excessive soreness. A nagging injury or ache may be a sign of a much-needed break for runners.
If runners are constantly injured or suffering from extreme soreness, that signals a break from running. When runners overwork themselves, their bodies don’t have the quantity or quality of rest necessary to repair incurred stress.
Many different injuries stem from overtraining such as shin splints, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and more. Suffering from these injuries should be a clear indicator that it’s time to take a break from running.
Runners can also experience severe soreness from what is known as overreaching; this involves pushing to the limits without allowing the body to repair in between runs.
Together, injuries and soreness can take a serious toll on running experience and performance. Some injuries are grueling to work through, and being sore isn’t necessarily pleasant either.
Suffering from extreme fatigue
A bit of fatigue is normal; it means you’ve worked hard! However, there is a threshold and extreme fatigue is far beyond what runners should be aiming for.
Extreme fatigue is a common sign that runners should take a break from running. Extreme fatigue stems from accumulated fatigue over a long period of time when the body has not received the opportunity to recover.
Fatigue after one run is great because it means you pushed to the limits and challenged your body to facilitate improvement. Fatigue after every run, though, is a sign that you’re doing too much.
In short, running fatigue occurs when ATP production decreases and the muscle is stripped of its ability to contract.
When runners perpetually run to the point of decreased ATP production, the body is never able to recover. The workouts are performed at an intensity that is too high for runners to handle.
Fatigue can be solved by taking a break for the body to regenerate and rest.
Performance has plateaued
Progress is addictive, whether that comes in the form of a faster mile time or a longer distance. It is equally disappointing to see a lack of progress; this can actually signal it’s time to take a running break.
Running plateaus happen due to running too frequently or too intensely. In tandem, the chance of a running plateau is even higher. This calls for a running break that allows runners to allow their bodies to heal and burst through their plateau.
Plateaus can occur in one of two ways: overtraining or undertraining. In this scenario, we are focused on overtraining.
Overtraining is the root of an array of running problems. Runners who overtrain never fully recover from the stress they impress upon their bodies.
As runners, we train to better ourselves, physically and mentally. As explained by Dr. Kreher and Dr. Schwartz in a study on overtraining, Overtraining syndrome inhibits both physical and mental progression. In fact, it can be quite debilitating.
A short rest spanning a few days to a couple of weeks should be sufficient for most runners to get right back on their training track!
Motivation is dwindling
Nobody claimed running is easy, but it sure is gratifying when training is correctly performed. Motivation comes in waves, but a long period of decreased motivation may signal it’s time to take a break.
Dwindling motivation calls for a running break. Running, while challenging, should be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. When running becomes a chore, it may be time to take a break in order to restore a good experience.
Runners are more successful when they enjoy running. This is common sense from a psychological standpoint; people will run more frequently if they enjoy the training itself.
Overtraining kills the enjoyment that so many runners share for the sport. Instead of achieving runner’s high, the body is beat up and constantly aching.
Doesn’t sound very fun, does it?
Taking a break gives your body and your mind time to recuperate. After some much-needed rest, your fire will be rekindled and you’ll hit the pavement or trails feeling exceptional.
Rapid weight loss
Many runners start exercising to slim their waistline and shed undesirable fat. Running is a great way to lower the number on the scale, but weight loss must be gradual.
When running causes rapid weight loss, runners should reassess their training plan and consider taking a break. If runners feel a break is not necessary, they must either fuel their bodies properly or pull back on the amount of running they do.
Weight loss for runners is good; lighter runners benefit from improved ergonomic efficiency. However, when weight loss occurs too quickly, negative side effects are usually present.
Runners are bound to lose muscle mass, experience electrolyte deficiencies, and suffer from extreme fatigue if they shed an excessive amount of weight in a short period of time.
The solution is a two-prong attack. First, runners must give their bodies a sufficient amount of rest. This means taking a break from running for as long as your body needs to recover.
Second, nutrition is of utmost importance. Counting calories isn’t for everybody, but it offers so much knowledge to help runners consume a balanced diet that will enhance their running performance.
Falling ill frequently
A strong immune system is desirable; exercise delivers on that. Those who run are scientifically proven to have stronger immune systems, but too much running can negatively impact the body’s ability to defend against illness.
Frequent bouts with illness can be a signal to take a break from running. While running usually increases immunity to illness, overdoing it can lower the immune system’s effectiveness in fighting off disease.
Nothing puts a dent in training plans like unexpected illness. Sickness seems to come knocking at the worst time imaginable; how can runners avoid illness?
Take a break! As in seemingly all other cases, overtraining negatively affects the immune system and results in immune dysfunction.
When the immune system lets its guard down, the body becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of pathogens and viruses. By getting sufficient rest and nourishing the body through nutritious foods, runners can fend off illness and restore their immune systems to full strength.
4 potential benefits from taking time off from your runs
Making yourself take a break from running can be mentally taxing for those who love to run. Sitting still is challenging, and it’s easy to think that a break is unproductive in terms of running output.
However, I would urge you to look at a running break from a different perspective. It can offer so many great things!
Taking a break from running can actually provide greater benefits than if you overwork yourself. Here are 4 potential benefits of taking a running break:
- Injury prevention
- Breaking through a plateau
- Avoiding burn out
- Strengthened immune system
Keep reading to see how taking breaks from running can actually help you come back stronger.
Running injuries, more often than not, come from overtraining and excessive wear and tear. Taking a break gives the body sufficient time to heal microtears and restore tendons and joints.
Taking a running break is great for encouraging injury prevention. By taking a break from running, runners’ bodies can experience revitalization through healing.
Overuse injuries plague runners of all training levels; unfortunately, no one is exempt from shin splints or plantar fasciitis.
However, everyone can develop solid injury prevention habits, starting with taking a break from running.
Breaks need not be long; I’m talking a couple of days a week unless your body is seriously beat up, in which case you may need a longer recovery period.
Break through a plateau
Nothing is more discouraging than a tough plateau. It can feel as if runners will never make progress again; they are destined to stagnate.
Taking a break from running will help runners break through plateaus and shoot their training to new heights.
By fulfilling your body’s request for much-needed rest, you’re well on your way to breaking through your running plateau.
A runner feeling beaten up or burnt out can’t adapt to grueling workouts; there are no benefits. By resting instead, the body recovers and preps to up the intensity when the time comes.
On top of taking a general break from running, practicing good sleep hygiene is essential to breaking through plateaus. This coincides with rest; good sleep is an irreplaceable aid to recovery.
If running is miserable, maybe it’s time for a break. Putting off runs for a couple of days will do no long-term harm and may benefit runners feeling exhausted.
Taking a break from running can help runners avoid burnout. Whether it be from overtraining, plateauing, or constant fatigue, taking a break is one of the best ways to avoid running burnout.
Sometimes, all we need as runners is a break. Running is immensely taxing on the body; when we run too much, our bodies cannot keep up.
Injury and constant soreness can be quite discouraging and eventually influences runners to silently quit.
So, while a running break may not directly assist runners in avoiding burnout, it can solve all the issues that are directly correlated with discouraged runners.
Strengthened immune system
Earlier, we established overtraining can break down the immune system and lead runners to develop illnesses more frequently. What happens if runners take time off?
Taking a break from running can strengthen a runner’s immune system if they’ve been overtraining. Exercise in general is associated with a boosted immune response, but too much of anything can be a bad thing.
Running will boost the runner’s immune system until chronic stress eventually deteriorates the immune response to the point of illness. This is when rest comes into play.
Harvard has cited adequate sleep and minimized stress as two high-impact concepts for boosting your immune system. Taking a break from running will reduce overall stress on the body and ensure runners have time to develop good sleep practices.
So while there is a balance between receiving benefits from exercise and going overboard, it’s preferable to err on the side of caution. Nothing wields off disease like rest.
How to take a break from running without losing progress
Anyone can take a break from running, but not everyone is informed on how to take a break the right way. We’re here to change that.
While it requires planning and proper implementation, it is absolutely possible to take a break without experiencing any setbacks in your running.
Here are four tips to help you take a running break without losing any of your physical fitness:
- Assess the root issue
- Decide on length of break
- Modify training or cross train
- Ease back into running when ready
Taking a break can actually help you move forward!
Assess the root issue
When choosing to take a break, we are only doing ourselves a disservice by taking shots in the dark. Taking a break should be methodical, and we must know the root cause to properly plan.
Performing a self-assessment, or having a professional assessment done, is essential for identifying why exactly runners need to take a break from running. With the root issue identified, a break can be planned with clear goals and intentions.
Runners shouldn’t take breaks simply because they don’t feel like running. Breaks should instead be viewed as a tool that runners can use to improve performance and enjoyment.
Breaks should be methodical, and knowing why you’re taking a short hiatus from running is crucial. Are you burned out? Are you suffering from a nagging injury or ache?
Knowing why a running break is necessary will help runners then plan their breaks accordingly, so as to maximize healing and retain fitness.
Decide on the length of the running break
There is a glaring difference between a recovery day and a running break. Choose an optimal break length to reap the greatest benefits.
Running breaks must be of sufficient length to allow for proper rest and recovery. In general, running breaks vary from recovery days in that they last around a week at minimum.
If your body has been subjected to a long bout of overtraining, it should follow that it will need a long period of recovery.
Recovery days in the middle of training blocks are great and must be considered, but running breaks are meant to be longer and more drawn out.
I know, runners get antsy with too much time off. A week is a good starting point for anyone wanting to take a break. It’s long enough to recover but not so long that runners will feel like couch potatoes.
Modify training or cross train to avoid irritation
One of the most effective ways to take a running break is not to stop running entirely, but to modify your training plans in order to allow a specific ailment to heal.
Modifying training is an excellent way for runners to retain fitness while simultaneously allowing their injuries and illnesses to heal. There are many different ways to modify training ranging from performing different types of cardio to simply changing the surface you run on.
As an athlete myself, there have been many instances when I was forced to take time off for an injury. However, I don’t do well with breaks because it feels like time wasted!
My favorite workaround is to modify training; in this case, I can keep training and avoid becoming sedentary.
Cross-training provides runners with health benefits by allowing them to train the cardiovascular system without exposing the body to excessive strain.
Rather than running, athletes can opt for low-impact cardio like swimming, biking, etc. My favorite is weight-lifting!
For runners who are dead-set on continuing to run, opt to run on a different surface or at a lower intensity. Different surfaces affect the body differently, so there may be a surface best suited for you.
Ease back into running
The last thing runners want to occur is to undo all the progress they gained from their break.
To complete a break, ease back into running. If runners attempt to resume running too quickly or too intensely, they risk reinjuring themselves.
Arguably the most important step of taking a running break is reintegrating into the sport. There are multiple key components to keep in mind.
Make sure to follow a program when easing back into running. Programs are constructed methodically, aiming to balance rest and recovery with high-quality running performance.
Be receptive to what your body is trying to tell you; if runners are sore or aching after a week back on the run, that’s probably a sign to peel back the effort and slow down!
- About the Author
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Joshua Bartlett is a professional amateur when it comes to running – basically, he takes his mediocre running ability very seriously.
As the Editor-in-Chief at Saltmarsh Running, it is his job to make sure that readers get only highly-researched and comprehensive questions to all of their running questions.