When And How To Take a Break From Running (Expert Tips)
Thinking of taking a break from running? We spoke to a range of fitness experts and running coaches to hear their tips
Running is a great form of exercise and is a passionate hobby for millions of people around the world.
It’s a great way to relieve stress and work on your fitness levels – and it can also help to add structure to your day and promote overall wellbeing.
However, as with most things in life, too much running can end up doing more harm than good. When it comes to running, overdoing it can lead to injury, fatigue and burnout.
Generally speaking, it’s always a good idea to take an extended break from running from time to time, for a number of reasons.
For example, you may have just completed a big race and so it could be time to give your body a much-needed rest from training so that you can come back to the track refreshed and rejuvenated.
Similarly, you may have started feeling some discomfort during or after running. In this case, it may be best to take a break to prevent the niggle from developing into a full-blown injury.
But what are some of the main tips and tricks to bear in mind when it comes to taking a break from running?
We asked a select group of running coaches and fitness experts for their thoughts on when and how to take a break from running.
Here is what they said.
Taking At Least Two Weeks Off After A Big Race Makes Sense
Jack Hackett, Exercise Physiologist and Professional Running Coach at Infinity Running Company
Taking a break can be an important part of training.
Sometimes when we press too hard, we need extra recovery time. It’s the same idea as interval training, going hard and going easy, just born out on a larger scale.
A few signs that you might need a break are declining sleep quality, getting sick, lacking enjoyment or motivation, and countless others.
Sometimes training is hard, but when those days stack up over and over, it may a sign you might need to step back, or completely step off the gas.
One of the best examples is Bernard Lagat, who dominated American middle distance running for a long period of time, and late into his 30s. He would take one day off a week, which is nearly unheard of for most professional runners, and a month completely off when his competitive season was finished.
If one of the best runners in the world can take some time off and benefit from it, you probably can too!
For many runners, a complete month off might be a little long, but taking at least two weeks after your big race or your competitive season makes sense. The break allows you to recharge, both physically and mentally.
There is a tendency for athletes to feel like they are getting worse when they aren’t training. This isn’t always the case! Sometimes your body needs a break. Just as when we are training, running and lifting make us worse temporarily.
Then, when we are recovering, our body builds itself back better than before, ready to handle more work. Same principle here, sometimes you need to step back to recover and get better.
The other obvious reason to take a break is an injury! The difference between pain and injury is always difficult to parse for yourself, but a good heuristic is if pain goes above a 5/10 or if low level pain persists then it is advisable to take a break.
Also, if the pain makes you change how you run, you might be doing more damage than good.
Make Sure You Ease Back Into Running Slowly After A Long Break
Lauren Sheu, RRCA Certified Running Coach and Owner of Running for Wellness
Runners should consider taking a break from running after completing a big race such as a marathon.
After running a marathon, I typically advise my athletes to take at least a week off from running to help their bodies to fully rest and recover.
I also suggest that athletes follow the marathon with a period of recovery training.
The rule of thumb that I recommend is one day for every mile raced, so if you run a marathon, you should plan to be in a recovery phase for about 26 days after your race. The recovery phase can include some light running and training, but nothing too taxing or intense.
Also, it’s a common misconception that after you return from a long break, you can just pick up where you left off. This is a false assumption.
After returning to running from a long break, you should ease back into your running routine slowly and carefully to avoid injury.
After you stop running for 10 to 14 days, you slowly begin to lose cardiorespiratory fitness, conditioning of your muscles and ligaments, and your musculoskeletal system weakens. The longer you take off, the more fitness you will lose.
Pushing yourself to pick up right where you left off can lead to injury and frustration.
If you take off three months or more from running, you should start from scratch when it comes to your training.
Learn To Listen To Your Body And Take A Break If You Need To
Andrew Blakey, Certified Personal Trainer and Director of Your Future Fitness
Many people begin a running routine with strong aspirations. Unfortunately, many people also suffer a series of injuries from overdoing it early in their fitness journey. The most common injuries I see are shin splints, achilles pain, and quad/hamstring strains.
I believe that rather than telling people to take a break periodically during the year, it is best to begin to understand the signs of potential problems and what their bodies are telling them.
All too often, people tell me about an injury they suffered that forced them to take weeks off running. They then immediately tell me something along the lines of: “it had been hurting for a while…”
This is a classic story I hear all the time when people try to run through the pain because they’ve heard it’s a case of ‘no pain no gain’.
I absolutely hate this saying because it forces people to shift their mindset to the point that if they’re not sore or hurting, that they’re not working hard enough. Any qualified fitness expert will tell you that this is absolutely not the case!
If you’re experiencing pain, take a break. Let your body heal, and when things feel better, ease back into it at a short or smaller workload than you had been doing previously.
Choose to take the time now to heal so that you aren’t forced to take the time later.
I believe that if you’re suffering from burnout or lack of motivation, sometimes a short break is really all you need.
When you find that the activity you enjoyed is now thought of as a chore, then it’s time to take a break and find your focus.
There is absolutely no shame in taking a break from time to time. If it’s a mental or physical break you need, then take it! Your body and mind will both thank you for it.
When it comes to balancing training so as to not to overdo it, I recommend working with a professional. Find someone who is qualified to assess your ability, and develop a plan for you to follow that will help you get closer to your goal without suffering any type of injury in the process.
Make Sure You’re Not Under-Fuelled
Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, and Owner of Nutrition for Running
From a nutrition standpoint, it may be appropriate to take a break from running when one is experiencing symptoms of relative energy deficiency or overtraining syndrome.
These include inconsistent and poor quality sleep, chronic high cortisol, or irregular or absent menstruation (that used to be regular), to name a few.
While relative energy deficiency is a syndrome of symptoms, knowing the signs of under-fuelling is important, and sometimes athletes and runners need to first upgrade their nutrition and improve their energy intake in order to run safely and effectively to improve performance.
Oftentimes, I work with runners with a disordered eating background, who can’t quite match their energy intake to their expenditure.
Sometimes it is necessary for us to have a trial period in which we modify or decrease energy expenditure so the body can catch up on energy intake.