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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

One Day Off Per Week?

 

"If something is worth doing, do it every day." - Dan John

"Do you eat every day?  The body can go longer without food or water than without oxygen, so you better get your aerobic exercise." -Dr. Joe Vigil

Taking days off is one of the most misunderstood topics in endurance sports.  Many athletes mistake a default setting of “train every day” with an obsessive running streak of mindlessly running through illness, injury, and possibly to annoy their families on vacation.  Sports like running and swimming are skilled endeavors that require high volumes of daily repetition to prevent movement skill atrophy.  Asking some athletes to part with their weekly off day can be like asking for someone's first born child!  

To start, there is nothing inherently wrong with occasional off days.  In fact, off days can be useful.  However, taking a day off every six days has weak training justifications at best.  Although Kenyan runners traditionally take off Sundays, you probably did not have an upbringing like theirs.   Someone may dedicate a complete off day for religious observation or family time.  Important to remember, these are lifestyle choices, not training decisions.  Let’s keep it real when it comes to training decisions.  A weekly day off is often a loosely veiled attempt at sophistication by coaches, or alternatively, a misunderstanding by athletes of how hard to train. 

Newer athletes are often puzzled when we don’t given them an off day every single week.  Maybe they read a “rule” in some magazine that you must take a day off each week.   Alternatively, maybe they have been around a previous coach that wants to create less work for himself or herself by scheduling one less day per week with the justification of “you need to recover from the week.” (Real justification: “I tend to overtrain athletes, and to prevent this from happening to you…better plan to take at least 52 days off for the year…”)

One thing I tell “Day-off” devotees:  If you plan to take one day off every week, understand that you are automatically setting yourself up for 52 days per year off, 208 days per Olympic cycle and 416 days (over a year) for every two Olympic cycles.  Add vacations, sickness, random stuff (car breaks down, weather), travel, work…next thing you know, you’re averaging almost two days off per week if you already take one day out of habit. 

If you NEED a complete day off every six days, you are probably going too hard.  Training should not be so demanding that you need a full day’s reprieve from physical activity to rescue yourself from the damage of the previous six.  Again, that doesn’t mean you don’t take off days.  That just means the need for off days will vary based on a number of factors that vary week to week, month to month, and year to year.  The ability to get out the door every day is an audit on how well you absorb training.  If you’re pounding yourself so thoroughly every single week that you need a day off or anticipate needing one, you’re walking a fine line of injury and illness.    

Interesting thing about daily training is that fatigue and setbacks tend to decrease when endurance athletes commit to daily training, which may sound counterintuitive.  I recall a story from Coach Joe Vigil, who noted his “housewives” training club experienced a significant reduction in illness and injuries when he instituted a “miss practice and you’re out of the club” policy (subject to extreme circumstances).  Anecdotes certainly aren’t the highest form of scientific reliability, but these observations are worth noting.  Although we don’t care for obsessive running streaks, there’s a lot to be said for the commitment of getting out there every single day, so long as you have the discipline to provide an occasional off day when needed.   

A lot of top swim teams take one day off per week because their host facility is closed.  In the NCAA, all sports teams are supposed to take a full day off every week.  This doesn’t mean kids should go splash in hotel pools on the team’s off day just to get some training.  If you resources prevent you from training seven days per week, then you do the best with what ya got!   Otherwise, there’s little justification to take one day off every seven.

In sum: Use days off strategically based on the overall flow of the training program in combination with unpredictable events.  One day off from every seven days commits an athlete to almost 15% of the year off before accounting for unpredictable events, vacations, and planning a week between major seasons.  Distributing stress appropriately throughout a seven day week of training activity will nudge coaches and athletes toward strategies that promote consistency.   

Comments

gosh. this makes me feel

gosh. this makes me feel shitty for skipping practice today. i justified it as my one day off this week, but after reading this i feel lazy. 52 + days off a year is a lot. no more skipping practices for me and I'm about to go back to school for preseason waaaaa.

Training works not only your

Training works not only your muscles, but also your central nervous system and hormones.

After you train, all three of these need to recover.

If you train every day, even if they are different muscles, you don't leave any time for them to recover. Your hormone levels will become permanently lower which will make growth harder, and your central nervous system will get weaker.

Nobody Here

I know very little about athletics, but as with any career one aspires to, it seems to me that rest is essential. Apparently many top CEOs of major corporation dedicate a day to rest every week, to clear the mind, recoup, have a fresh start with new ambition. A-type personalities have a tendency to keep going harder, dominate, anything to gain a slighter advantage. After having a discussion with my mother about it, she says that from her experiences as a modest manager that it is better to take a day of rest. On sundays, even when things are slow and no one is around and you know you could just go do a little more to get ahead, don't, she says she found herself getting less done during those consecutive weeks, and that rest is essential for her job. I am on my first day of rest in quite a while, and it is very hard! Harder than practicing/working! In fact, my mind is racing and using every means it can to try and trick me into doing something "work" related. As someone who is engaged in what is considered a non-physical life path, I feel how incredibly tense my muscles are, and how much I have been running myself down by not taking the time required to rest.

Take one day off per week, go visit family or a friend, smell the roses. As far as I am concerned, rest is as much working as lifting weights.

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