For committed runners, hard work is unavoidable. However, training breaks the body down and also makes it weaker. It is rest that makes the body more powerful. This is known as the ‘training effect’, where the body adapts to the loading of the cardiovascular and muscular systems by improving the heart’s efficiency, increasing the size of capillaries in the muscles and boosting glycogen and enzymes in the muscle cells. During periods of recovery, these systems build to greater levels in order to compensate for the stress that you have applied, taking your body on to a higher level of performance. Understanding the training effect means knowing how and when to stop is as important as finding out how and when to train.
A great number of runners have lost the huge benefits of a training programme by not giving themselves sufficient time to recover, and risking the dangers of over-training or burn-out. Even elite runners should have at least one day a week of complete rest, though it can be very difficult and challenging to persuade highly motivated athletes (super end gainers) that less training will actually mean more in terms of fitness, overall health and well-being. Instead, ‘active rest’ is an extremely effective means of recuperation. As an alternative to collapsing in front of the TV, a runner can use active rest procedures to release any unnecessary tension and re-establish a state of balanced coordination which will go a long way towards helping him reap the benefits of the training regime.