Recovery is just as essential to your workout routine, after all.
Whether you’re a casual jogger or training for a half marathon, it can be tricky to know when you need to skip your run and take a break. Sometimes it is worth it to push through tight muscles or a bout of fatigue to get those miles in, but there are scenarios where it’s in your body’s best interest to set your running app down and rest.
This desire to push through instead of skipping a run is super common, especially if you just got into a groove, says Marnie Kunz, a USATF and RRCA-certified run coach, NASM-certified trainer, and founder of Runstreet. “New runners and people getting back into running often get excited and go too hard at the beginning of training,” she tells Bustle. This means you might skip recovery days and miss (or ignore) the signs from your body that you need to take a day off.
This is also true for experienced runners. Folks who run almost every day are prone to pushing through injuries and pain, Kunz says, often because they’re set on sticking to a training routine. “People who have a specific training plan always want to stick to their schedule in order to stay on track, even if they aren’t feeling 100%,” adds running coach Erik Brown. They can also be afraid to lose their endurance or strength (which doesn’t actually happen very quickly), so they lace up on the reg no matter what.
The thing is, forcing yourself to run through pain, injuries, and even fatigue can actually do more harm than good. It can cause an injury, slow the healing of an injury, and set you back from reaching your goals. With that in mind, here’s how to know when to skip a run, according to experts.
It might seem obvious, but Kunz says you’d be surprised how many folks try to run when they’re sick. While it’s OK to go for a jog if you’re experiencing mild sinus symptoms, like sniffly allergies, it’s always recommended to take a rest day (or two or three) when you’re really sick.
If you have a fever, cough, or any other flu-like symptoms, don’t even think about lacing up your sneakers. Stay in and rest so your body can recover faster, then get back to running once you’re 100% better.
If you have a sharp, sudden pain in your lower body, don’t run. Kunz points to aches in the calves, knees, and especially twinges in your hamstrings, ankles, or feet. “It could be a strained muscle or a bone injury,” she says. “If you have a stress fracture, this is a serious injury and you will need to rest and seek medical care.”
The same is true for a pulled muscle, IT band issue, or plantar fasciitis — all issues that impact your legs and feet, and therefore your ability to run. “You’ll want to seek medical care and follow a doctor’s orders,” Kunz says. “Generally, once the pain is gone you can slowly start running again.”
Kunz also recommends skipping your run if you have a nagging pain that doesn’t go away, like knee, lower back, or ankle pain. “This means you have ongoing fatigue or muscle soreness and need to rest more, or that you have an injury and also need to rest,” she says.
Ongoing pain is different from temporary muscle soreness, like the kind you might feel after a tough workout. That should go away with rest and may even loosen up as you run. If you take a break and the pain doesn’t subside, that’s when Kunz recommends taking a break — and a trip to a physical therapist or doctor.
According to Brown, you should take a day off if you’re feeling extra tired or fatigued. “It may be best to take a break and allow your body to rest and recover,” he tells Bustle. “Pushing yourself to run when you’re feeling exhausted can increase your risk of injury and may negatively impact your performance.” It’s also not as fun to slog your way down the street as you struggle, so it’ll be worth the wait to build up your energy so that you actually feel good during your run.
Sometimes you don’t notice a pain or injury until you start jogging down the street, says Brown. He points to shin splints and joint pain as examples, which might act up as you start to put one foot in front of the other. These injuries can occur or be exacerbated by the high-impact nature of running and are a sign you need to rest and recover. “Continuing to run when you are in pain may make the pain worse,” Brown says.
You’ll know you’re ready to go again when you’re able to complete your run without experiencing pain, you fully recover after a run, and when you’re feeling motivated and energized, Brown says. Of course, you might not always be in the mood to run — like when it’s raining or you’re tired after a long day — but he says that’s different than when you shouldn’t lace up.
It’s perfectly fine to push through less-than-ideal circumstances, Kunz says, as long as you’re otherwise feeling fine. “Mild soreness or tiredness can be OK for recovery running days,” she says. “Go at an easy, slow pace and listen to your body.” You want to be able to do this in the long run, after all (pun intended).
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Deshmukh, NS. (20220). Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome: A Review Article. Cureus. doi: 10.7759/cureus.26641.
Warden, SJ. (2021). Preventing Bone Stress Injuries in Runners with Optimal Workload. Curr Osteoporos Rep. doi: 10.1007/s11914-021-00666-y.
Marnie Kunz, USATF and RRCA-certified run coach, NASM-certified trainer, founder of Runstreet
Erik Brown, running coach
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