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I tend to follow a cycle of running rigorously from April through October. Then, I burn out and stop all activity before the holidays (usually gaining 10 to 20 pounds). I ease back into running in February and March. What are the benefits or liabilities of this all-or-nothing approach?
—Jason Johnson, St. Paul, MN
There are many health benefits to training even for half the year. If you truly enjoy trail running and racing, that should be benefit enough. Employing an all-or-nothing approach can work, and the time off can allow you to enjoy other aspects of life. Studies show having meaningful relationships with friends and family have tangible positive effects on your overall happiness.
Time off will also give your body a chance to recuperate from hard training. As Ben Greenfield, endurance coach from BenGreenfieldFitness.com, puts it, “You’re giving your joints a chance to recover, clearing inflammation and rebuilding cartilage, and giving your mind a chance to rest from the rigors of structured workouts.”
Taking some time off is necessary. Every elite endurance athlete I know does it. Usually, if you don’t schedule time off, your body will force you to, i.e. injury or burnout. However don’t take it too far. The sad truth is that any fitness gains you made can be completely gone after just three months of detraining. “Aerobic de-training can begin to set in within a week after quitting an exercise program,” says Greenfield, “while muscle atrophy can begin to occur in as little as 72 hours!”
The key is to keep the rest period short, and stay active. Take a break from structured training and racing but keep your body moving. Start participating in an activity you find fun and hold onto those fitness gains.