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by Cindy Hawkinson

April 1, 2003

Take a day off every now and then

It all starts with a familiar nagging voice in my head that says, “If you take a day off, you’ll compete better.” Soon, I’m having a discussion with myself, weighing the pros and cons, and I admit to myself “I know.”

“If you take a day off, you’ll train faster and harder.” – “I know.” – “If you take a day off, you’ll get off the plateau you’ve been on for so long.” – “I know.” – “If you take a day off….” and on and on it goes.

“Recovery.” – “Day off.” As a competitive swimmer, runner and triathlete, these are words that are almost never cross my lips. At least, that was they way it used to be. Let me explain.

I was one of those people who never rested. Whether it was supposed to be a 15 second rest between 100s (I would take 5) or a day off a week from training (when I would only run 5 miles instead of 10). Sometimes I would just run instead of bike and run or bike and swim. The more mileage, yardage, meters you put in, the faster and better you’d be, right? Wrong!

In the past two years, I have learned about the importance of recovery and days off in the training and racing schedule. Two years ago, I decided to increase my distance in triathlon and compete in a Half-Ironman. I followed a training program that had each day’s workout written down for me. It was easy. I just followed the program. My training partners called me ‘militaristic’ about the routine. The most difficult part was the ‘easy, recovery’ workouts, and the required day off’ each week.

Heavens to murgatroid! No workout…for a whole day? I told everyone about this program, so I was committed, and I did what it said. “Train today at 60% of your heart rate.” Well, for me that was basically running backwards, or doing the dead man’s float in the pool. As I continued following this routine, I noticed that hard workouts were often scheduled the day following the easy, recovery days and days off. I also discovered that I could do those ‘hard’ workouts, much harder and faster than I used to. The result was finishing my first Half-Ironman a full hour ahead of my predicted time.

You can often spot a triathlete type in the pool. We’re the ones who generally take no rest. Sure, the intervals may be set for 10-15 seconds rest, but we’re tougher than that. We don’t need rest.

Last year, I finally decided to listen to my coach. She explained that if I took the rest, I’d swim the sets faster than if I didn’t. “Just try it,” she said. (Funny, where had I heard that same concept before?) I knew I wouldn’t like it, but I tried it and stuck with it. I decided to compete at Nationals and really train for it. Coach said “quit running two weeks before the meet.” You can imagine how I reacted to that, having run almost every day for the last 25 years.

“I can’t not run,” I whined, but, I tried it. I just couldn’t imagine how running would hinder my swimming – nor could I imagine how simply taking five more seconds rest in between repeats during a set of ten 100s could make that much difference. It does. At Nationals, I cut over two minutes off my 1000 free time. Although I was skeptical at first, taking days off and recovering really worked!

Recovery days, and days off – what does it all really mean? As a triathlete, I like to cross-train on recovery days. If I swim really hard in the morning and have a good hard long run in the afternoon, the next day I’ll get on my bike and ride for only an hour or two. When cycling for recovery, I avoid hard hill repeats, and just ride for the sheer enjoyment of it. “Just enjoy the dance,” as someone has said to me. If I had a long hard run or bike ride, the recovery day might be moving down a lane in the pool and swimming a bit slower than I normally do. Days off mean just that. I may take a walk with a friend, get in the pool and do drills, or I may just sleep in and sit and read the paper before work. I used to crawl out of my skin on those recovery and ‘day off’ days. But now, I look forward to them, knowing that the next day I’ll train like crazy and be faster for it.

Cindy Hawkinson is the USMS Liaison to USA Triathlon, a member of the USMS Fitness Committe and Legislation Committee, and Colorado LMSC President and Newsletter Editor. Cindy has been a competitive swimmer since elementary school, competitive runner and marathoner since 1978 (with 10 marathons under her belt); competitive triathlete since 1986 (completing a Half Ironman in 2001). Her goal is to complete her first full Ironman distance triathlon in 2004.


  • Technique and Training