Consider the following quote by Alan Cohen. “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” Let’s face it. As an athlete, you have a busy training schedule. You work hard. You push yourself. You do what it takes to get your training in and you are dedicated to accomplishing your goals this season. This is fantastic as it makes you the great athlete you are! However, a critical element that is often overlooked is resting hard. I know “resting hard” sounds like an oxymoron. However, more often than not I find that athletes push themselves too hard and forget the virtue of rest and recovery throughout the training cycle. Research shows that your easy training and rejuvenation time is just as important to your success as an athlete as your training. So, don’t underestimate the power of rest and rejuvenation. Remember, hardcore training requires hardcore recovery!
I know what you are thinking as you read this. You might say, “I can’t afford to take a day off or else I’ll get out of shape.” Or “Taking an easy day will only set me back.” You might think, “I don’t have time to stretch, ice bath and get enough sleep.” On the other hand, you might assume “I feel fine today, so I am going to do extra.” I know this because I have said the same things to myself throughout the years only to pay the price later. By increasing our understanding and making rest and recovery a priority we will begin to realize that a day off or an easy day isn’t going to end all your hopes and dreams, but rather, help you reach them. Below, you’ll find four ways to think about rest and recovery differently. Believe it or not, the change in your cognitive process towards rest and recovery will only make you a better athlete.
Physical recovery might be the most obvious benefit of taking a recovery day. At the end of the week, whether you realize it or not, your body is exhausted. Taking a break will help prevent future injury because your muscles, bones, and tendons have some time to heal. One scientific study conducted on the calf muscles of marathon runners concluded that both the intensive training for, and the marathon itself, include inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power and durability for up to 14 days post marathon. Accordingly, it will take up to two weeks after your marathon to return to normal strength. By taking a rest day and by truly taking your easy days easy, you are giving your body a chance to physically recover and build muscle. Furthermore, you are setting yourself up for a great next training session, and reserving energy to put into the more important workouts. A runner should achieve a training effect every day,” said Dennis Barker, coach of Team USA Minnesota, “and to me, recovery is a training effect, maybe the most important one. It’s during recovery that adaptations from the hard training take place. If a runner doesn’t recover, the body is not going to adapt, and you’ll either continue digging a hole for yourself or get injured.
We are all human beings, not machines. If you are going full force 100% of the time, burnout, also know as overtraining symptom, is inevitable. It is believed that the imbalance between excessively large volumes of training without adequate rest and recovery leads to overtraining syndrome (MacKinnon, 2000). According to sports scientists, the only way to stop the burnout cycle is to rest. The likelihood of burnout is less if you take a rest day because you are able to recover both physically and mentally allowing your whole body to refresh for your next training session.
To understand the toll that overtraining can take on an athlete’s life, consider the competitive arc of Whitney Myers, a fifth-year senior and a world-class swimmer at the University of Arizona. In 2006, Myers won the women’s NCAA title in the 200- and 400-yard individual medley, named an all-American in several events, and awarded the. “Breakout Performer of the Year.” Only one year later, she found herself disgusted at even the sight of a pool. Her performance greatly declined, as she was no longer even making the final heat at swim meets. She states, “I remember standing behind the starting blocks at the pool and thinking, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I felt terrible, mentally and physically.” She had pushed too hard without proper rest and there is, sadly, a huge price to pay for this.
Andy Potts, professional triathlete, stated “A few years ago, I started taking Sundays off from training. It has been the best thing for my body and probably more importantly, my mind. When the end of the week approaches and I am worn out from training, I focus on Sunday. My body certainly needs the break, but my mind appreciates it even more.”
Mental fatigue can be just as debilitating as physical fatigue. There is nothing like taking some time off to “fuel the fire.” It is not uncommon for an athlete to feel fired up and refresh by the end of a recovery day. This is a good thing. It means you are exited to get out and train again. It also means that you are feeling fresh With a set “clean eyes”, you are able to refocus. During your time away, consider your last block of training. What worked well for you, and what can you improve on? Take some time to look back on your goal list and modify if necessary. When you feel refreshed, you are able to refocus. When you are able to refocus, you will become a better competitor.
Exercise can be a strong anti-depressant. The “runners high” you may experience is a real thing. But too much exercise with no rest can have the opposite effect. Symptoms of overtraining include loss of motivation, depression, and increased anxiety. This being said, if you are over training and not giving your body the rest it needs, you are probably not too happy. On the flip side, if you are giving your body the rest it needs, you look forward to the training after a break. If you are happy, you are more mindful of what you are doing and have a true sense of inner peace. Over the past few years, a number of studies have confirmed that the practice of mindfulness leads to enhanced performance, improved sense of well-being, reduced stressed and burnout and increased ability to remain calm in difficult situations. All of theses characteristics will lead to an increase in athletic performance. This all starts by simply making rest a rejuvenation a priority! A mindful, happy athlete equals a successful athlete.
What Can I Do Now That I Have This Information On Rest and Recovery?
First, now that you realize the importance of a break, make a genuine effort to incorporate rest and recovery into your training schedule. Not only will you benefit physically, but you will benefit mentally as well. You will also be happier and less likely to burnout. When you get a moment, take a look at your training schedule. Make sure you have adequate rest and recovery worked into your training plan. If you have a big race scheduled in the near future, plan to take time recovery time after the race.
Next, start to change your thinking around your rest and recovery days.. When those pestering thoughts such as “I’m going to get out of shape” or “I don’t have time for recovery” pop into your mind, remind yourself that hardcore training requires hardcore recovery. Tell yourself “taking this day off will make me a stronger, more mental tough, happier athlete” or “ I need to rest today in order to accomplish my goals down the road. Recovery is part of being an athlete. Not only will this make you tougher, but the use of productive self-talk is a fantastic way to improve your mind as well.
When all said and done although it might be hard for some, take that necessary break. In the end, the time away from your sport will pay off, and you will only become a better athlete. There is virtue in hard work, but hey, don’t forget there is also virtue in rest. Use both, and make sure not to overlook either.