Take a break, 86 the guilt
BY LINDA FREEMAN
CORRESPONDENT | September 01,2013
Labor Day weekend more or less heralds the end of summer. With or without kids we resume the academic calendar, the back-to-school mentality. Summer represents a more leisurely time and pace, or so we hope. It is never, however, to late to vacation, to take a break from daily stress.
Common knowledge informs us that rest and recovery are equally important to strength and fitness as hard work, blocks of tough conditioning and hours of endurance training. Do we believe this? Yes, we’ll nod. Do we do it? Nothing.
No expert will counsel less. Schedule rest periods in your schedule as adamantly as you would training days. In fact, rest is training. I repeatedly badger my clients to be sure to recover. Experts with whom I study and to whom I defer espouse rest days. My coach and nutritionist implore me to honor rest. The temptation to feel guilty when not at work dies a slow and reluctant death, but it must go.
Some people exercise, train, condition, whatever you want to call it for love of the active life. That’s fine. Compulsion is a different game and a subject for another day.
Some carefully plan individual schedules around goals, events and micro or macro periodization. If you know what I am talking about, skip to the next part. Basically, it is important to mindfully approach fitness by means of organized blocks of training that vary in intensity and duration. These blocks might be adjusted according to seasonal sports or annual fitness and recreational/performance plans. A typical year for a summer sports enthusiast, for example, might look like this: base building January through March, increase in intensity as well as quickness and agility with additional strength conditioning through May, active performance or competition throughout the summer and early fall, then rest followed by active recovery towards the end of the year. This would be a macro cycle.
Shorter periodized schedules would include the training needed for a specific date, the taper prior and recovery post event.
The concept is simple, when you train hard either aerobically or muscularly, you intentionally break down your system. It is not during the training that you progress, it is during the healing rest following that burst of effort that your body adapts to the stressors it has just experienced, retains the newer fitness levels it has tested and grows stronger, faster and more fit. Without adequate rest the body degenerates, wears down, and actually loses strength and capability. In fact, one of the easily recognizable signs of overtraining syndrome is reduced performance.
This process is clearly demonstrated by a broken bone that heals stronger after the break. When stressing muscular strength, micro tears occur in the many fibers comprising the muscle(s). At rest, usually within 48 hours, these fibers knit back together, stronger. Without appropriate recovery, punishingly continuous aerobic exercise diminishes the ability to endure.
Rest and recovery do more than heal muscle tears, however. As suggested, proper rest promotes improved performance. Byproducts of adequate rest include a better shot at injury prevention, hopeful avoidance of overuse dangers, and, importantly, an antidote to mental and emotional exhaustion that robs you of your passion, spirit, enthusiasm and/or motivation. Take the pleasure out of your training and it becomes compulsion, a positive to a negative.
How often should you rest? The answer is primarily individual based on your fitness level, genetic profile and age. Recovery is an indicator or fitness. The more quickly you recover, say, between intervals, the more fit you are. Likewise, when your recovery takes longer to occur, when your heart rate returns to normal more slowly, when you dread the next set, your body is telling you it needs a rest. A big mistake is to press on when receiving signals that you need to back off. Some experts advise taking every third or fourth week off from a strenuous training plan by reducing the intensity as well as the time spent or distance covered. The ultimate brake applied to an exercise schedule is injury or illness. Though it’s certainly not what you want to hear, be sure to heal well and completely before returning to intense activity. Coming back too soon is like using up an old battery and having a shorter life each time. Trying to make up for lost time increases the potential for further injury. Simply pick up where you left off and ignore the missed days. If your recovery took an extended period of time, give it up and begin again. You will not only return to your pre-break level of conditioning, but you will surpass it and quickly.
Sleep cannot be overrated. Quality of sleep is as important as number of hours in repose. The body heals and renews during sleep. Make choices that ensure protected and adequate sleep. Enough is a good word here: not too little, not too much.
Training, profession, family and lifestyle habits combine to stress the body. Rest is not a matter of hanging out on the sofa. Rest can be active or passive. omplete cessation of physical activity is mandated by extreme circumstances. Cross training defines active rest. Participation in an informal, unstructured sport or activity, walking, yoga, massage are all components of active recovery. Moderately challenging mind and body keep the juices flowing, so to speak, while healing and regeneration take place. Nutrition and hydration are as important as ever.
Sometimes we need a change of venue to insure a change of pace. When I advise my clients to go, to enjoy their vacation or trip, and not worry about a travel-specific exercise regime, I also suggest that they should maintain three healthy habits: eat healthfully, tour actively, and enjoy extra hours of rest. Periodically lounging in pj’s on a lazy morning, taking time to read a good book or strolling instead of running, is the better way to fitness. Better, that is, if it is merely a deviation. Enjoy. Nix the guilt. Return ready to renew an active lifestyle and fitness quest. Put a star next to the rest and recovery time on your training plan. You earned it.