Rest. For most athletes, this is a four-letter word (and not a good one). Most do not like rest days or days off and resist. And when I say athlete, I mean anyone who is out there doing something new, working towards a goal, or even just adding in fitness for health reasons. It applies to all and not just those towards the front of the pack.
Is it something about how we are wired, our culture or something learned? I don’t know the answer to this but I do know that in my over 20 years of coaching, teaching athletes that rest is just as important as training still remains one of my biggest hurdles. And truly, the idea and practice of it challenges even me at times.
The Most Important Training Of All
Athletes, in general, are usually great at getting in workouts. For some, exercise is their main source of stress relief, can play a big part of their social life and can even define who they are. Emotionally, their identity is tied up with what they can do athletically. Often, a driven athlete will push the limits as the desire and/or need to exercise is so much a part of who they are. They don’t have a good grasp of when they are crossing that line and setting themselves up for failure until it is too late. For those In this situation, it can be hard to rest as much as their body may need.
This doesn’t apply to just training. If your training load is high, your sleep is poor or not enough and time stressors like work and family means you are always on the go, your recovery from your training is affected. Packing in more and more seems like just what you need to get through. But it is really?
Many subscribe to the belief that if some training is good, more is always better. Or that taking some time off will mean you’ll lose fitness or lose your edge.
Continuing to pack in more training or even other time stressors circumvents the ultimate point of training. Rest and recovery is when our bodies rebuild. It’s when those changes happen which make us stronger and more fit. Truly to get more fit might mean resting more.
When training for a particular event, it is common to have periods of building where there is increasing volume and intensity of workouts. This is followed by less training allowing the body to recover. And then the next build cycle begins letting the athlete reach to a new higher level. It is why even in the most basic of plans there is a large chunk of training gradually increasing followed by a period of taper where training volume is reduced. That taper is designed so that you make it to race day fitter and stronger. In some ways, getting that rest and recovery is the most important aspect of training that people always want to skip. if you skip or short-change your rest cycle you don't reap the benefits of your training and you set yourself up for injury. And yes, we know the taper can make you antsy and cranky and that is all part of the process.
I Can Rest when I'm Dead
Yes we have heard this many times!
Often injury or illness is the only time when an athlete takes down time and that is usually forced rest. In this instance, it’s easy to get irritated and frustrated. It’s easy to try and push the limits and get back a day or two (sometimes a week or two) earlier. Or jumping into an alternate mode of exercise in a desperate attempt to fill that emotional need to workout. At this point it is an emotional need as obviously physically the body is asking for rest. This is the time to embrace the rest and remind yourself that it takes courage to trust that a few extra days, a few extra weeks can help.
Rest should not only come when forced but it should be an active choice and part of the training plan that will get you to your goal.
Long ago I learned it is better to rest before you need vs when actually forced. Taking a rest day as part of the plan will lead to a few days off and stronger training. If you wait until you are forced via illness or injury it can lead to many days or even weeks off.
A Coach and an Athlete
Recently I was faced head on with this idea of how important rest can be. I had just decided I was really going to train for an event in the summer of 2020 and was excited to ramp things up and really dive in. And then I was suddenly faced with needing a rather emergent surgery.
In seeing several surgeons I saw my mind wanting to go with the one that said I could be back to exercise in a few weeks and go after my goal. But when I took the emotion out of it I knew the real goal was to be able to walk and be active and healthy for the rest of my life. So, I chose the bigger surgery and the longer recovery.
I won’t lie. This was daunting even for me. I do love to train, I love to be outside, I process better in motion, I love spending active time with my friends. I’m a coach but I came into coaching as an athlete who loves to train.
My friends know me well and one brought this saying to me one of the first days after surgery. It was perfect.
“It takes COURAGE to say yes to REST and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen a status symbol.” Bren Brown."
There could not have been a better time to see this or a better saying to see. It does take courage to rest. Often the mantras and catch phrases we hear when something is tough are about pushing through or gritting along with the pain with the idea that somehow that pain will make us stronger, tougher and fitter. And trying to find the balance of stepping back to change the mindset that more is better is ever so much harder than just adding in more.
I challenge each of you have courage and to learn to love those rest days and know they are just as important as that next workout. This time of the year is usually the off-season for many athletes. Use this time to rebuild and recover. Courage!