September 24, 2015
In their zeal for fitness, overtraining is a real issue for many people – to the point where some folks actually feel guilty when they take a day or two off from their fitness regimen. What many people don’t realize is that rest and recovery are just as important as the workout itself. Think of it this way. Fitness is a two-sided coin – your workout is one side, but rest and recovery make up the flip side. Here are 10 facts you need to know about that “other” side of fitness.
The rest and recovery period between workouts is actually the time your muscles repair themselves – i.e., the time when stressed or damaged tissue is rebuilt. When you neglect this all-important step by insisting on continuous, uninterrupted training, you’re not doing yourself a favor – you may actually be causing muscle loss.
It’s a real, definable physiological syndrome. Refusing to build rest and recovery days into your fitness regimen has been linked to lower energy, sleeplessness, tiredness, mood swings and lowered immunity. And it goes without saying that people who overtrain and drive themselves too hard in the gym are putting themselves at risk of real injury.
The greater the intensity of your workout, the more important the corresponding rest and recovery period is. Professional athletes have always known this, and many personal trainers recommend keeping track of both your workout days and your rest and recovery days with a diary or log, which enables you to see clearly whether you’re building in enough “down” time.
After a day or two of rest and recovery following an intense workout or athletic exertion, your body will tell you when it’s okay to dive back in. The best signals: whether you’re still tired, and whether your muscles are still sore. If so, take another day off.
Muscles tend to recover the quickest because they receive the direct flow of blood within your body. But be aware that bones, ligaments, and tendons – your body’s “structural system” – do not. As a result they can be even more susceptible to the stress and strain of overtraining than muscle tissue. They need more time.
Sleep is a huge part of rest and recovery from exercise and training. The growth of muscle, the repair of tissue, the release of crucial hormones, and the all-important synthesis of protein all occur primarily during sleeping hours. Simply avoiding the gym isn’t enough – be certain to get eight hours of quality sleep, especially if you’re a gym rat.
As for diet, white-meat chicken, steamed broccoli, and club soda for dinner is admirable when you’re in training, and for weight control. But don’t forget that good mental health is a part of overall wellness. Don’t torture yourself with denial -- on rest and recovery days, it won’t kill you to order that burger, glass of wine, or slice of pie for dessert!
Cross-training can actually be a part of recovery, and a form of rest. Many athletes and coaches will allow one muscle group to recover by altering the training regimen, or switching to a different sport. You don’t have to be in an armchair to give your body, or parts of your body, the recovery time it needs.
Here is one final thing to remember. Not working out gives you valuable time to do other things that contribute to your wellness – both physical and psychological – every bit as much as exercise does. On off days, try a therapeutic massage to aid circulation and give sore muscles a treat – or meditation, to lower blood pressure and induce relaxation. De-stress with easy stretching. Treat discomfort by applying alternating heat and ice to a sore muscle. Read a book, see a movie, or spend time with family. The point is that rest and recovery needn’t mean complete inactivity – a relaxing swim, yoga, easy striding on a treadmill, tossing a Frisbee in the park or a stroll around the block can all count as taking it easy. You don’t have to be an ironman – or woman – every day!