Why taking a break can make you perform better
When Georgia van Tiel first launched fitness company Bodypass, she was working out up to 20 hours a week, doing up to four fitness classes a day. Not surprisingly, she hit a wall.
“I was doing three to four workouts a day, which caused my body to rebel against me. I started getting annoying minor injuries, I felt more lethargic and my muscles constantly ached. I found I wasn’t able to push myself in the classes at all (not great if you’re pretty competitive). Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing,” says van Tiel.
It’s no secret among athletes that in order to improve your performance you have to train hard. While a consistent, high intensity workout routine will keep you at the top of your game, coaches and trainers are trying to steer athletes away from the all-or-nothing mindset. The body doesn’t get stronger from doing excessive exercise, it actually gets stronger when it rests from that exercise. This is why recovery is an important aspect of a successful training program.
Sam Strutt, Nike+ Run Club Coach, aims to “create running programs that will push the athlete, but not so they’re on the verge of overtraining, which can result in injury and illness.”
When you push yourself too hard without giving your muscles enough time to heal, the imbalance can backfire on your health.
“Recovery days are an athlete’s best friend and they are as important to their progress as their training,” says Strutt. “Understanding the purpose of the ‘recovery day’ can help you relax, adapt and take that one step closer to achieving your goals.”
Strutt says a recovery day should be taken the day following a hard workout. But having a rest day doesn’t mean you have to give up on exercise completely.
“Depending on your fitness level, a casual run at recovery pace (or conversational pace – where you can run and comfortable talk to a running friend) can enhance recovery and help prepare the body for more intense workouts in the coming days,” he says.
Elite athletes use recovery time to introduce physiological and psychological strategies to maximise training gains and reduce the chance of a burnout. Want to workout like an athlete does? Then you need to introduce recovery time. Here’s how to do it right.
1. Cool down
Once you workout, it’s over right? The only thing that’s on your mind is jumping in a hot shower to wash off all that sweat. You can’t waste time ‘cooling down’.
“After training or a game, we usually do one or two laps of the field, which helps to reduce our heart rates and muscles to regular measures and then we static stretch for 10 to 15 minutes,” says Australian football player Stephanie Catley.
During a strenuous workout, the body goes through a number of stressful processes and requires an effective cool down to help it repair itself and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. For elite athletes, a complete cool down after training or competition lowers the risk of a career-ending injury.
Strutt says running at an easy cool down pace when we are fatigued or in a depleted state is a great way to work muscle fibres that aren’t normally trained.
2. Cold therapy
Plunge into an ice bath straight after a session? Maybe we’ll just settle for a cold shower. But some athletes swear by ice baths to speed up recovery after a strenuous workout.
“We ice bath after every training session,” says Catley. “It’s a tough process, but it’s one that I definitely believe works.”
Taking a dip in an ice water bath causes the blood vessels to constrict and reduces swelling. As the body warms up after the bath, the return of oxygenated blood improves circulation and flushes out waste products, jump starting the healing process.
The less extreme option would be to go for a recovery swim in a pool or the ocean to help accelerate muscle recovery. Swimming keeps the muscles moving during the recovery period, which promotes blood flow and reduces inflammation which lets you train at the same intensity level the next time you hit the gym.
The best fitness discovery of the last few years is foam rolling. Invest (around $60) in one and your muscles will thank you later!
It not only gives you a deep tissue massage, but breaks up scar tissue adhesion and releases muscle tightness. You can expect to see a decrease in muscle soreness and an improvement in mobility and balance. Foam rolling applies pressure to particular trigger points when the roller is slowly moved under the body and it helps with chronic back/hip/shoulder pain too.
How can I improve my workout? Should it be done at a different time? At a different speed? A different intensity?
Reviewing your workout is helpful for getting in the right mindset to improve your performance.
“When you are mentally tired, it is more difficult to push your boundaries and tolerate the discomfort of exercise. Your recovery days are just as much about psychological recovery as they are about physical recovery,” says Strutt.
Many elite athletes debrief themselves after a session as a way of coping with the emotional and mental demands of competition. Reviewing your workout can help you decide what you need to focus on in order for you to perform at your peak.
We always knew sleep was important for fitness!
“When we are getting good quality sleep the body goes through a lot of regenerative processes to repair itself from the stress we have placed upon it,” says Strutt. “We should always strive for a consistent sleeping pattern to give our bodies the best chance of recovering and to get the most out of our training each day.”
Catley aims for eight hours of sleep per night for optimum performance. “But after a really hard day of training my body craves sleep, so I’ll hit the sheets early,” she says.
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website