Giving Your Body a Deserved Break
Spring is quickly approaching and, so too, is Spring Break’s prospect. For many, a Spring Break countdown began as soon as the holidays trickled to a close. That cherished mid-March week can be a much anticipated respite; a reprieve from work, school, and, perhaps, even training. However, some of us view this hiatus with measured trepidation: ‘I’m going to get behind on work,’ ‘If I take a break from training, I’m going to regress,’ ‘But I have so many essays, tests, and projects to complete!’ It’s not uncommon, amidst busy schedule’s hustle and bustle, to think a break of any length equates to relapse or laziness. However, this could not be further from the truth; athletes and non-athletes alike require rest and recovery to maintain balanced bodies and minds.
Athletes, noticeably, fall prey to the theory ‘more is better’. We think we must push harder, faster to accomplish goals, but this is not accurate. The ‘more equals better’ theory also applies to non-athletes: those of us in the business, school, and/or family care-taker world. Rest, defined as a “combination of sleep and time not spent training,” and Recovery, the “techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair,” are both just as important, if not more so, than actual training time (Kuhland). The body needs reconstruction time following strenuous activity (during which we undergo a ‘breaking down’ process), to adapt to increased intensity stress, replenish depleted energy stores, and repair damaged/strained muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones (Quinn, 2016). Without hiatus, the body simply continues to tear itself apart and weaken.
So, what does appropriate recovery look like? Typically it resembles the trusted sleep/hydration/nutrition trifecta and, if incorporated, can astronomically increase your ability to train at higher intensities, decrease time spent recovering, and reduce chance of injury. Sleep is classified as ‘rest’ and we should ideally capture 7-10 hours a day. Research proves hours spent sleeping before midnight are more effective than those proceeding midnight; therefore, it’s essential to get an early start on that shut-eye (Kuhland)!
Most athletes emphasize Hydration around peak performance/competition periods and yet, during off- and, even, training-season, attention declines. It’s fairly simple to ascertain hydration (check for pale urine color) and water is the best way to maintain levels. Sports drinks, though not wholly detrimental, should be taken before, during, and directly after intense training; they should not serve as your sole source (Kuhland).
Lastly, Nutrition cannot be taken lightly as foods directly heal or hurt a body throughout recovery’s progress. A fine balance is necessary and, to a certain extent, anything in moderation is okay; athletes as well as non-athletes, however, should shoot to ‘eat clean.’ Avoid processed foods and those including artificial and difficult to metabolize substances.
Alongside the sleep/hydration/nutrition trifecta, exercise breaks are necessary. Many training regimens incorporate rest days or weeks alongside cross-training; work-outs feature varying types of physical activity, intensity, duration, and distance. This rest/down time comprises Long-term Recovery and explains why many elite athletes pursue heightened exercise patterns, punctuated by rest periods and eventually followed by lengthy recuperation. A prime example is time taken off by Olympic athletes following the Games (Quinn, 2016).
Short Term Recovery refers to the hours or days directly following intense exercise and during which it’s imperative to directly engage protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the period when we increase “protein content of muscle cells, [thus] preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size;” we accomplish this through effective nutrition (Quinn, 2016). What and when we eat right after work-outs is essential. Without short term recovery, it’s possible to kick-start Overtraining Syndrome. This situation arises when an individual trains beyond their body’s ability to recover and causes mental strain and decreased performance. When our mind’s eye prioritizes training plans and goals, it’s difficult to recognize Overtraining Syndrome’s creeping symptoms. That’s completely understandable and many athletes fall victim to this. However, here are some warning signs:
Feeling washed out, tired, exhausted
Mild but persistent aches, pains, and soreness
Sudden performance decline
Frequent sickness (an inability to stay ‘healthy’)
Compulsive need to exercise
If you begin to recognize some of these signs, don’t be alarmed. Be kind to yourself: get some R&R, hydrate, and perhaps implement cross-training into your workout plan (Quinn, 2016).
Ultimately, research shows that “idleness” and breaks are imperative when we seek to sharpen our minds and bodies. Most important “mental processes require down time because they [replenish] stores of attention [and] motivation, encourage productivity and creativity” (Jabr, 2013). It is also necessary for maintaining a sense of self. For performing athletes, and those of us ‘performing’ in the work, school, and familial spheres, rest and recovery are acts of compassion and self-care that our body craves. Your body is, in effect, a machine and all machines require maintenance. So, this Spring Break, TOPPS encourages you to enjoy the time off! Know this period of perceived ‘inactivity’ is actually just as ‘active,’ albeit in a different way. Your body will thank you!
Jabr, Ferris. (15 October, 2013). Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/.
Kuhland, Jeff. 7 Essential Elements of Rest and Recovery. Retrieved from https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/7-essential-elements-of-rest-and-recovery.
Quinn, Elizabeth. (1 December, 2016). Are You Exercising Too Much? How To Know If You Are Overtraining. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/overtraining-syndrome-and-athletes-3119386
Quinn, Elizabeth. (29 June, 2016). Why Athletes Need Rest and Recovery After Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/the-benefits-of-rest-and-recovery-after-exercise-3120575.