The frequency and intensity of training we can handle is completely individual. There isn’t a one fits all approach to rest as we everyone has different fitness levels, recovery rates and immune systems – not to mention levels of stress, sleep, nutritional input etc. Rest should be in your fitness plan, however, listening to your body is also key to getting it right…
First of all, we should assess why we actually need recovery. Recovery days come in different forms – some people may require full rest days and others may require low intensity exercise such as swimming, yoga, a steady paced run etc. Rest is important for the body for a number of reasons. Exercise creates micro-tears in the muscle fibres. As the muscle repairs, it adapts – repairing stronger and growing in size. Rest goes side by side with this. Not allowing the muscles to recover properly will restrict that process – potentially causing plateaus in progress and a decrease in strength. Training also has an impact on the central nervous system – without proper recovery this can have a huge impact on performance and can cause a range of effects such as chronic fatigue, increased resting heart rate and a reduced ability to fight infections to name just a few.
Secondly, when exercise is concerned, more isn’t always effective. Allowing the body to recover properly instead of continually working at max effort is going to cause the adaptations necessary for physical changes and is likely to cause a positive mindset towards training. Exercise can be addictive, so if you’re finding it difficult to take a day off (or a lighter day of exercise), it may be worth looking at your relationship with exercise. Often when overtraining is taking place, it takes all the enjoyment out training, warping it into an obsession rather than a positive venture.
Athletes have professionals to help them cycle their training correctly so that their performance can increase at a steady pace without burnout. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t train at 100% all the time and neither should you. Careful planning of exercise can help to prevent overtraining – although there will be some days that an unexpected recovery day may need to happen if you’ve challenged the CNS more than you thought. There are lots of other factors to consider with recovery which I touched on earlier such as sleep, stress and nutrition. For more information on how sleep and stress, I have written other blogs on this previously that may be worth a read. If you’re struggling to devise a plan with sufficient rest, asking a professional is always the best idea.