How much is ‘rest’ an critical part of your training programme? Do you see it as valuable time spent or maybe things get a bit too anxious to give the gym a miss for a day?
Many athletes find it difficult to rest. And yet the very act of resting is critical to success. Most of us are aware that a lack of rest and ‘down time’ inhibits recovery and progress and yet how many of us chose to ignore this advice thinking we are gaining competitive edge by over training? It’s easy to fall into unproductive training patterns which leave you feeling dissatisfied and increase your risk of injury.
Ironically, the characteristics and the grit of a competitive sportsperson can be their enemy as much as their friend. The will to win can lead them to ignore the warning signs of overtraining.
I understand this challenge well from recent and personal experience. During my competitive training I’ve always had a tendency to over-train, leaving rest and recovery as an after-thought rather than making it a valued part of my overall effectiveness. Unfortunately I have fallen into that trap again recently and it’s left me injured.
And of course, what happens when we are injured and can’t train? Aside from going back many steps – we get a bit grumpy. OK – alot grumpy!
But my most recent injury has brought about an insightful lesson – I’ve gained fresh perspective and developed stronger empathy with the athletes whom I support. My misfortune – all I ask of them is a shift in mindset regarding the value of rest and recovery.
If you are lucky enough to be working 1:1 with a good coach or PT, they will pay particular attention to your mood. They will ask about your stress levels, your sleep patterns and notice if you are plateauing or seem to be prone to niggling injuries or demoralized complaints. They will help you to recognise the signs of overtraining.
In a group exercise situation, it’s more difficult for trainers to help clients to spot these things. They are already multitasking, scanning with their eagle eye to ensure that everyone is safe, doing things effectively and enjoying the class. No matter how interesting the person or the conversation, they have to keep interactions brief and give everyone a bit of attention, whilst maintaining the flow of the class, keep to time – and attempting to satisfy a range of musical tastes!
So, if you don’t have the benefit of working 1:1 with a coach, then you need to coach yourself, take control and be your own ‘rest mentor’.
Here’s 5 key ways that you can be your own ‘rest mentor’:
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Nurturing a healthy perspective will allow you to psychologically move out of the pressure zone (both internal and external pressures). Recognise that although sport and training is significant in your life, you are more than what you do or what you achieve in sport. A healthy mind can help you maintain perspective making you less likely to suffer extreme highs and lows as you take better ‘care’ of your emotional state.
- ACTIVATE YOUR AWARENESS
It’s useful to notice when your training and sport takes over your thoughts, keeping you up at night and creating an anxiety pattern which is out of control. Interestingly, research suggests that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patterns are prevalent in top athletes. Of course the ability to focus is essential for efficient learning and performance, whilst commitment, repetition and automation are keys to mastery. However there is a fine line and many athletes teeter on the edge of overtraining and getting burnt out. These patterns can be particularly problematic to manage as athletes adjust to retirement.
Create a simple system which is easy to monitor by yourself. Record and score yourself (1-10) according to your energy, your sleep and your mood. Use a diary, or create a visual on a white board. Make this ‘awareness’ a routine part of your training programme so that you can make adjustments before you get injured or your performance suffers.
- GET (AND STAY) CONNECTED
By taking the time to reconnect and allowing time for the other things in your life you to be present and gain enjoyment from these very activities. You may not go clubbing, but perhaps you would still really benefit from listening to music, or doing something silly and playful like baking a cake with the kids. Go out on family days out and leave your phone at home. Make a conscious effort to move, play and let go. Give yourself the best chance of taking a proper break and be present and aware with others. This will really impact on your sense of connection with your loved ones and will increase happiness all around. Take a few minutes to list what these things might be for you or what hobbies you could start to enjoy again as part of your recovery routine. In doing these things you will actually be gaining some mind space and engaging in really rest and recovery.
- MANAGE YOUR MINDSET
You may experience feelings of loss and agitation if you can’t train due to injury or anxiety, as you can’t relieve the stress and your worries. If you have a competition on the horizon, anxiety may lead you to take on additional confidence boosting practice sessions when it would really be sensible to rest. Notice if this a pattern and break the habit by pre-planning activities which will help you to release tension.
- FLEX YOUR MENTAL MUSCLES
There is a lot of research about the benefits of meditation, visualisation and training the mind. If cultivated these skills improve your heath and wellbeing and they will improve your mental focus and performance.
There are some great apps out there to get you started. It helps to remember that like all the physical skills that you have learned, these too will take time to learn, so persevere. Beware of any perfectionist voice inside your head which kids you into thinking that it’s not for you! Think of it just like your physio and injury prevention exercises which you do to enhance and enable improved performance.
- MAKE REST YOUR TRAINING BUDDY
Reframing rest and recovery (thinking about it differently) will reduce the associated guilt, in addition to concerns about gaining weight (in sports like martial arts, triathlon and weight lifting) where that’s a key consideration. Deep-seated body image issues can play a part in this too. Learning about physiology can be useful, remind yourself about what happens to the muscles during the process of training and what you need to allow the muscles to grow. Take the time to understand how fundamental things such a sleep and nutrition affect the recovery process and how getting outdoors in nature impacts positively on your mental health and wellbeing. These things will make you more motivated to pay attention to theses aspects of your lifestyle – the fact is, they are affecting your performance.
Remember, when you are not a professional athlete it’s easy to over train when you juggle training with work and family commitments, and it can be more challenging to lead a performance lifestyle. Through reflecting on my recent experiences I have created some tools and set myself some boundaries. These will prevent me from falling into this trap again, and more importantly leading by example and appreciating the fact that rest and recovery will help us to stay injury free and will lead to improved performance in the long term.