Most athletes know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, but many still over train and feel guilty when they take a day off. The body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts, and continuous training can actually weaken the strongest athletes.
Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.
In the worst-case scenario, too few rest and recovery days can lead to overtraining syndrome – a difficult condition to recover from.
What Happens During Recovery?
Building recovery time into any training program is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Exercise or any other physical work causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen) as well as fluid loss.
Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of overtraining are
1. You repeatedly fail to complete your normal workout.
I’m not talking about normal failure. Some people train to failure as a rule, and that’s fine. I’m talking failure to lift the weights you usually lift, run the hill sprints you usually run, and complete the hike you normally complete. Regression. If you’re actively getting weaker, slower, and your stamina is deteriorating despite regular exercise, you’re probably training too much. Note, though, that this isn’t the same as deloading. Pushing yourself to higher weights and failing at those is a normal part of progression, but if you’re unable to lift weights that you formerly handled with relative ease, you may be overtrained.
2. You’re losing leanness despite increased exercise.
If losing fat was as easy as burning calories by increasing work output, overtraining would never result in fat gain – but that isn’t the case. It’s about the hormones. Sometimes, working out too much can actually cause muscle wasting and fat deposition. You’re “burning calories,” probably more than ever before, but it’s predominantly glucose/glycogen and precious muscle tissue. Net effect: you’re getting less lean. The hormonal balance has been tipped. You’ve been overtraining, and the all-important testosterone:cortisol ratio is lopsided. Generally speaking, a positive T:C ratio means more muscle and less fat, while a negative ratio means you’re either training too much, sleeping too little, or some combination of the two. Either way, too much cortisol will increase insulin resistance and fat deposition, especially around the midsection. Have you been working out like a madman only to see your definition decrease? You’re probably overtraining.
3. You’re lifting/sprinting/HIITing hard every single day.
The odd genetic freak could conceivably lift heavy, sprint fast, and engage in metabolic conditioning nearly every day of the week and adequately recover, without suffering ill effects. Chances are, however, you are not a genetic freak with Wolverine’s healing factor. Most people who maintain such a hectic physical schedule will not recover (especially if they have a family and/or a job). Performance will suffer, health will deteriorate, and everything they’ve worked to achieve will be compromised. Many professional athletes can practice for hours a day every day and see incredible results (especially if they are using performance enhancing substances), but you’re not a professional, are you?
4. You’re primarily an anaerobic/power/explosive/strength athlete, and you feel restless, excitable, and unable to sleep in your down time.
When a sprinter or a power athlete overtrains, the sympathetic nervous system dominates. Symptoms include hyperexcitability, restlessness, and an inability to focus (especially on athletic performance), even while at rest or on your off day. Sleep is generally disturbed in sympathetic-dominant overtrained athletes, recovery slows, and the resting heart rate remains elevated. Simply put, the body is reacting to a chronically stressful situation by heightening the sympathetic stress system’s activity levels. Most People who overtrain will see their sympathetic nervous system afflicted, simply because they lean toward the high-intensity, power, strength side.
5. You’re primarily an endurance athlete, and you feel overly fatigued, sluggish, and useless.
Too much resistance training can cause sympathetic overtraining; too much endurance work can cause parasympathetic overtraining, which is characterized by decreased testosterone levels, increased cortisol levels, debilitating fatigue (both mental and physical), and a failure to lose body fat. While I tend to advise against any appreciable amount of endurance training, chronic fatigue remains an issue worthy of repeating. Being fit enough to run ten miles doesn’t mean that you now have to do it every day.
6. Your joints, bones, or limbs hurt.
In the lifts, limb pain can either be DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or it can indicate poor technique or improper form; DOMS is a natural response that should go away in a day or two, while poor form is more serious and can be linked to overuse or overtraining. With regard to endurance training, if you creak, you wince at every step, and you dread staircases, it may be that you’ve run too far or too hard for too long. The danger here is that your daily endorphin high has over-ridden your natural pain receptors. You should probably listen to them more acutely.
7. You’re suddenly falling ill a lot more often.
Many things can compromise your immune system. Dietary changes (especially increased sugar intake), lack of Vitamin D/sunlight, poor sleep habits, mental stress are all usual suspects, but what if those are all locked in and stable? What if you’re eating right, getting plenty of sun, and enjoying a regular eight hours of solid sleep each night, but you find yourself getting sick? Nothing too serious, mind you. A nagging cough here, a little sniffle or two there, some congestion and a headache, perhaps. These were fairly normal before you went Primal, but they’ve returned. Your immune system may be suffering from the added stress of your overtraining. It’s an easy trap to fall into, simply because it’s often the natural progression for many accomplished athletes or trainees looking to increase their work or improve their performance: work harder, work longer. If you’ve recently increased your exercise output, keep track of those early morning sore throats and sneezes. Any increases may indicate a poor immune system brought on by overtraining.
8. You feel like crap the hours and days after a big workout.
Once you get into the swing of things, one of the great benefits of exercise is the post-workout feeling of wellness. You’ve got the big, immediate, heady rush of endorphins during and right after a session, followed by that luxurious, warm glow that infuses your mind and body for hours (and even days). It’s the best feeling, isn’t it? We all love it. What if that glow never comes, though? What if instead of feeling energetic and enriched after a workout, you feel sketchy and uncomfortable? As I said before, post-workout DOMS is completely normal, but feeling like death (mentally and physically) is not. Exercise generally elevates mood; if it’s having a negative effect on your mood, it’s probably too much.
Types of recovery
Keep in mind that there are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be build into a year-round training schedule. Both are important for optimal sports performance.
Short-term recovery, sometimes called active recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during both the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits.
Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise and optimizing protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size
This is also the time for soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) repair and the removal of chemicals that build up as a result of cell activity during exercise.
Getting quality sleep is also an important part of short-term recovery. Make should to get plenty of sleep, especially if you are doing hard training. In general, one or two nights of poor or little sleep won’t have much impact on performance, but consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. While no one completely understands the complexities of sleep, some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis.
Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, add crosstraining, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.
Adaptation to Exercise
The Principle of Adaptation states that when we undergo the stress of physical exercise, our body adapts and becomes more efficient. It’s just like learning any new skill; at first it’s difficult, but over time it becomes second-nature. Once you adapt to a given stress, you require additional stress to continue to make progress.
There are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it breaks down and risks injury. Doing too much work too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage, but doing too little, too slowly will not result in any improvement. This is why training programs increase time and intensity at a planned rate and allow rest days throughout the program.
Balance Exercise with Rest and Recovery.
It is this alternation of adaptation and recovery that takes the athlete to a higher level of fitness. High-level athletes need to realize that the greater the training intensity and effort, the greater the need for planned recovery. Monitoring your workouts with a training log, and paying attention to how your body feels and how motivated you are is extremely helpful in determining your recovery needs and modifying your training program accordingly.
In short here it goes…
So how does this overtraining phenomenon occur?
Inadequate rest and excessive training, to put it simply.
Remember, your muscles grow and your fat is burned (mostly) while you’re resting.
Working out too intensely and/or too frequently disrupts your recovery process and the body and mind respond with a big “screw you.”
You’ll be even more susceptible to this condition if you’re following an aggressive lean body diet plan that is overly restrictive in calories and nutrients.
Also, being sick, a lack of sleep, jet lag and stresses from your work or personal life can increase the likelihood of overtraining biting you in the butt.
It’s thought that increased levels of cortisol and excessive strain on the nervous system are two of the main factors that cause this funk.
Besides seeing your fat loss results come to a screeching halt (or worse yet, going backwards) and being a little irritable, cranky and unmotivated, here’s some warning sings to keep your lids peeled for:
-> Increased injuries, excessive fatigue, higher resting heart rate, nagging muscle soreness that just won’t quit (careful with this one, because it’s common to be sore when trying out a new workout style), loss of motivation, delayed recovery, chills, generalized body pain, headaches, insomnia, even constipation and diarrhea
If you’re ever noticing a whole gang of these symptoms and you’ve been hitting the diet and workouts really hard for a long time, without much more than a day off here and there…you could be suffering from overtraining.
If you determine it’s a realistic possibility that you’re sinking in an overtraining sand trap, then please take some time off and let your body and your hormones recover.
I recommend a full 7-10 day workout vacation for anyone who feels overtrained. Make sure and take a good look at your diet plan too, and adjust for potential causative factors. A moderate increase in calories consumed during this recovery week would be a good idea.
If you’re slacking on veggies, quit.
One of the best things you can do to get lean, stay healthy and look better is to eat more vegetables.
Bump up your protein intake too, to promote the repair and rebuilding of lean muscle tissue. And always drink lots of water to promote a healthy liver and lymphatic system.
Even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms of overtraining, it’s a good idea to take a scheduled recovery week every so often.
Just like the cheat day concept, it’s always a good idea to cycle your workouts and supplements as well.
Overexposure to the same thing (even if that same thing is fat-blasting, top-notch workouts) will eventually result in your body working against you.
Planned cheating on your diet, mini vacations from your workouts and cycling supplement usage, will all help to prevent plateaus and keep the results coming.
In terms of intense training, I’d suggest
If you train intensely for 5+ days per week take a recovery week every 4th week
Yes this means 3 weeks on and one week off
If you train 3-4 days per week with rest days between workouts I would suggest taking a recovery week every 12 weeks
Just because I beat the intensity factor to death, doesn’t mean there aren’t times where we’ll all need to take a break and let our bodies and our minds recover.
By the way, don’t worry about setbacks during this recovery period.
Here are some numbers to back this argument up
Here are some sample values in the loss of cardio-vascular fitness over time:
Up to 5 days — no loss
7 days off — 0.6%
14 days off — 2.7%
21 days off — 4.8%
28 days off (one month) — 6.9%
56 days (two months) — 15.3%
As u can see the loss doesn’t outweigh the gain.
Just like with strategic cheating, it may sound counter-intuitive, but in the end, the off time helps you more than it hurts you.
Rest is a huge part of the success equation, but it’s boring to talk about and not very sexy to read about don’t let that get in the way of your fat loss mission.
Recovery is the secret to success many people think I’m crazy for the amount I recover but I am also constantly surpassing these individuals in workouts. Resting allows the body a total reset, the muscles get to rebuild, the CNS gets to rest (this can take up to 7-10 days after a heavy lifting session), the body just feels better and more efficient. So please everyone take the time listen to me and take a rest week before your body decided to take one without you wanting it to (injury).
For our parents I have attached a link to an article on identifying overtraining in your young athlete here