Fitness and Rest: Balance for Results

Many athletes—from serious competitors to avid fitness enthusiasts—work hard everyday with the mantra more is better.

Strength training, hard intervals and long workouts are included, but often rest and recovery are neglected. Rest is key to success in any training program whether you are an experienced marathoner, hardcore spin devotee, CrossFit fan or a teenage athlete vying for a spot on the state team.

Rest provides physical and psychological benefits that will make you a stronger, healthier and more successful athlete.

Physical benefits of rest

Athletes make gains, not during work, but during recovery and rest, which allow for the following:

  • Tissues damaged during intense exercise heal stronger
  • Muscles strengthen and become faster and more efficient
  • Energy gets used more efficiently
  • Cardiovascular system strengthens
  • Energy stores and fluids fully replenish

Psychological benefits of rest

You can’t pursue excellence if you’re burned out on your sport or routine. Rest gives athletes a chance to:

  • Refocus
  • Enjoy the sport and training
  • Balance work and family commitments
  • Prevent exercise addiction and burnout

Recovery vs. Rest

Active recovery—a brisk walk or bike ride with your kids—involves easy movement to help muscles eliminate waste products like lactic acid. Use it after a competition, challenging weight workout, grueling tennis match or intense interval workout.

Complete rest, with no exercise, is also beneficial. Working a least one rest day into your program is the key to success for many athletes. On a long-term basis, taking an easy week every four to six weeks can greatly enhance performance. On a yearly basis, cycling out of your sport for a few weeks will ensure full recovery and allow a mental break.

According to eleven-time Olympic medalist and swimmer, Natalie Coughlin, “I can’t emphasize how important rest is to my training! Recovery is an essential element that often gets overlooked.” She adds, “In the long term, rest has a huge impact. The better you’re recovering the better you are in practice the next session. If you’re getting the proper rest, you’re shifting the momentum of your training in the right direction.”

Risks associated with lack of rest

Motivated athletes, including teenagers, often over train, which can lead to injury and poor performance. According to Dr. Eric Chehab, Illinois Bone and Joint, the most common injuries from lack of rest are muscle strains, joint injuries and stress fractures.

Muscles also protect the joints that they move, so a fatigued and underperforming muscle puts that joint at risk for injury. When an athlete does not give adequate time to recover from workouts, the bones in the foot, tibia, and even hip are at risk for developing “micro-fractures” that can progress into a stress fracture.

Analyze your training and that of your young athlete. Ensure there is adequate recovery after intense workouts, and include complete rest each week, and throughout the year. Less may be just what it takes to give more!

For the days when you’re not resting, you might be interested in these articles on training:

A New Spin: 5 Reasons to Get Back on the Bike

Fitness for the Time Crunched

Beginning a Yoga Practice

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