Here’s a fact that will probably surprise you: it isn’t training that makes you stronger—it’s the rest between training periods that actually improves our fitness.
The reason for this is actually quite simple. When we rest, our bodies adapt to compensate for the stress it endures during our workouts. The change to our bodies happens as our bodies recover and become stronger after the stress and resistance of a workout. That additional strength can’t be built if you aren’t giving your body a break.
Why should I make sure to have enough time to recover?
Stress—also known as “sympathetic activities” or “fight or flight”—is good for us in small doses. The stress causes the body to produce stress hormones such as norepinephrine, also none as noradrenalin, and cortisol. The shot of adrenaline that we get has us running or fighting for our survival. This causes a few things to happen:
- Concentration levels are extremely high
- The heart races
- Our senses and minds are more alert
- Energy and breathing patterns increase
However, when stress levels are high for an extended period of time, this causes harmful effects on the body such as a weakened immune system, inflammation and hypertension. The excess cortisol that is produced releases sugar into the bloodstream, which increases our energy and causes us to not feel hungry and do whatever we need to survive. The reaction that follows is the body’s response to insulin causing a low blood sugar level as a result of the physical feat the body has just preformed, and reminds us that our body needs to refuel. If the system isn’t being depleted with extended physical exertion, any sugary or “easy-energy” foods that are consumed at this time will result in the consumption of too many calories, resulting in weight gain.
It’s important to prioritize 30 minutes of “parasympathetic”—or “rest and digest”—activity each day to allow for productive recovery. This could include meditation, yoga, tai chi, spa treatments, meaningful relationships/discussions, time in the Jacuzzi or sauna, preforming relaxing hobbies, drinking tea or enjoying a warm bath—whatever makes you relaxed and restful. Continued reading…
It’s also important to avoid two things: over-training and over-reaching
Over-training is when the need to rest and recover is ignored, and often happens when intake of calories is drastically reduced during heavy training periods.
Over-reaching is a milder version of over-training and is a slower, more common problem for recreational exercisers. The risk comes from a few factors; one is that some people get addicted to what is sometimes referred to as the “runner’s high” that causes people to keep doing whatever they can to re-create that feeling, thus putting themselves at risk. Also, some individuals want to have control over their bodies, their perceived stress and results as much as possible, and push the body too far. More on that…
3 signs of overtraining (you need to take seriously)
- Your resting heart rate is higher than normal.
- You’re experiencing sudden weight loss (and a decrease in strength).
- You’re getting odd aches and pains in your joints.
- Take 1-2 weeks off training completely.
- Reduce your training volume by one or two thirds.
- Get a minimum of 6-8 hours of QUALITY sleep every single night.
How much exercise is enough?
The key is finding the balance. Cardio intervals can be done with walking, running, swimming, biking, or rowing. Resistance training should be limited to three times per week. Active rest times could include taking the dog for a walk, riding your bike, or going for a low-impact hike. Find fun and productive things you enjoy like gardening, tennis, badminton, horseshoes, chasing your dog through the park, or even cleaning the house (I know this isn’t a popular choice, but I enjoy it!). When you are first starting out, begin at the 0-5 hours. As you progress you will naturally want to increase how much and how often you are doing different activities.
Picture from Precision Nutrition
How to Prevent Overtraining/Over-reaching
Here are some additional tips for recovery and to prevent overtraining/over-reaching:
- Eat nutrient-dense foods while eliminating calorie-dense foods.
- Be more aware of the body; eating light and always feeling ravenous is a symptom of overtraining.
- Give your body the water it needs for energy and to maintain proper digestive function—not to mention that the body is made mostly of water and needs constant replenishment.
- Eat at least 1500 calories a day while training more than 7 hours in a week.
- Use supplements if enough nutrients aren’t consumed via whole foods to help the body systems function properly.
Eating right and exercise is enough for total fitness isn’t it?
Weight loss and physical fitness is about more than just eating right and exercising. It’s imperative to have an effective plan to make sure the body gets proper nourishment while strategic stress, resistance and proper rest periods are implemented to increase strength. Reducing chronic stress and getting enough sleep are also important aspects to include while building strength, improving flexibility and increasing cardio health. If any of these components are missing, the plan will crumble and not be successful.