“On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” (Genesis, New Testament, King James Version)
Most of us know that getting rest is essential to optimal functioning and performance, and this is no less true for athletes or those who are on a fitness training program. Yet, despite evidence that resting time is required in between workouts to repair and strengthen the body, since continuous training actually weakens even the strongest of athletes, many of us feel guilty when we take a day off from training, especially when we (I am totally included in this group!) are so psyched to attain a specific goal.
Rest is critical so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen itself. Scheduling rest & recovery time into any training program is important because this time allows the body to adapt to the stress you have inflicted on it via exercise and it is also when the real effects of training take place–when tissue repair & rebuilding occur. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy energy stores & fluids and remove chemicals that build up as a result of cell activity during exercise, as exercise and all other physical work causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of muscle glycogen & fluids. Without the required time to repair itself, the body continues to breakdown and deplete its stores, resulting in overtraining (Symptoms: a general feeling of malaise – blahhh, decreased performance and increased risk of injury).
In terms of immediate recovery after a workout, there are various theories and “rules” about what to do to assist the body recouperate. Personally, what has worked for me through years of competitive dancing and training, and what seems to work for me now as I attempt to get back into my fitness game, is to have a protein shake immediately following a workout, so that my body can readily access essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins. I also drink lots of freezing coldwater as this supposedly enhances your metabolism and also helps keep you hydrated (it’s cray how much I sweat!). These routines also help to optimize protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size). Although it is rare, sometimes my body is craving after an intense workout, so I will feed it, but I try to generally refrain from eating heavy meals until 2-3 hours after a workout. I take cold showers after working out as I’ve heard various rationale for why this is a good thing to do, but since I have not verified any of these as of yet, I will wait until I do to share them 😉 I thereafter moisturize my body from head-to-toe (gotta take care of your body from the inside out!!!) and will stretch out any muscles that don’t feel right.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of rest and recovery, according to research, and I agree, is getting a good night’s sleep. It is critical to get enough quality sleep, as this is an integral part of recovery. Although a a night or two of poor quality sleep are not likely to have much of an impact on functioning and performance, a few nights or more of inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. Some studies suggest 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), decreased glycogen synthesis, decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion.
For those of you who are just starting out a training program, it is important to learn how to listen to & understand your body as well as to become familiar with your body’s limits. Although it is important to challenge yourself, there is no benefit is unnecessarily stressing your body and not allowing it the time it needs to not only recover but to reap the benefits of your hard work. I find it helpful to keep a “Body Log” where I monitor the times I exercise and eat, as well as what I eat, how I feel mentally & physically, my energy levels, the details of my workouts, any cravings I might have etc… so that I can recgnize patterns, learn to control my body and its functionig better, as well as make any necessary modifications to my training program.
It is important to note that when you first begin exercising, it is natural and normal for your body to feel soar and stiff, and at times you may even have a hard time moving around comfortably, but don’t stop exercising unless this pain seems unrelated to muscle development as these are simply signs your body is adapting and getting use to the healing process. Sometimes I get concerned when I dont feel store, stiff or tender as I take these symptoms as signs that I am adequately challening my body and that it is re-building itself to be stronger and more capable.
It is evident that there are various physical reasons that rest & recovery are essential for optimal functioning and performance, however they are also important for psychological reasons as building rest days into a training schedule allows many to achieve a balance between their various roles & responsibilities. I personally schedule my off days with my cheat days (although the # of off days – 1 per week- outweigh the number of cheat days) and these are usually on days that I designate to socialize and spend quality time with my family and friends, which works out wonderfully! Remember that health and wellness are about achieiving mind-body-spirit balance and enjoy your rest days/times as much as your workouts and vice versa!