Say the words ‘Rest day’ and you will evoke a wide range of reactions from sports people far and wide. Some rejoice in the chance to have a day off, lie on the sofa and catch up on their favourite TV programme eating treats. Others cannot stand the evil day, and don’t take them, in theory causing themselves less benefits in their future training sessions. Some have them forced on them through over training and supreme fatigue or injury, and the rest of us don’t like them but appreciate the benefits they bring to the body, both mentally and physically.
So Why are Rest Days Important?
As part of my level 3 personal trainer course, we must design a full 8-week training plan for one of our peers. The guy I am working with is one of the many that don’t have a rest day; in the gym 7 days a week, on a 5-day split. The lack of recovery did ring bells in my head, but then I began thinking. If you are working different body parts each day, is your body resting because the other parts aren’t being used?
One thing that really surprised me is that the government recommends being active 5-7 times a week. While they aren’t suggesting vigorous exercise, I personally find this misleading as I would consider being active as something that gets me working, not the walking that they are referring to.
So, after a bit of research and assistance from the tutor I began to understand why rest days or even rest weeks are so important. Mentally as much as physically.
This overarching term refers to training beyond the body’s ability to recover. There are many symptoms of over training, however many that are suffering from it refuse to believe it. I know this because I have been through it.
My period of overtraining resulted from using training as an escape from everything else going on in my life. It felt like the only good thing, but realistically it was compounding all the other issues I didn’t want to sort out. We are sometimes so driven that we can’t see what’s right in front of us.
Most us are very aware of the physical need for rest and recovery. The micro tears that are caused by exercise need time to heal and in turn make the body stronger. The more strenuous the exercise the more tears in the muscle, the longer the recovery needed. While this is a natural process, if you do not let the body heal itself there is a good chance that these micro tears could become a real injury. Additionally, if you are always fatigued and tired, the quality of your workouts is likely to be poor, so the gains will be none, if very little.
This is relatively common in new athletes, particularly runners, due to the quick gains that can be made. Running is very tough on the body but is an incredibly addictive sport. There is this idea that more is better, and rest days will result in loss of fitness. But this is very much a myth. I know this as I have been in this exact situation, more than once I must add.
I used to joke with my friends about having tired legs when we rode, and I can honestly say I never raced on fresh legs. In 2017, I think I had less than 20 rest days, and back then I used to ride everything flat out.
It’s not just the physical body that needs time to recover. It’s the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is responsible for producing muscular contractions in ALL variations of training. Therefore, unlike physical overtraining which tends to happen to one or two muscles, CNS overtraining affects the whole body, and is therefore a systemic issue. This is the part of overtraining that is much harder to spot and even harder to get out of if you are stuck in a rut.
Only pretend exhaustion:
So, what are the symptoms of this over training malarkey?
Well the first things you are likely to notice is an increased level of fatigue and severe loss of motivation. Ever just looked at your training plan for the week and thought, I really cannot be bothered this week? Has that then happened for weeks on end, everything just seeming a bit doom and gloom? Over training can very easily lead to depressive thoughts, which can make you feel very alone and, in my case, make training feel like it’s the only and most important thing in your life.
Do you find yourself frequently waking up in the night, or perhaps not actually being able to fall asleep? Considering sleep is crucial for recovery, this is going to magnify the problems associated with over training. Ultimately you wake feeling highly unrefreshed and lacking in that energy that human life requires.
If you are suffering from over training syndrome is it very likely you will have become more irritable than normal. Do you find yourself biting you closest pals head off more than usual?
To make this even worse, as training appears to be the only thing that doesn’t annoy you, it is easy to end up with a one-track mind and prioritise it over everything else. Ultimately though the loss of motivation and fatigue you feel will mean you aren’t enjoying it anymore only compounding the issue further.
Looking back this is one of the biggest signs of overtraining for me. I struggled to concentrate on anything that wasn’t sport, which ended up being very isolating.
This is certainly another one that I have struggled with in the past. Exercise can become an addiction. Those feel good endorphins busting through the veins. It can become obsessive, especially if like me you have a very addictive personality. I became very aware of what I looked like and of everything that went in my body, again another control and comfort, which I am very aware a lot of people in sport suffer with to some degree.
If any of these strike a chord with you, please reach out to someone!
Thanks for reading,
Pocket Rocket Rach