I’m going to start by asking you a few questions:
1. How many days a week do you train?
2. How many rest days to you have?
3. How many hours sleep do you have a night?
4. Do you eat a healthy and balanced diet?
No matter what you are training for, rest and recovery are critical components of your training program. Whether you are training for a fun run, half marathon, full marathon or even an Ironman, rest and recovery will be the key to your success.
You have sat down with your trainer and your training program is perfectly planned, day by day, session by session, exercise by exercise. You know exactly what you have to do and you are really getting excited and can’t wait to get started on Monday.
Now before we go any further I want you to have a quick look at that program and focus on how many rest days you have. There may be one or two depending on your goals, injuries and training availability. Your trainer may have gone through your training program with you, however what I am here to do is focus on your rest and recovery and make sure you know how it can become your secret weapon to success.
Rest and recovery is often overlooked, and you may even be tempted to train through your rest day as you think you feel ok, and if you get another training session under your belt you will be even fitter and stronger. This could not be further from the truth. Don’t do it! Take your rest day and enjoy it!
Rest is the time you spend sleeping and not training. It is not only important to get enough sleep but also the quality of your sleep is important and will influence the effectiveness of your training. It is when we are resting that the body repairs and strengthens. Continuous training can actually weaken even the strongest athletes and is commonly known as “over-training”.
Recovery has many elements to it, and these are the things we can do to ensure we are maximising our body’s ability to repair and get stronger. There are many different systems in our body – hormonal, muscular, digestive and immune systems are just a few. All these systems need time to recover from the stress and strain that we put them under during training.
When I think of rest and recovery I think of four things: sleep, hydration, nutrition and stretching. These are listed in no particular order as one is not more important than another. I cannot tell you how important and beneficial these will be to your training.
I can not stress enough how important getting enough sleep is to your training. It is when you are asleep that your body is working the hardest to repair and get stronger.
How much is enough sleep you ask? 7-10 hours a night depending on your training intensity and lifestyle.
Did you know that it is the hours before midnight that are the most effective when we sleep? Try and sleep in a natural environment free of artificial lights and don’t watch TV in your room or do work – your bedroom should be a space that is for sleeping only.
I am known for walking around with a drink bottle in my hand. Hydration is always an important factor that is focused on in the lead up to a race as well as during a race, however it is equally important to ensure that you are drinking enough water before, during and after training. Water helps all of our systems work more efficiently, allows our body to absorb nutrients more effectively and lowers the level of stress on our heart.
Water is the best way to hydrate. Try to stay away from sports drinks which have large amounts of sugar and salts in them that the body doesn’t need.
As your training intensity increases so too will your need to adequately fuel your body.
The key is moderation and balance. Eating clean and balanced meals will ensure that your body can perform at the intensity you need it to and recover after. You may find that what you used to eat is not enough anymore and you need to add another snack into your day.
The key is to plan and be prepared. Do a weekly shop and make sure that you have everything cut and prepared so that all you have to do is grab it out of the fridge in the morning and head of to training/work. I promise you the few short hours that it takes to do this on Sunday afternoon will make your life so much easier.
4. Stretching and self-myofascial release
I am the first to admit that I too never used to stretch enough. Then I decided to enter an Ironman and my foam roller become my best friend. Not only did I find myself stretching after each training session but I was spending 15 minutes on the foam roller every night. I can truly say that if I did not I would not have made it to the start line as my muscles would have been so sore. Do not underestimate the effectiveness of stretching and foam rolling – it changed my life and will change your training!
Now lets go back to those four original questions. Knowing what you know now do you think you need to change the balance in your training so that rest and recovery play a greater role? Just a little extra sleep, a better diet and a few stretches could make a huge difference to your training and be the key reaching the health and fitness goals you are working so hard in your training to achieve.
To your continued health and fitness,