The balance between rest and training...
I'm going to begin with two apologies. Firstly, I apologise in advance for droning-on about my own training in this piece. I'd prefer not to, as it's about you, the reader, not me, but hopefully hearing about my experiences will help to paint a helpful picture you can relate to and will help you going forwards in your training.
Secondly, before I get inundated with complaints from the Egyptian Tourist Board (because I'm sure they'll be reading this Blog!), I'd like to apologise to them and the people of Egypt for the title of this blog! From my experience, Egypt is a great country to visit with fantastic weather, incredibly welcoming people, beautiful beaches and really colourful fish! Oh, and an obsession with Liverpool footballer Mo Salah! Strange title to give the article then, isn't it? Well, yes but you've read this far, so hopefully it drew your attention!
Recently, I booked a bit of much-needed R and R on the Red Sea coast of north Africa. For those interested, Hurghada was my chosen location for legging-out on a Sun Lounger for 10 days. I'll call a halt there to boring you into submission with the details of my time away (well, sort of...!) but there is a point to my sunny story and here it is. Pre-holiday, my training was going swimmingly. Consistent Parkrun times at the glorious National Trust owned Fountains Abbey Estate in North Yorkshire, pleasing personal bests in my workouts at CrossFit Harrogate (which PB's AREN'T pleasing I hear you say?).
In short I felt strong, I felt fit and my workouts were challenging but manageable. Crucially too, I was happier with the way my body looked in a mirror than I have been for some time. Still work to do (to achieve my goals), as there always is. But happier.
'If you don't use it (de-training), you lose it (reversibility)'. That's what they say, whomever 'they' are. It's a common saying and actually one based on sound principles of sports science. It's also sort of the point of this article because fast forward less than a week into my trip (yes, that's all it took!) and my workouts felt like I was running through treacle, and trying to lift a tank (and I mean 'army' not 'fish'!) I'd planned to maintain my training at the small and fairly limited hotel gym but one day, a whole 45 seconds(!) into a run on the gym running machine I found my index finger drawn to the 'STOP' button as if it were controlled by magnetism. It was just really hard work! A couple of other pretty mediocre, 'token-gesture' gym sessions lifting a few weights and I was finding it pretty tough to get motivated whilst in 'holiday mode', with the hot Egyptian sun beating-down outside and the swimming pool calling. I know what you're thinking, that's a pretty c#*p example for a personal trainer to set! You're right! But I suppose the message is, we can all struggle to get motivated to exercise and sometimes it's just hard-work. In fact, though it may seem counter-productive, there's no shame when it feels this way to sometimes just call it a day and try again tomorrow!
Since my holiday, unfortunately my training continued on a downward curve as I continued being out of the habit of training regularly and had other things on, as we all do. My Parkrun time suddenly had 2 minutes added onto it, and those cross-fit workouts felt twice as tough! (a conservative estimate) It's hard to fit it in, isn't it? We all have busy lives but I suppose the lesson is try to make time, fit it in and you should start to see the results. I'm as guilty as anyone of not always doing this.
Whilst studying for my Sports Studies and P.E. degree 15 years or so ago (I've just questioned if that's right but apparently it IS that long ago!), I used to listen to an old (sorry... 'former' I should say!) tutor tell us that 'rest is the most important part of any training programme'. He had a point. (although DO try to do the moving bit too!). The human body needs time to recover, repair, and grow. Specifically for micro-trauma and micro-tears in our muscles to repair and allow us to get stronger. If that's your goal, that is. For our muscles and to be precise our connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage etc) to get rid of that soreness from your last class, gym session, or run so they're able to perform again or even simply so you can move and use calories in day-to-day life. This brings me onto another really important point. It's important to work towards our goals and within this sometimes comes the need for us to work hard and push ourselves in our training but if our main goal is weight/fat loss and we're so sore from a session two or three days ago that we can hardly move today, will this help? You may actually end up using fewer overall calories that week because of your training session earlier in the week. Remember, most of our movement (and any movement = calories going out) is likely to come from day-to-day physical activity rather than organised exercise sessions (walking, climbing/coming down stairs, carrying shopping, gardening, cleaning the car etc). Sometimes as fitness professionals working with fat-loss clients we can get the session intensity (versus the ability of clients to actually move later in the weeks!) wrong, but for people with these goals, it is obviously important. After all, not being able to move does sort of impact the number of calories we can use!
Let's tie this thing up. In short if we train less, we lose fitness. As if you didn't know that already! As a friend of mine would say, 'it isn't rocket science'!
However, I think it's easy to get into the mindset of 'my exercise has gone well for the last few weeks/months, I've trained hard (and more importantly, smartly with the most appropriate types and intensity of training at the right times) therefore I'm fit - I've achieved fitness! Cue cheesy metaphor... If only it was like hopping on a train to destination fitness. You arrive in the station, and you're there and the journey is complete. Unfortunately as soon as we put our feet-up for a few days/week, we're steaming down the track back towards the station at 'de-conditioned-ville' (sorry!). This is unfortunate, although, hopefully you enjoyed your training and the the positive mindset from it.
Remember, we lose fitness a lot faster than we gain it.
If we keep asking our body to do more (if and when appropriate), progressively overloading our various systems, our bodies will adapt and be able to do more.
Returning briefly to the topic of training smartly; choosing well how often, how hard, how long, and how you train during a period of training designed to achieve a goal can help the elements needed to reach your most heavily prioritised (primary) goal to be just that - prioritised. Your slightly less important (secondary) goals are temporarily put on the 'back-burner', though can still be addressed to a lesser extent, long-term. This leads nicely to another really under-used element of exercise/training - (short, medium, and long-term) goal setting. I can't stress enough the importance of doing this. After all, how do you know if you are succeeding if you don't know what you're trying to achieve and by when?
Back to reversibility and take this thought with you.. Those great 20th Century Philosophers 'S-Club 7' once wrote (I believe in referring to reversibility in fitness levels through de-training) - 'Don't stop moving' (although the lesser-known line was - 'allowing for adequate preparation and recovery time before and after hard sessions, and making sure you don't move so much that you're so sore you can't move at all three days afterwards!').
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