By JERRY HITCHCOCK
Fitness means different things to different people. Some want the most out of their bodies. Others just want to get rid of some weight, or even moderately tone some muscles to become healthier.
Whatever the reason for working out, we all need to be aware of the physical toll any fitness programs exert on our bodies.
People have a tendency to second-guess their workout routine: Am I working out enough? Am I working out too much? Am I focusing on the right muscle group? Am I doing the right exercises to attain my goal?
These questions and more haunt us as we try to reach for that brass ring — a body we can be proud of.
But there is another question that needs to be asked, one most fail to even consider?
Am I resting enough?
Yes, indeed, in any moderate- or higher-level fitness program, rest is just as important as the workouts themselves in not only building muscle, but also improving flexibility, mental strength and physiological well-being.
Rest needs to be built into any fitness program, and depending on the training load, more than one day of complete rest per week may be required. The risks of maintaining a high level of training are numerous, but overtraining is at the top of that list. If you’ve ever overtrained, you’ll feel nauseous during your normal workout, and the desire to complete a workout will probably fade. The best thing you can do at that point is pack it in for the day, and maybe wait a day or two before even considering continuing. Often a full week off is needed before someone who overtrains feels like getting back at it.
People who have worked out extensively for a period of time always find it difficult to give up a day of training. “I’ll lose fitness,” they say to themselves. They know they’ll miss that endorphin rush after their workout, and they can’t see themselves just sitting around the house doing nothing for a whole day. But, in essence, that is exactly what one needs to do to give their bodies time to heal and recover, ready for more training.
Currently, I am actually taking two days off in a row, after heavy training for five straight days. If I see any drop of effectiveness (usually in the desire level, which could signal overtraining), I’ll adjust on the fly, which is what any athlete needs to do. I will usually ride my trainer every other day, with Nordic Track/running on the other days, and a 1-hour session in the gym, focusing on leg strength and flexibility, plyometrics and core strength.
The two days off are not complete “off days” for me. I usually have some housework I want to get done, and there is always a few chores or jobs in the garage to tackle.
Also, many athletes will focus on certain types of workouts at a certain time frame, called training blocks. Once a block has been completed, a length of time for recovery must ensue, which enables the muscle groups involved to recover, and rebuild into stronger, fitter fibers.
Many training blocks can last for a month or more, and after completion, a recovery week is your best bet to capitalize on you efforts.
Athletes will often balk at one day off, let alone a whole week. They can’t wrap their heads around the reality that their bodies can actually become healthier and fitter over a series of days with no exercise.
Once that is proven, then they need to address the second part of recovery: What do I do with all that extra time I have every day for a whole week? Well, I am sure you won’t have too much trouble coming up with things to do. Sure, there are people who can just park themselves in front of the television or stare at their smartphone for hours on end, but others seek something more constructive.
Aside from honey-do lists, there are plenty of hobbies that will actually help you build some mental health, through stress release. Reading, puzzles, drawing or painting all have the effect of calming the soul and stretching the mind.
Another type of recovery involves tapering off on intensity. Deloading is a term catching on that describes a continuance of training, but at a highly reduced rate of intensity or duration.
Deloading and active recovery are virtually one in the same. While not a physically stressful workout, it also leads to physical gains from a previous heavy block of training.
Many deloading workouts actually use the same exercises, but with a very short duration, and at times a lower load (i.e., lighter dumbbells or a lower weight). Heart rate levels need to be considered also. Often the intent of deloading is derailed when someone is actually increasing intensity by substituting a different workout routine that they thought was easier than their previous training block.
So the next time you come to that mental fork in the road (Should I continue on this workout path, or should I recover?), take the path that will do your body good in the long term.
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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.