You are allowed to rest
‘You can only train as hard as you recover’. You may have heard this phrase and thought that it solely applies to athletes and if you’re ‘only’ training a couple of days a week that you can forgo the rest and just power through. And that might be the case - if you’re young, have no dependents, are free from injuries and health issues, eat home cooked foods, drink enough water, and have an unbroken 8-10 hours of sleep every night. And if that sounds like an athlete’s lifestyle – it’s because it is. The reason why athletes can and do train so frequently is because they, and the people around them, ensure the rest of their life stressors are at kept at a minimal.
However, most of us have jobs, childcare or family responsibilities and less than optimal sleep; and that’s before we even consider the effect the menstrual cycle and menopause can have on our energy levels and our ability to recover. The body doesn’t differentiate between physical, mental, and emotional stressors. Strenuous physical activity is just another stress that goes into our stress ‘bucket’. Too much stress can have serious detrimental health outcomes; from increased risk of heart disease and a decreased immune system to higher susceptibility to mental health issues. Of course, whilst acute stress such as exercise, in particular strength training, provides a wealth of health benefits - the issue is when chronic stress takes hold. The key is balance; so that your training adds to your life rather than detracts.
Why do you need rest and recover?
The body’s nervous system consists of the sympathetic nervous system which is the body’s ‘fight of flight’ response which increases when you’re in danger, or engaging in physical activity, and the parasympathetic which is responsible for enabling your body to rest and digest. In today’s modern world, with increased exposure to stress, artificial lights, pollution, low nutrition foods, and a decreased access to movement, nature, natural light, and peace and quiet – it is often our sympathetic system which is overstimulated which means that we all need to make proactive efforts to ensure our parasympathetic nervous system gets a look in.
How do I know if I’m overtrained or over-stressed?
It can be difficult to notice if you need rest and recover, particularly if your stress levels have been the same for such a long time; being in that heightened state may just feel normal to you. If you’re not sure, here are some physical, mental, and emotional clues to look out for:
stopped making progress in your training.
stomach problems, stress headaches and other odd pains including muscle pain.
skin reactions, like stress rashes and hives.
irregular or absent periods.
feeling dizzy, sick or faint.
frequent injuries or sickness.
increased or decreased appetite or increased alcohol consumption
lacking in motivation or enthusiasm to train.
that you have racing thoughts.
that you struggle to make decisions.
irritable, angry or tearful.
worried, anxious or overwhelmed.
What is rest?
There are many different types of rest, but sitting in front of the TV doesn’t always count. Rest does not always mean physical rest, there can be other types you may be craving too such as mental and emotional rest. Here are some ways you can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system depending on where you feel your deficit lies:
taking a nap or going to bed earlier (try eye mask or ear plugs if you are a light sleeper)
walking outside in nature
having a digital detox day
nurturing your relationships
talking with a loved one or therapist
engaging in an activity you care about
You might find that you get some of these benefits at the Hub. We always aim to create a safe space for women to train in and lower any anxiety around exercise and movement, and hopefully making movement something you can enjoy taking part in, with a like-minded community. You may even view your coach and fellow members as someone you can share your thoughts and fears with in lieu of a therapist! By making the exercise environment more comfortable and accessible, we can lessen the load of that stress bucket.
How can rest support your training at the hub?
Physiologically speaking, taking rest can help your body to:
repairing and building muscles: Exercise creates tiny tears in our muscle tissue. During rest days, fibroblast cells repair this muscle tissue.
replenishing the body’s energy (glycogen) stores which prevents muscle fatigue.
preventing injury by lessening the frequency of potentially repetitive movements that may lead to stress and strain on the muscles
By taking time to rest, you will not only be more physically prepared, but mentally and emotionally prepared too. You may feel you look forward to your sessions more, and therefore become more consistent and able to make more progress in the long run.
How and when should I rest?
Everyone is individual; so being your own experiment is key. Start by jotting down how you feel each day and see if you observe any patterns over the days, weeks, or months. Once you acknowledge that you’re in need of rest and start seeing the payoffs, the motivation to schedule to it into your lifestyle will come easily. Of course this is all easier said than done; and finding time for yourself can be the biggest hurdle, but something is better than nothing – even if it’s just taking a stroll outside for a few minutes between meetings, taking some deep breaths before the school pick up, or going to bed half an hour earlier: Resting will ensure you have a longer training career, get the most out of your sessions, and lead to an overall higher quality of life.