The im­por­tance of get­ting the right amount of rest and re­cov­ery

ATH­LETES AND COACHES OF­TEN THINK MORE IS BET­TER, BUT YOU MAY GET THE BEST RE­SULTS FROM A MORE CIR­CUM­SPECT AP­PROACH THAT IN­CLUDES REST AND RE­COV­ERY, WRITES JOHN SHEP­HERD

Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

PER­HAPS the most im­por­tant but un­der recog­nised of all the train­ing vari­ables – which also in­clude vol­ume, load, in­ten­sity and fre­quency – is rest.

Note, for the pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle rest and re­cov­ery will be seen to be the same thing, al­though in re­al­ity there are dif­fer­ences from a train­ing plan­ning per­spec­tive.

Rest is vi­tal. Phys­i­o­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions take place dur­ing the pe­riod when you’re not train­ing rather than when you are ac­tu­ally train­ing.

As an ath­lete you may have lifted a PB in the gym or run your fastest 40m time but it’s not when you’re in the gym or at the track when that gain will hope­fully be­come ce­mented into your de­vel­op­ing ath­letic abil­ity. Adap­ta­tion is spe­cific to the stim­u­lus but, what­ever the event, it’s when rest­ing that the pos­i­tive changes hap­pen.

Broadly speak­ing, adap­ta­tion to speed and power stim­uli rely on changes to mus­cle fi­bre’s con­trac­tile prop­er­ties – that is, fast-twitch mus­cle fi­bres be­come bet­ter at ex­press­ing power. For en­durance ath­letes, car­dio­vas­cu­lar fac­tors adapt, such as the heart’s stroke vol­ume (but so do mus­cle fi­bres).

For all events, en­ergy sys­tem use and con­tri­bu­tion is trained to be spe­cific to the event eg bet­ter lac­tate tol­er­ance for 400m run­ners.

To these phys­i­cal adap­ta­tions should be added neu­ral and cog­ni­tive ones:

Tech­ni­cal adap­ta­tion – that is, im­prove­ments to throw­ing, run­ning and jump­ing skill.

Neu­ral adap­ta­tion – that is, the way the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem “con­trols” move­ment).

And to all these adap­tive pro­cesses must be added the “hu­man el­e­ment”– be­lief and con­fi­dence are cru­cial fac­tors when it comes to adap­ta­tion to train­ing. Also, if an ath­lete be­lieves that they are im­prov­ing through their train­ing, then chances are there will be a greater boost to the phys­i­o­log­i­cal adap­ta­tion that is tak­ing place.

Re­gard­less of your event, if you don’t take time to rest you run the risk of over­train­ing and not al­low­ing your phys­i­o­log­i­cal and neu­ral sys­tems the time to adapt and get bet­ter.

Let’s con­sider mus­cle fi­bre. Sprint­ers, jumpers and throw­ers will fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing more power – the abil­ity to over­come a re­sis­tance as quickly as pos­si­ble, whether this be the im­ple­ment when throw­ing or grav­ity on take-off and their body­weight for jump­ing.

To do this fast-twitch mus­cle fi­bres need to be tar­geted and the mo­tor units (switches) that con­trol them.

To fully ex­ploit these fast­twitch fi­bres the ath­lete should use heavy weights, for ex­am­ple, in the gym while try­ing to move the weight as quickly

(but as safely) as pos­si­ble. In do­ing so they will turn the key to un­lock­ing more fast-twitch mus­cle fi­bres with in­creased neu­ral stim­u­la­tion.

With reg­u­lar train­ing the ath­lete’s neu­ro­mus­cu­lar sys­tem will adapt to be­ing able to gen­er­ate more force and this will im­prove per­for­mance – but only, and ev­ery­thing else be­ing equal – if they al­low time for adap­ta­tion.

If the thrower, for in­stance, tries to lift heavy and pow­er­fully every ses­sion then they will not give them­selves enough re­gen­er­a­tion time. Their mus­cles will po­ten­tially atro­phy (lose size) and the horse­power of their fast-twitch fi­bres will be com­pro­mised.

An­other fac­tor that will hit per­for­mance neg­a­tively – and this ap­plies what­ever the ath­let­ics event if suf­fi­cient rest is not taken – will be a loss of de­sire.

This could man­i­fest it­self in terms of not want­ing to (or in­deed be­ing un­able to) push hard on the track or when con­di­tion­ing. Over­train­ing (also termed over­reach­ing) could also re­sult. Vvar­i­ous other symp­toms of this in­clude; ir­ri­tabil­ity, gen­eral loss of mo­ti­va­tion, dif­fi­culty

sleep­ing, dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing and greater sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to ill­ness. The lat­ter is par­tic­u­larly the case with en­durance ath­letes – eg throat in­fec­tions.

How to mon­i­tor rest

So how could you mon­i­tor whether you or an ath­lete you coach is not al­low­ing suf­fi­cient time for adap­ta­tion? There are some so­phis­ti­cated meth­ods and some more prac­ti­cal/ us­able ev­ery­day op­tions.

Some of the more in­volved meth­ods in­clude test­ing hor­monal lev­els. The an­dro­gen hor­mones – eg growth hor­mone and testos­terone – are key to mus­cle growth, re­cov­ery and gen­eral feel­ings of health and zest.

When testos­terone lev­els are low then the chances of el­e­vated per­for­mance are re­duced.

If (base-level) testos­terone lev­els are es­tab­lished, when there is fluc­tu­a­tion then the coach/ath­lete may be able to adapt train­ing ac­cord­ingly – eg re­duce load if lev­els are lower than nor­mal.

Cor­ti­sol is known as the “stress” hor­mone and it’s also pos­si­ble to mon­i­tor its lev­els.

On a much sim­pler ba­sis an ath­lete can test their rest­ing heart rate. RHR is taken shortly af­ter wak­ing. Once a base­line score is ob­tained then, should RHR be el­e­vated, the chances are the ath­lete is in a stressed state and train­ing should be adapted ac­cord­ingly.

Note, it’s im­por­tant to re­alise that “stress is stress”. If you are hav­ing a tough time off the track, it’s likely that this will also af­fect your train­ing.

Many heart rate mon­i­tors/ ac­tiv­ity track­ers can now as­sess the qual­ity of sleep. It’s when you are asleep that a myr­iad of restora­tive and adap­tive pro­cesses oc­cur – mus­cle pro­tein is re-syn­the­sised, for ex­am­ple, which can en­hance “mus­cle power”. Growth hor­mone is also re­leased and this will en­hance adap­ta­tion.

A cou­ple of poor nights’ sleep will af­fect per­for­mance. Sleep mon­i­tor­ing can there­fore tell an ath­lete and their coach what state of re­cov­ery they are in.

Ques­tion­naires are an­other way to gar­ner im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion on re­cov­ery state (called “sub­jec­tive” mea­sures, as op­posed to the “ob­jec­tive” ones, such as en­docrine sys­tem mon­i­tor­ing).

There are var­i­ous types of these sub­jec­tive as­sess­ment meth­ods, such as Pro­file of Mood States (POMS) and the Re­cov­ery Stress Ques­tion­naire for Ath­letes (RESTQ-S) – see the panel on the right for more on the lat­ter.

As a coach there’s one fi­nal way that you can judge an ath­lete’s readi­ness – use your eyes and ears!

Some­times it’s pos­si­ble to iden­tify through de­meanour just how the ath­lete is and this per­tains to not just what they do when train­ing.

If they are aloof, not that chatty, or gen­er­ally mooching around then the chances are they are tired, not fully re­cov­ered or have other things on their mind.

If you are the ath­lete’s reg­u­lar coach then you will prob­a­bly be able to de­ter­mine pretty well what state the ath­lete is in and how they are feel­ing. You can also, of course, ask them at some point.

Ad­di­tion­ally, if you ob­serve them dur­ing warm-up then you’ll be­gin to see whether they are warm­ing up nicely into the ses­sion of not. I’ve found that be­com­ing quickly frus­trated with

tech­ni­cal work is an indi­ca­tor of po­ten­tial lack of re­cov­ery whilst heavy foot­ed­ness or in­creased con­tact time when do­ing ply­o­met­rics are oth­ers.

Know­ing when to train harder or when to back off and when an ath­lete is re­cov­ered, re­cov­er­ing or needs spe­cific re­gen­er­a­tion work (a topic in its own right) or com­plete rest is vi­tal to en­sure im­prove­ment.

There are nu­mer­ous means to as­sess these states and hope­fully the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided in this ar­ti­cle will guide and direct ath­letes and coaches to en­sure op­ti­mum re­cov­ery and re­sul­tant adap­ta­tion and per­for­mance im­prove­ment.

Know­ing your ath­letes will cer­tainly help in be­ing sure they are suf­fi­ciently rested

Mod­ern tech can help de­ter­mine lev­els of rest and re­cov­ery

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