By Dave Thomas, NSCA, USAW
Performance360 Owner and Head Coach
I was having a casual conversation with Tim the other day during open gym. We were chatting about limits, recovery, delicious treats, how much is too much, when to dial it back and everything in between. Basically just a conversation discussing goals and in talking about it all he said something to me that made us both laugh.
“I know you’re always getting on me to dial it back. But you don’t understand, I sit at a desk all day long. This is my release.”
I get that. The reality is as much as I preach it, I despise rest too, and we proceeded to talk about all the ways we hated it having to slow down. The thought of programmed rest and taking it easy on a regular basis disgusted us.
However, I also relayed to him the price I paid by not paying attention to it and how 2013 has essentially been a rebuilding year for me because of my failure to pay attention to the many warning signs that were thrown my way prior to my getting hurt last year. You ignore all of the little cracks that surface and then one day it kicks like a mule.
Finding that sweet spot of rest and ass kickery is what it’s all about. The opposing yet critical duality of rest vs. activity.
Getting caught up in forcing yourself a given result every time you go to the gym is a one way ticket to insanity. You play the game right and with patience, and you let the results take care of themselves.
Along the way, we typically switch our goals, adjust intensity and develop a constantly evolving game plan. But the one constant that must always be present no matter what where our focus might lis is rest and time for adequate recovery.
This discipline of rest is just as important as the discipline of work. If not more. If you don’t rest, you don’t improve. Plain and indisputable. They co-exist as yin and yang, opposing one another in a positive effort to get you the best results and keep you in the game for the longest period of time.
It would be easy for us to just say, “oh yeah come on in every single day all the time!” Our business involves people showing up. People don’t show up, we don’t get paid. But it also involves a responsibility to keep people healthy and your program must includes time off, relaxation, meditation, stretching, decompression, walks on the beach, Call of Duty or anything else that lets your body get back to some degree of homeostasis.
You should be treating your off days with as much respect as your on days. And here is why.
The Two Types of Fatigue
If you are the type that hits your training with aggression five days a week, as fast and as hard and heavy as you can on a daily basis with a PR in mind everyday, I have some news for you.
An injury awaits you.
Maybe not now, maybe not in a month, but rest assured the cracks are most likely starting to surface and if you ignore them, sure as shit you will get hurt.
If you can relate to any of the following then the cracks they are a showin’.
- You wake up exhausted and are tired throughout the entire day regardless of how much sleep you get. You feel the frequent need to drink coffee multiple times per day.
- You wake up in the middle of the night for no reason. Typically an indication of uncontrolled GH levels that are spiking when they shouldn’t.
- You slash and slash and slash carbs until you are at ground zero.
- You hang onto belly fat despite working out 6 times a week and reducing your caloric intake.
- You seem to be stuck on plateaus across the board on a lifts. Or, you’ve gone backwards on some of them.
- You lack mental excitement for your daily training session.
- You’re constantly sore all over, particularly in your joints.
- You have chronic loss of appetite, consuming hundreds of calories per day less than you were previously capable.
These are all tell tale signs that you should scale it back and get back to normal a little bit. Train a bit less, eat a bit more and get back to basics.
We typically experience two different kinds of fatigue.
This effects our muscles. This is plain ole soreness you feel 48 hours after an ass kicking set of squats. This should entail a day off. This is a rather consistently occurring phenomenon and why you should be taking 2-3 days of rest each each week. One of those could be active rest. A walk on the beach, yoga, a very slow jog for a few miles, things of that nature. The other day or two should be complete rest.
This effects our motor pathways and central nervous system. This is the overall sense of consistent energy deprivation that you feel in your bones and typically indicated by the checklist above. This can be acute. A day of heavy squats will also fatigue the CNS. It can also be chronic if you never rest and always go heavy. On an acute level, we also counter this by your few days off of rest each week, as well as periodization of varying loads and reps over given months. You don’t always go heavy in the 1-3 rep range, you cycle reps, sets and schemes for the best results (which is why you pay us the big bucks to program this for you). Every 10-12 weeks, it’s best to take a week off from any training and let your body not rest, but recover. Lay your ass down and let your body recover. Study after study shows nothing but positivity for advanced athletes taking rest and then coming back to perform at an even higher level. You need to let your gains set in. Olympic athletes, particularly sprinters are known for taking very long recovery periods of up to ten days following intense training protocol or competitions.
Make sure you are managing fatigues properly. Both of ’em.
Keeping a Balanced Check Book
Rob MacDonald is known in the industry for his debit and credit system he uses on his athletes where the stressors and recovery must balance like a check book. It is an ingenious system that I fell in love with the first time I saw it.
However, I got a C in accounting so the analogy we’ll use is just slightly different and one that makes a little more sense in my simple head.
Stressors = Withdrawals
Stressors such as rigorous training, intermittent fasting, lack of sleep or a stressful commute to work, although very different in their own way are all withdrawals. You are taking out.
- Rigorous training. The more rigorous the training day the larger the cash withdrawal. A light or bodyweight circuit will only be a few bucks. A heavy, high volume squat day is much more. Heavy day after heavy day all damn day is like going to Vegas and blacking out at Spearmint Rhino. You’ll wake up with nothing.
- Lack of sleep. Anything under eight hours is less than ideal. A consistent five or six and you are making little withdrawals each and every day.
- Stress. Tough commute to work? Boss on your ass? Troubles at home? Having to watch RGIII forget how to play football on national television? These are all small daily withdrawals.
- Habitual junk food.
- Caloric restriction. While we believe in the benefits of intermittent fasting, caloric deprivation is a stressor and must be countered by getting adequate calories during your feeding window.
- Macro deprivation. Low carb is a very fine way to lose fat if you are overweight, but if you slash and burn too aggressively and stay there for a period of years (under 50g per day), you’ll have some work to do normalizing your metabolic process again. This is a major stressor.
- Marathon or Triathlon. This is like a billion dollar withdrawal. As much passion as we have for training our endurance crew and seeing them thrive, this is a massive middle finger to your body and requires serious rest and recovery.
All of these withdrawals lead to chronically elevated cortisol, the catabolic hormone that is responsible for breakdown. In regular doses, cortisol is beneficial and needed but in out of control levels it is extremely detrimental.
Recovery = Deposits
Recovery such as foam rolling, yoga, meditation, ice, a good night’s rest and proper diet are all deposits. You are adding back in.
- Day off. You can’t train at maximum intensity five or six days a week. You just can’t. Nor should you. Letting your body rest is good chunk of cash into your account. Giving it two days. A bigger chunk. Et cetera and so forth.
- 8 hours of sleep. Many scientists believe we know more about outer space than the science of sleep. But one thing that is universally agreed upon is that we need it. Lots of it. More than we all most likely get. It’s the most natural and perfect form of recovery in nature as our digitally connected brains are turned off and in a restorative state.
- A few minutes of stretching and mobility work.
- Foam rolling.
- Epsom salts.
- Ice baths or spot icing soreness.
- Morning or evening meditation. Turn the lights off, lay down on the floor, put some tunes on and just get in your own head for a few minutes with some steady, deep breathing,
- Yoga. One of the best deposits you can make as you get the double whammy of both mobility and meditation.
- Proper nutrition. Proper diet and adequate protein is a big one. If you are constantly tearing down and not giving protein, complete aminos, B and C vitamins then you are in a permanent state of withdrawal. Fish oil is the bee’s knees, as well.
- Sex. Yes, that’s right. Positive endorphins and hormones are good thing.
You get the idea.
If you constantly withdraw, withdraw, withdraw all the time like a degenerate gambler and don’t ever make a deposit, you go broke. You breakdown. It’s very important to keep that checkbook as balanced as possible and while it’s easier than you might think, it takes extreme discipline. Discipline that comes and goes for me, personally. It’s a discipline I am continuing to learn and continue to try and stress to others while also finding what works best for me.
In addition to figuring out what I am going to train each week, lately I have also written down how I am going to recover from that training and the rest of my weekly withdrawals.
Here is how my deposit system is planned.
Monday – 10 minutes of stretching in the morning. 10 minutes at night. Foam rolling at the gym. Big dinner, tons of carbs to take me through my fast the following morning. 9 hours of sleep.
Tuesday – same as Monday.
Wednesday – an hour of yoga with Julianne at 7 pm.
Thursday – extra mobility work. 20 minutes of dedicated focus in the gym where I focus on calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes.
Friday – same as Monday and Tuesday.
Saturday – If I train in the AM, I eat very religiously throughout that day with the focus on calories. I use the weekend to make up for any deficit I may have experienced from IF during the week.
Sunday – complete rest. Perhaps an occasional low intensity hike or something along those lines but I almost never train in the gym on Sunday. And no fasting for me.
Is this perfect?
But it’s a solid foundation.
Fitness is not a full throttle game. There are no triple jump moves all the way the end of the board like checkers. For those of us with deep commitment that goes beyond aesthetics, it’s a life long chess match that requires one move at a time, constant strategy and attention to detail at all times (side note: I can’t play chess, which is why I probably have a hard time heeding these words at times.)
We’re not saying to stop busting your ass. Just to start busting your ass in your recovery measures, as well.
So take a few days off per week. Eat a little bit more. Foam roll. Stretch. Do yoga. Stay the hell out of the gym a few days per week. Take it easy if you’re sore. Rest if you’re crushed. Take fish oil and vitamin C. Go on walks. Lay down. Sleep. Take a week off every three to four months. Enjoy productive days at reduced load. Get massages.
Treat your rest with the same dedication you treat your recovery and enjoy a balanced, thriving checkbook that allows you to stay in it well into the years of your life.
Dave Thomas is a coach and owner at Performance360 in San Diego, California. Performance360 has three times been named a finalist for Best Gym in San Diego.