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Lost Your Fire?

I was recently training a former Team GB team-mate in preparation for a tournament, towards the end of her training camp.  Technically sound with well drilled habits, I noticed small chinks in her timing, reaction and speed of movement. To the untrained eye looking on in the park, she looked impressive. To the athlete in question looking for that extra 3-5% in performance, it was enough to ask questions and for her to admit she “felt flat”. Most athletes know getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, but many still over train and feel guilty when they take a day off. The body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts; continuous and excessive training can actually weaken the strongest athletes.

Rest is physically necessary so muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.  In the worst-case scenario, too few rest and recovery days can lead to Overtraining Syndrome.

What Happens During Rest and Recovery? What happens in your body during recovery varies depending on the specific person and the nature of the exercise, but several things commonly occur:

  • Muscle fibres rebuild: stress on your muscles damages the muscle fibres, causing them to break apart. During recovery, these fibres are able heal stronger than they were before, which in turn, make your muscles stronger.

  • Fluids restoration: during physical exercise the body sweats, causing a loss of fluid. Proper hydration of your body before, during and post-exercise helps to maintain fluid levels. These fluids are important in delivering nutrients to vital organs and muscles of the body through the bloodstream.

  • Protein synthesis: Muscle protein synthesis in humans goes up by 50% four hours after a bout of intense resistance training*. (*National Institute of Health study). Protein synthesis is basically the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells; prevent muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size.

These are just a few of the more important elements of recovery. Short and Long-Term Recovery Focus Two categories of recovery exist, which are important for optimal performance:

  • short-term - recovery from an intense training session or event,

  • long-term - recovery that forms part of a longer training schedule.

Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise.  An active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise during the cool-down and stretch phase immediately post-workout as well as during the days following the session. A major focus of post-exercise recovery is to replenish energy stores and fluids lost, and optimize protein synthesis by eating the right foods. Additionally, ensuring you get quality sleep (see below) also forms an important short-term recovery strategy. Long-term recovery techniques refer to those built into a seasonal or periodised training programme. Well-designed training schedules should include recovery days and or weeks. This is also the reason athletes, personal trainers and coaches vary their training programmes, modify and make changes in intensity, time, frequency and other training variables. At ShiftGPT, we design and vary training programmes modifying and make changes in intensity, time, frequency and other training variables. Adaptation to Exercise The Principle of Adaptation states when we undergo physical exercise stress, our body adapts and becomes more efficient.  Learning any new skill takes time that becomes easier with repetition.  Once you adapt to a given stress, you require additional stress to continue to make progress. If it doesn’t CHALLENGE you, it doesn’t CHANGE you. However, it’s important to recognise there are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it breaks down and becomes prone to injury.  Too much work too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage, and too little, too slowly will not result in any improvement. Sleep Deprivation Can Hinder Sports Performance In general, one or two nights of poor or little sleep won't have much impact on performance, but consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. While no one completely understands the complexities of sleep, some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis (energy stores) Some Tips For Optimising Your Performance Whether you’re a weekend athlete, a desk jockey embracing a new fitness regime and lifestyle, or performance high-level athlete searching for that extra 5%, it is important to ensure you have the right balance of exercise with rest and recovery. The alternation of adaptation and recovery can elevate an athlete to a higher level of fitness; the greater the training intensity and effort, the greater the need for planned recovery. Monitoring your workouts with a training log, and paying attention to how your body feels and how motivated you are is extremely helpful in determining your recovery needs and modifying your training program accordingly. Importantly, listen to your body.  If you feel signs of over-training, including a feeling of general malaise, staleness, depression, flat and lacking in energy, then take a rest. Further stresses on the body can bring about a catabolic effect, and reduction in performance.  Your body is telling you to let it recover. However, it is important to not confuse signs of over-training with a genuine lack of motivation or laziness.  Be honest with yourself, and take steps to make changes with drive, intention, and rest appropriately.

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