How do Rest Days Improve Sports Performance?

rest days

Getting enough rest after exercise is essential to maintain a high level of performance. However, sometimes we may feel guilty about taking days off of training. Even though most athletes know this there are many out there that still overtrain. In the time between workouts our body strengthens and repairs itself, so training continuously can actually weaken even the strongest of athletes.

Taking rest days are vitally important to our sporting performance for a number of reasons, some to do with your brain and some to do with your brawn. When training or competing, your muscles get broken down and so rest is necessary for muscles to repair, rebuild and grow stronger. Without this time, your body will not be able to perform at its optimum level, both physically and mentally. For amateur athletes programming rest days can help maintain a healthy balance between home, work and ambitions as an athlete.

What happens to your body?

As mentioned briefly before, it is during the time spent recovering that the body adapts to the stress of exercise being placed on it. Recovery also allows the body to replenish its depleted energy stores and repair the damaged muscle tissues.

Strength training, or any other type of exercise and physical exertion, can cause muscle tissue breakdown and leave energy stores such as muscle glycogen eradicated. It is also vital for you to replenish any fluid lost during exercise.

Recovery time gives your body the chance to get all of this done, and without this opportunity the body would continue to break down from the intensive stress being placed upon it. Overtraining your body like this can leave you feeling low, depressed, and see a decrease in your sporting performance as well as an increase in your risk of injury! Not cool!

The Two Types of Recovery

The two types of recovery are Short and Long Term Recovery. Integrating both into your year-round training programme is very important to optimal sporting performance.

Short Term Recovery, sometimes referred to as “Active Recovery”, is what takes place in the immediate minutes and hours following intense exercise. Engaging in low-intensity exercise after training in the cool down phase of your workout, as well as during the days following, has been linked to performance benefits.

A further concern following intense exercise should be replacing fluids and replenishing energy stores. You should be optimizing protein synthesis, the process by which your muscle cells increase their protein content. This will prevent the breakdown of the muscle and increase its size. Consuming the right foods in your post exercise meal is imperative to take advantage of this.

Long Term Recovery refers to scheduled days and weeks in seasonal training programmes where the intensity or volume of work is decreased. Most, if not all, well designed training cycles will have these and they are sometimes called “Deloading” weeks. This is the reason most coaches and athletes change training programmes throughout the year. Some add crosstraining, vary their types of workout, move to kettlebell and bodyweight programmes or adjust the intensity and time they train for. Doing this is key so that you do not get bored of doing the same thing and continue making progress.

Our Body’s Adaption to Exercise

The Principal of Adaption simply states that when we place the stress of physical exercise on ourselves, the body adapts itself and becomes more efficient. Like any new skill, at first it is difficult and requires us to think about what we are trying to achieve. However, over time, it becomes second nature and a lot more natural. We have all experienced this in life such as learning to walk, talk, ride a bike or drive a car. Once we adapt to a given stress, in order to continue making progress, we should place additional work on ourselves. Keep challenging yourself!

There is a limit, however, to how much stress we can handle before our body starts to break down and we get injured. Doing too much too soon will lead to injury and muscle damage, and not the good kind we want to make sweet gains! Too little or too slow will result in no improvement at all! This is why Strength and Conditioning Coaches, as well as some good Personal Trainers, set up planned programmes with varying time, intensity and set rest days.