It’s no secret that endurance athletes tend to be more obsessive than the general population and have somewhat addictive personalities. We thrive on consistency and repetition. When it comes to fitness, these qualities are not necessarily bad; they are the reason we are able to wake up at 4:00 am to swim, squeeze in a run at lunchtime, and get on the bike before dinner. Commitment, dedication, and consistency are vital components to being a successful endurance athlete, but there’s one training element that’s usually missing from many endurance athletes itinerary: rest.
Coaches write rest days in our athlete’s program for a reason, the overload and recovery principle. Rest is when our body adapts to the training load and the bouts of training we have put onto it. Without rest, the stress of training and life will keep breaking the body down. One way to understand this principle is to think of your body as a twig. When you train, stress is put on your body, like if you were bending a twig. If you put the right amount of tension on the twig, it bends, but it you overload it with resistance, it will snap. The same principle applies to your body (and your mind, but that’s for another time) and without a rest period the body will snap. The human body does have an advantage over the twig: when we rest and let our body recover, our body becomes stronger and able to handle more resistance.
During training, athletes take the risk of breaking the body by overloading it with stress. This is how we adapt and become stronger. Benefits like getting stronger and faster are only seen with pushing ourselves and overloading our body, but it is a fine line between bending and breaking. This is where the science and art in coaching and training merge. The science is simple, but without the art of learning about yourself, or the individual you are working with, you cannot appropriately write a program.
Your workload should be individualized and specific for you and your life. Factors like age, gender, life stressors, work, nutrition, health, and many more need to be identified by your coach. This will dictate how much overload (volume) you can handle and over how long. Some people like elite athletes have worked up to the point where they can handle a large amount of volume in a short time. This is why you can’t compare your training volume to theirs. For these individuals, their coach may write their microcycles on a 7 day cycle, or in some cases 4 day cycles depending on race schedule. On the other hand, a masters athlete (50+) will need to spread out their overload over a longer duration and a coach may prescribe 9 day microcycles so the body has more rest between bouts of exercises.
Rest is the primary ingredient to reach the next plateau of your goals, and without it your body will snap. Work with your coach to identify how much overload you can handle before needing a rest period. When you a have rest in your program, treat it as important as any other prescribed element. This will allow your body to bend like the twig without reaching the breaking point.