Rest/Recovery Days, Part 1: Why we need them
Everyone, even professional athletes, need rest days. Some of you may be able to handle more volume than the average casual athlete, but for a variety of reasons, even the elite need rest days. But the term “rest day” just sounds like something that a person with drive and goals wouldn’t want to do, doesn’t it? Instead of “rest day”, let’s try calling it what it actually is (or should be if you do it right), a “recovery day”. Some of you are pretty in tune with your body, or your goals are simply to be healthy, feel good, and consistently improve, and you naturally take recovery days when it’s needed. If that’s you, congratulations, half (but not all) of our work is done here. Some of you have chugged the CrossFit Kool-Aid. You are fitter and stronger than you’ve ever been, you feel great, and a recovery day sounds like BLASPHEMY to your gains. If that’s you, listen up to this next part.
Before we get into exactly how we can maximize recovery and still improve performance on a rest day, let’s briefly chat about exactly why we even need them so all you gains minded individuals can join us in the pro recovery day camp.
Overtraining and Adrenal Fatigue
Your nervous system has essentially 2 states that it can fluctuate between at any given time. They are the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, but you may know them better as “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”. Both are active at all times, but depending on what we are doing, one state heavily predominates. The neurohormonal signaling that occurs on a cellular level at these states is fairly complex, but at the most basic level, the sympathetic system predominates when we are in a state of high stress and need to be alert, react quickly, or perform well. The parasympathetic system should predominate at all other times, and hormones responsible for repair and recovery of tissues, as well as digesting and absorbing vital nutrients will predominate in this state. As you can imagine, our bodies are meant to have short, brief periods of sympathetic activity, followed by longer periods of parasympathetic activity.
When we overtrain and do not allow our bodies time to recover properly, our sympathetic nervous system predominates for a higher percentage of the time. When the sympathetic system is dominant, the parasympathetic can’t do it’s thing, and our muscles simply will not be able to repair and rebuild as well. In short, you can be doing more work, and seeing less results if you don’t take the proper time to recover. Not only that, but leaving your sympathetic system on overdrive too much will also eventually lead to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue results from prolonged stress, which can include excessive high intensity exercise. Those at highest risk tend to have a stressful home or work life, do not sleep enough (or well), and do not take rest/recovery days from high intensity exercise. Often times a new stressor, or illness such as a simple cold can be a catalyst in this “perfect storm” situation, which will push a person into adrenal fatigue. Signs and symptoms include extreme fatigue, poor immune function, food cravings, and less commonly joint pain, dry skin, loss of muscle tone, lower sex drive, and weight gain. Bad news for your gains and your overall health.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss what you should be doing on your recovery days to maximize your performance!