To really excel as an athlete requires a lot of hard work and devotion to exercise. Those who are most committed to fitness will take steps every day to ensure that they are constantly making progress. Two of the most fundamental pillars of a good fitness regimen are diet and exercise, but the importance of rest is overlooked all too often.
While rigorously adhering to a workout routine is an admirable quality, the reality is that too much of a good thing is bad, and this can be particularly true when it comes to exercise. It is easy for people to become blind to this fact, as they have their eyes locked firmly on their end goal, be that achieving a certain body image, faster lap times, or lifting increasingly heavy weights. But while people may feel that putting time in every day will help them reach their goals faster, it can actually begin to undo much of the work they have already done.
In the past, we have spoken at length about a condition called Plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of the ligaments connecting our heels to our toes. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common injuries in all of society, and it is a good example of why proper rest is so important. The condition is an overuse injury that occurs because the fibres in the ligament are torn as it repeatedly stretched. While it is natural for some number of fibres to tear, conditions like Plantar fasciitis arise when the fibres are being torn faster than they can recover. This logic can be applied to almost all muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the body.
With any medical condition, the sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to treat, and the damage done by exercise is no exception to this. Rest in the short, medium, and long term is essential to maximising the benefits of your exercise. The more you overwork yourself, the longer you will need to recover, and the more your work will be undone.
In the short term, giving muscle groups a rest during a single workout session ultimately means you can get more done. That is why it is easier to do three sets of ten reps than one set of thirty. Those few seconds between reps essentially allow your body to compose itself. Similarly in the medium term, working out seven days in a row is more damaging and less beneficial than taking two days off a week. In the long term, it can take anywhere between one and four weeks of inactivity before your body starts to show the effects, so there really is no need to worry about taking a day off. Therefore, if you are engaged in a seasonal sport, the maintenance required in the off-season is minimal.
It is not just the physical damage caused by exercise than can affect its effectiveness, but also the chemical changes that occur as a result of so much work. For example, the more intense the workout, the higher your levels of cortisol and norepinephrine will be. Cortisol is a stress hormone and elevated levels can lead to inflammation, while norepinephrine increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and the amount of energy released from your glucose stores. When your body becomes overloaded with these hormones, it can wreak havoc on your sleeping patterns, which in turn makes it harder to exercise and stay motivated.
People may have the best intentions when they throw themselves into intense routines, but the fact remains that an important part of working out is not working out. It may be frustrating at times to sit around when you have a big match coming up, or really want to just keep working towards your goals, but it is a necessary step, and those who are truly devoted to their cause will take that on board.