Be Smart About Working Out and Know When to Rest

December 21, 2017

It’s no secret among successful athletes that in order to improve, you’ve really got to work hard. Many of these columns focus on not only how to work hard but also how to work smart. Part of working out smart is to know when to rest.

When you train, your muscles are more or less broken down. It is the rest in between the training sessions when the growth and improvement occurs. This adaptation is in response to maximal loading of the muscular or cardiovascular systems and is accomplished by improving efficiency, increasing blood flow to muscles, increasing sugar stores and increasing enzymes within muscles. It is during the rest period that these systems build to greater levels to compensate for the stress that you’ve applied.  Serious athletes must struggle to find the right balance between intense training and rest.  Too much or too little of either is not good for performance.  If sufficient rest isn’t included in the training regiment then regeneration can’t occur and performance may plateau. This is sometimes called over training.


Over training can be defined as a state where training has progressed beyond the body’s ability to recover. The “over training syndrome” is a collection of emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms that result from chronic training stress without adequate rest.  Symptoms of over training vary from person to person but there are some common denominators.  Virtually everyone feels fatigued which may be felt at rest and may even limit workouts.  Some people also become moody, irritable, depressed and may experience altered sleep patterns.  There are also measurable changes that occur in the over trained athlete. Cortisol is a hormone that is closely related to the body’s stress response. Levels of this hormone can vary markedly on over training. Also, testosterone levels may decrease substantially.


The treatment for over training is rest. Though this may seem intuitive there are some caveats.  The rest needn’t necessarily be absolute. Just cutting back a bit or allowing more recovery time might help tremendously. Also, over training does seem to be at least somewhat sport specific. In other words, if you are a distance runner and develop the symptoms of being over trained, you might be able to back off of your endurance training and substitute anaerobic exercise either temporarily or permanently.


Obviously the best way to deal with over training is to prevent it, as previously mentioned; there is a delicate balance between training enough and training too much. People sometimes ask, “Is it better to be over trained or under trained?” The answer is neither. Ideally, there should be a balance between the two for maximum performance.


Sleep is an important way to prevent over training. It is also something that many people, athletes and non-athletes alike, struggle with.  There is compelling evidence that regular exercise will help to regulate the sleep cycle. One recent study revealed that people who went from a sedentary lifestyle to moderately intense training over a 16-week period fell asleep on average of 5 minutes faster and stayed asleep 45 minutes longer than their control counterparts.  Most of the studies evaluating whether exercise positively affects sleep have looked at aerobic exercise. However, most fitness experts believe that the benefit extends to weight trainers and anaerobic athletes as well. 


It should be pointed out that exercising too close to bedtime could adversely affect sleep. It is recommended that exercise stop at least three to four hours before sleep. This number will vary from person to person but can be used as a guideline.  Rest and sleep are important parts of not only any exercise-training schedule but also are also important for health in general.

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