“Work Hard”, “ no pain, no gain” , “ always give 110%”. They’re mantras in the world of sports and hard work is surely part of what it takes to accomplish your goals and develop as an athlete. But, it’s only half the equation when it comes to getting better. The other half is recovery and for many young athletes the balance is easily lost. Which is why coaches, parents and most importantly athletes themselves need to keep both sides in mind to stay healthy, be successful and accomplish their goals.
The human body is an amazing thing, beautifully designed to learn, adapt and grow. Training is about helping an athlete’s body grow and adapt in ways that allow them to accomplish their goals like getting faster, stronger or more powerful. When we train we stress the body, we overload it just a little. Then we allow it to recover. During that recovery time it adapts and we see the changes we’re after, more strength or better endurance for example.
How it adapts depends on the kind of training or the kind stress we create. A training effect is limited to the systems used and overloaded which is why it needs to be specific. If you want to get faster you don’t run long slow distances. If you want to improve your endurance you don’t lift heavy weights. We focus on the systems we’re trying to develop. As Vern Gambetta likes to say, “training is work with a purpose.”
The hard work we do in training then needs to be matched with good recovery in order for the body to adapt in healthy ways. That’s why we don’t train hard every day, why we have recovery days in a week. It’s why we build in whole weeks and even longer blocks throughout the year devoted to recovery. Bodies under constant stress don’t get the the chance to adapt. Eventually they break down.
Too much training without proper recovery can lead to overuse injuries, leave you vulnerable to illness and seriously diminish your performance. In an article for Training and Conditioning Magazine, Dr. Terry Favaro at Portland State University cited research showing that half of youth athletes seeking medical care were diagnosed with overuse injuries rather than acute ones indicating that many of them were not getting a proper balance between training and recovery. Over time it leads to Overtraining Syndrome, a serious and sometimes career ending situation. Dr. Terry Favaro and Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach have a some resources on overtraining and how to prevent and address it.
When trying to match training with recovery some of the elements to consider are rest, sleep, nutrition, hydration, relaxation.
REST means taking a break from the stress of training. If I had a heavy workout with the weights yesterday or a hard session on the track I want to match that with lighter day or a day off today.
SLEEP is critical. During deep sleep the body rebuilds tissue and heals and strengthens itself. During REM sleep it resets neural functions. Check this post for more about the power of good sleep. Evaluate your sleep patterns. Toughing it out on 5 hours a night isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a recipe for trouble.
HYDRATION AND NUTRITION It’s not only how much you eat and drink. What you eat and drink and when you take it in make a big difference in helping recovery. Look at your nutrition and hydration. In another article in Training and Conditioning, John Ivy, Ph.D. from the University of Texas gives some guidelines on how to approach the timing and content of nutrition and hydration.
RELAXATION It’s important to take time to relax, focus on things other than training or competing.Doing the things we enjoy with people we enjoy isn’t a luxury it’s an essential part of being healthy. Our training and sports are great, but too much of anything can leave us worn out mentally and physically.
STRESS IS STRESS When we think of athletes we think of stress as the physical overload from training. To get the full picture we need to think a little bigger, think of the whole person. Stress is anything that forces change or adaptation in our lives. Competition and training are some sources but,stress isn’t limited to physical challenges. Emotional and mental stress impacts the body as well. Trouble in a relationship, a tough week at school, a major change in family life can be as challenging as any training session. A great resource for understanding the connection between stress and emotion is The Balance Within, The Science Connecting Health and Emotions by Esther Sternberg, M.D.
Keeping the balance between stress and recovery starts with paying attention. Whether you’re a player, parent or
coach take a few minutes to look at your schedule. Put all your practices, games and training sessions on one calendar. Make sure that you include other important events as well like school projects, family obligations, work, etc. Then take a look. Are there spaces for recovery? A couple of hours between soccer practice and a summer league basketball game isn’t recovery. Are there days or blocks of days on a regular basis to let your body and mind calm down, relax and refresh? Schedule them in and keep them.
This week some our high school soccer groups are taking a one week break from their off-season training. We just finished three weeks of intense training and their bodies need the rest. It’s also the last week of the semester and the stress of finals and homework is going to be right in their faces for the next three days. It’s an example of trying to find that balance between stress and recovery.
Finding that balance can be a challenge but it’s important to keep working at it. Please let me know how you’re working to find that balance and the successes and challenges you’re finding. As always, your comments are appreciated.