Thursday, July 29, 2010

Resting between workouts is as important as training. Read why.

We can never emphasize enough on how important it is, when planning a workout routine, the inclusion of rest days. This is Jungle Miami's subject today.

Including time for rest in a workout routine can help fitness goals

Thursday, July 29, 2010

By: Vicky Hallett and Lenny Bernstain, Fitness Columnists.

If you're like me, you may be looking at some upcoming vacation and thinking: I wonder how many extra workouts I can squeeze into all that free time?

Bad idea. Instead, stop and remember why you tear yourself away from work for a few weeks each year: to rest.

Rest, in its various forms, is critical to your fitness program. Skip your days off or easy days to cram in extra exercise, and you risk injury, burnout or setbacks in reaching your goals, experts say.

"Even God rested for one day," says my sister-in-law, Tamie DiNolfo,a physician and marathoner who'd rather face a malpractice suit than skip her morning run.

While you're vacationing, "keep the rest in there," says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that promotes safe and effective exercise. "Use the time to take a few extra naps and get a little extra sleep."

Physiologically, you build strength while resting. The muscles you tore down by swimming a few more laps than last time, lifting a few more pounds or cycling just a little faster repair themselves and come back stronger when you give them a chance to recover. That's why, in most training programs, hard days are followed by easy days.

"Exercise is physical stress on the body. If you don't allow the body a chance to recuperate, you can overtax the body," McCall says.

Figuring out how much rest you need and how to go about it takes a little more, well, work.

Let's start at the far end of the spectrum. Competitive athletes -- from Usain Bolt to the students on the college swim team -- put in serious training time. For them, the risk is an identified, if ill-defined, problem known as "over training syndrome," or OTS. Although it sometimes can be difficult to get a handle on OTS, coaches, in particular, know it when they see it.

The athlete's performance declines, sometimes suddenly, and he or she may suffer from restlessness, unusual soreness, irritability, nagging injuries and that "stale feeling."

"We don't know what it is. It's where athletes lose their zoom," says Carl Foster, a professor in the department of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. "The thing that makes them magic goes away."

But we do know why some athletes develop OTS, Foster says: Instead of taking easy days or days off, they work harder.

"I think it's the Puritan work ethic, which is deep in the soul of our culture," he says. "And athletes are very motivated people."

In studies of runners, speed skaters, swimmers and basketball players, Foster and colleagues found a significant difference between coaches' and athletes' perceptions of easy days. Many athletes simply used a rest day built into a training schedule as an opportunity to work out more, defeating its intended purpose.

You don't have to be a competitive athlete to over train. Anyone working hard over time to improve performance can fall victim to the idea that more training will yield better results.

"A lot of people in our culture respond to failure with effort," Foster says. "That's a good thing about our culture. But that's a bad thing, too."

For all these athletes, a day of total rest and/or an easy workout day each week can stave off over training. On easy days, the trick may be to cross-train. Take a leisurely swim if you're a runner, ride a bike outdoors if you've been in the gym too long. Make sure you get seven or eight hours of sleep, and on vacation, see if you can do something completely different for a couple of days, McCall says.

"Change your routine up and get away from it," he says. "I would generally use the time off, do some hiking, go out and play with the kids."

Now let's say you've been completely sedentary or exercising infrequently, and you decide that vacation is the perfect time to adopt the fitness habit. Federal guidelines recommend that adults do at least 30 minutes of brisk walking every day to maintain their health.

Do you need to build a rest day into such a schedule?

It's not a bad idea, but probably less critical than it is for long-term, dedicated exercisers, Foster says. A day of cross-training instead of six or seven straight days of the same activity also would help, he says. As a general rule, you can safely increase your workout load by about 10 percent each week.

"Even if you walk half an hour a day and you [increase that to] an hour a day, you're going to feel it," he says.

Raising the intensity of your workout even more could lead to orthopedic or inflammatory injuries, Foster says, so build up gradually before you go on vacation. "Jogging or running is much more challenging orthopedically than walking," he says.

Above all else, experts say, regular exercisers should listen to their bodies. If your attitude toward a workout is, " 'I don't want to go to the gym, but I know I need to,' don't do it," McCall says. "You're not going to do yourself any favors."


© 2010 The Washington Post Company



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