Proper rest during training makes the hard workouts stick

I'm writing this for those of you who are compulsive trainers, in the (dim) hope that perhaps the extra nag might just push you over the edge, and get you to give your bodies an occasional break.

It's just so easy to make the assumption that is backed up by simple reason: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger. If I trained this hard last month, what if I train even harder this month? I've got to do more than my competition. And so on.

It doesn't work that way.

Here are the funny things about compulsive behavior: You know it when you see it in others, but you are frighteningly blind to it in yourself. And, anybody is susceptible given the right circumstances.

Take me, for example. I'm highly susceptible. I'm quite sure that I could become a raving alcoholic spending all my money on the 21 tables until I couldn't raise the $5 minimum, only to cart my remaining handful of nickels and dimes to the slots. I'm so dead scared of myself that I never allow me the opportunity. That's why I've never in my life bought so much as a lotto ticket.

I'm pretty safe with endurance sports, though. The good thing about triathlon is, it takes so much time to train for it properly that I've got to take days off or else I'll never get any work done. But that doesn't stop many of you. What you have that I don't is discipline. Many of you think nothing of getting up at 4:30 a.m. to start your training day. Me, I'm in no danger. It's you who are in big trouble.

I don't have the key to unlock the door to compulsive behavior. I can only tell you what it looks like, and you have to determine for yourself if you're engaging in it to the point of danger.

Not that it's going to make any difference. It's like love. We seek advice, but we aren't going to take any of it. Your friends can tell you 'til you're blue in the face that "She's no good for you," but as we all know, you're not going to listen. You're going to see it through to the bitter end. That's compulsion for you.

So then: Rest. Now that you know you should rest, how much should you rest? What's the least you need?

Rule of thumb is, one day off per week, for starters. Me, I never plan a day off. Why? Because I always miss a couple of days per week. I'm tough as nails on any given day or even for a week, if I've planned for it but I'm a pansy when it comes to sticking to a routine over the long haul.

You, though, that's another thing, if you're a bona-fide card-carrying compulsive person who's got the gift of discipline for good measure. You've got to plan a day off. No way around it. And, that day off has to be a total rest day. Not the housecleaning day. Not the 14-hour work day. A rest day. "And on the seventh day the Lord rested." Ask yourself at the end of your rest day, "Am I rested?" If not, you didn't take a rest day. Even if you didn't train, you didn't take a rest day.

One week a month at half your training levels. If you're a woman, this ought to be your cycle week. If it doesn't come exactly like clockwork then just wait until it does come, and then make that your rest week. No sense in fighting through that week with a big workout week. Your body's chosen that week to rest. Go with it.

If you're amenorrheic, I'm not qualified to say whether or not that's a possible sign of chronic overtraining, or whether it's low-body-fat related, or what. Unfortunately, those who are qualified to answer that question are fewer than those who say they are.

If you do an Ironman, rest entirely no training whatsoever for one week. You'll feel great for four days after an Ironman, if you had a reasonably good race. This means nothing. This is the afterglow. Your body hasn't come down yet. Starting on day 4 or 5 it'll start to sink in.

Week 2 after an Ironman should be no more than one-third of your normal distance. Week 3 no more than half. Week 4 no more than two-thirds. And then you're ready for a rest week again, which means back down to half mileage. Then you're ready to go.

No more than two Ironmans a year. Period. Don't think of doing a third. And six weeks minimum of active rest after the season is over.

You should also take three weeks of active rest in between the first and second half of a full season, on the assumption that your season from the time you started serious training 'til the time you do your last race is at least seven months in duration.

Here's the thing: If you do actually take these rest periods described above, you aren't going to lose fitness. Or to put it another way, you'll regain your fitness in precisely the same time increment you took off. In other words, if you take six weeks of active rest in the offseason, you'll be back to that level after six weeks of training everything after that is bonus fitness with which you can set new PRs. And, when you think about it, that's pretty early in the season to be fit again. You may even want to take more time off than six weeks.

I'm not going to try to scare you with Red-Asphalt-like horror stories of crash-and-burn victims of overtraining about adrenal glands that are unable to secrete cortison or adrenalin any longer, or of a hypothalamic-pituitary axis in the brain that isn't able to send signals to the adrenal glands, or of hearts that've been fried to a crisp through overuse and abuse.

I'd rather you think of all those good times ahead of you while taking your well-deserved rest and relaxation, knowing all the while you'll race better and be fitter for it.

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