This post on rest and recovery was originally published in Finnish on Kaisa Sali’s website on November 13, 2017.
Finding the balance between training, rest and recovery has always been challenging for me. Being hard-working and persistent by nature with loads of passion to achieve set goals easily leads me to do more than I should.
It helps a little to know that I’m not the only one struggling with this – many athletes are inclined to skip rest and recovery. Every ambitious athlete knows that hitting your goals requires long-term planning and consistent training every day.
The athlete who trains the most isn’t automatically the one who wins the race.
However, the athlete who trains the most isn’t automatically the one who wins the race. The champion is usually the athlete who works as hard as possible but also makes time for rest and recovery.
Speeding up recovery and optimizing the amount of rest are key for top athletes but just as important for regular exercisers and non-professional but serious athletes.
Many endurance sports enthusiasts go with full blaze on all the time, juggling a full-time job and family while taking sports seriously and working ambitiously to achieve their athletic goals.
While coaching enthusiastic non-pro triathletes, I’ve noticed that finding the balance between exertion and rest is even more challenging for them than for pros. Many endurance sports enthusiasts go with full blaze on all the time, juggling a full-time job and family while taking sports seriously and working ambitiously to achieve their athletic goals.
If your day-to-day life becomes all about performance and not at all about enjoying the ride, you’re in a risk of burning out and losing all joy and quality in what you’re doing.
How to monitor training load, rest and recovery
It’s surprisingly difficult to objectively monitor your body’s training load. During a tough training period you sort of wind up in a cycle – your body is extremely tired but you no longer realize it. You may even start to enjoy feeling tired if fatigue insidiously becomes the normal state for you.
Interestingly enough, at least for me, overtraining feels pretty much the same as not training enough.
For example, it’s typical for us endurance athletes that we feel better physically during a tough training period than during a resting period. Interestingly enough, for me overtraining feels pretty much the same as not training enough.
Metrics that help me boost my recovery
I measure my performance every single day by comparing my running and swimming speed and my cycling power with how I’m feeling in general.
If my performance is not as good as usual for several days in a row, I know I have to change something. Measuring my recovery status allows me to continuously optimize my recovery.
If my heart rate is clearly too high or too low compared to the exertion level, I know something is off.
I use a heart rate monitor in every training session and have been doing so for nearly 20 years now. If my heart rate is clearly too high or too low compared to the exertion level, I know something is off. Also, distinct changes in heart rate variability tell me something is off.
I regularly measure my heart rate in the mornings with an orthostatic test. These days I don’t do it quite as frequently because I have learned to rely on my overall feeling. But a few years ago, I did the orthostatic test every day and it gave me and my coach valuable insight into my training and recovery.
For exercisers and beginner athletes just starting out their careers, measuring heart rate every morning can help guide their training and recovery to the right path.
Signs that tell me I need to rest
The people close to me usually tell me if I’m tired. I’m not always all smiles but if I’m irritated and cranky all the time, it’s a clear sign I need rest.
- The job of a pro athlete is not always easy and sometimes enormous willpower is the only thing to get you through exhausting training days. However, if there’s a long period when I have to force myself up and moving and training doesn’t feel good anymore, some extra rest is the best cure to get my motivation back.
- As a woman, my body tells me how well I’ve recovered. For me, changes in my menstrual cycle and especially if my periods become less frequent are a sign of overexertion. However, menstrual cycle is very individual and our bodies react differently so what’s true for me, may be different for you.
How to boost recovery
When you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete 24/7. When you’re not training, you’re trying to optimize your actions so that recovery would be as fast as possible.
These are my go-to means to speed up recovery:
- I plan my daily schedule well ahead so that it’s as optimal as possible for my training. For example, during tough training days I always make time to take a nap during the day. On days that are less demanding training-wise, I invest in my social life and spend time on office duties.
- I make sure my diet supports both my performance and recovery. I eat healthy food regularly. The key ingredients of my diet are vegetables, quality protein and carbs timed right according to my training.
- My training is divided into heavy and light exercises, training days and training weeks. I never train more than what my training schedule says. I keep my easy runs extremely light so that I can go all in for the heavy ones.
- Massage, stretching, workout and hot-cold treatments are part of my daily routine.
- We are inextricably psychophysical and social beings so it’s important to balance these aspects that are so seamlessly intertwined in all of us. Even though my day-to-day routine is carefully planned, it shouldn’t be written in stone – it’s okay to enjoy a nice glass of wine every now and then or stay up an hour later than planned. When your mind is balanced, your body is healthy, too.
- At least for me, social recovery is one of the factors that has a crucial impact on my results. I get strength and energy from the people close to me.
What we should all keep in mind is that sufficient rest is just as important as training. It’s worth it to prioritize rest when necessary but how much is enough and how to optimize rest and recovery is different for everyone – we all need to find the best ways for ourselves.
Of course, rest and recovery doesn’t necessarily mean a complete shutdown, lying passively on the couch. A great way to boost your recovery is to replace a heavy, long run with a nice, short walk in the forest or a relaxing dip in a swimming pool.
When was the last time you took the time to pause and listen to your mind and body: Are they balanced and ‘on the same page’? How do you really feel? What does your body need right now?
If everything is just right and in place right now, use that energy to push harder. If you feel like you need some time to rest, take it – resting is a key part of training.
Recovery load and orthostatic test are Polar Smart Coaching features that offer expert guidance to improve your training and useful feedback on your progress. Read more about Polar Smart Coaching and take your training to the next level.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.