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The Importance of the day-off.

When it comes to training for improvement there exists the notion that more is better, and by adding training sessions in your week, this will bring forward the desired physiological adaptation. There is validity to this, when it comes to endurance sports, however it is worth looking into it with a bit of scrutiny. It is easy to get hooked into daily sessions that have various training characteristics, and present a respectable improvement. However not enough value is “spotlighted” on that crucial REST DAY.

Assuming that YOU design your weekly training activity, and your emotional drive pushes you to get more and more in, this might leave you in the status of “under-recovered”. It makes sense when you are starting a training phase, to be enthused about your weekly practice, and have as a low priority to take regular days off for rest. After all you want to train to improve and how on earth are you going to do that with days off in your weekly training? Plenty of research papers demonstrate that one structured day –off training, observing rest build-in your week, actually is reconstructing your health and your ability to come back fresher and stronger. On top of that coaches around the world prescribe to their athletes days off and it seems to be paying off.

Not allowing your body to relax and stay off practice for a day, builds up more stress, and muscle fatigue. Of course not all people are equal, and certain athletes respond better than others when rest days are observed. Some unique individuals might go on with 14 or more days streak, with no day- off, and at some cases it might not manifest a clear problem, but at the same time it might not allow for a true reach of their top potential. It might be hard for some people to truly measure the positive effects from days off and recovery, but mentally and physiologically you do gain an advantage in the near future.

During structured days -off lot’s of adaptations do occur in the human body, primarily super-compensating your adaptation to training. Improvement does not take place during the actual training but after refueling, after absorption and regeneration and after real rest to the body. Sleep, an abused concept by many hard working individuals, is one of the first things to cut when we are time-pressed. It is true that lots of us do not complete our 7-9 hours, presented as the required amount for recovery and regeneration. With our heavily pressed schedules we might neglect sleep needs and squeeze in an extra early morning session to take place, with the genuine desire to improve.  Something to ponder upon.  If you do limit your sleep time and quality of sleep, this might inhibit muscle growth. If muscle growth is not happening for prolonged periods of time that can present a problem for some sports. Also in general one might argue that he/she can complete a training session if they haven’t slept well, but it is clear that it takes place with sub-optimal outcomes. It is also reported that lack of sleep can lead to a reduction in strength, reduction in reaction times, and can also make you feel and interpret a session with a harder RPE (remember the RPE scale?)

Now structuring in more days-off training, liberates hours for you – the sleep deprived athlete – where you can insert short or medium length naps that promote recovery & regeneration.  With longer naps more REM cycles are presented and potentially the secretion of the valuable growth hormone takes place then.

It is worth noting that the relation between sleep and exercise is a deep topic without cemented findings about ALL THE MATTERS troubling insomniacs or narcoleptics. The article you are reading is not focusing on those relationships, but it is geared towards reminding athletes and fitness enthusiasts the benefits and outcomes of systematic days off in the week for optimum athletic performance.

Bottom line is that your proactive approach with structured days off from heavy training, embedded with quality sleep, can present to you a lower injury rate, clearer focus about decision making, fresher attitude and motor ability when it is really needed. However it must be said that hard disciplined training with a well-rounded training plan is the base foundation for a true peak in performance.


*K.N. is an Exercise Physiologist, graduate of the University of Alabama, an ACSM certified Health & Fitness Instructor, holds an ITU  Level II Certification as a Triathlon Coach, and is a multiple Ironman & Half Ironman Triathlon finisher. He is coaching Triathletes online, teaches Functional Training at ryltoday studio / Nicosia, and performs Exercise Physiology assessments at the Cyprus Sports & Research Center. www.ryltoday.com

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