How much should I REST? - The Principle of Rest & Recovery
The dance between exercise intensity and rest and recovery is very easily overlooked as unimportant. One major cause for this might be due to the infinite amount of stimulants that keep us going in high gear… until they don't.
The idea that training until you collapse into a pile of sweat and that one will "rest when they are dead" still makes its way through reasoned, well thought out exercise advice.
Perhaps there exists a certain impatience with exercise in which many of us want to achieve everything all at once, or at least something right away?
How much rest do you need?
How much intensity is oneself capable of maintaining given their life circumstances?
Are you a professional athlete where every corner of your performance is covered?
Have you just given birth to a baby and are trying to string together something that looks like sleep?
Oddly enough, exercise generally puts us in a worse state than before we began. At least when we are in the process of exercising, we are sweating, losing nutrients, using fuel faster than it can be replenished and overall fatiguing the body. This is normal and simply couldn’t be any other way. This is not the end result of a successful training program, but it is a crucial part. Known as the “alarm phase”.
It is our body’s #1 prerogative is to recover from any stressor that it has experienced. If we give the space to do so, our body will get to work.
The right stress, at the time time, in the right place with the right dosage
The best coaches are the ones that are experts at stressing out their clients... Appropriately. Or otherwise known as "Professional stress applicators". Assuming the client will tick of all of the boxes of recovery, this is how they will get the best results.
The recovery period is the space for the body to recover, heal and ultimately build to be stronger, fitter and better than it used to be. Periods of rest and recovery are also where the consolidation of new skills occur.
Muscle soreness, fatigue and not quite feeling as strong as usual are common signs of a not yet recovered body. Ultimately it is up to you to make the call (or your coach) on how and what to exercise during this period. If you’re in the middle of an endurance adventure race, you might make the call to carry on (of course!). If you’re in the middle of a training block without the pressure of needing to get out of the wilderness and to a finish line and feel you’d like to still move but at a lower intensity, you may chose to take the option of a lighter session.
On another note, even though much of our lives run on a 7 day cycle; our body doesn't know the difference between a Monday or a Tuesday. Whilst it may be important to you to get out and do a specific exercise routine on a certain day, your body might be craving an extra 24 hours to fully recover. If you have the space and flexibility to do so, this may mean you end up performing even better in your next workout.
There is no doubt that those that can toe the line between optimal training intensity and an abundance of rest really will gain the best results. Along with sleep, hydration, good food and periods of quiet downtime, consider what rest and recovery tactics work best for you.
The shortest answer may well be "It depends" and the more you train smarter, the more you'll know.