Rest is Healing

Ricardo Gonzalez

It is such a miracle that our body heals itself after injury, often without our intervention.

Broken bones, skin and muscles, given time and nourishment repair themselves. 

In sports, when we are driven to reach a level of performance beyond our current conditioning, the tried and true method is cycles of exertion, followed by periods of rest.  There is a wealth of literature about the physiological healing processes wherein our bodies are made fitter by exercises followed by rest.   Even more remarkable than this healing, is the fact that our bodies know to overcompensate and new tissue emerges better prepared to endure the same exercise.

Every training plan starts with a goal and incorporates objectives that contain critical aspects of desired performance improvement; including when to rest.  Without rest, repeated physical stress leads to injury or worse, permanent damage that exceeds what our magnificent bodies are able to repair.  Training plans are tools based upon fundamental principles of how our bodies work.  These principles are then applied to enhance performance.  How these principles are applied is what makes each training plan unique.  Training plans use a fitness vocabulary that defines the frequency, intensity, and duration for each workout.  There are phases through which we progress and cycles within each phase.  The level of detail in each plan corresponds to the specificity of the goals.

In my triathlon training I have always used heart rate zones as a measure of intensity (aerobic, endurance, sub-lactate, anaerobic, etc.). The frequency and duration of exercises at each of these zones depends on the phase (base, building, peaking, racing, etc.)  Within each phase there are cycles consisting of increasing frequency, intensity, and duration followed by proportional periods of rest.  An excellent reference that I’ve used for years is Joe Friel’s book: “The Triathlete’s Training Bible”.  It is a comprehensive reference that includes customized training plans, heart rate zone training for each sport, performance improvement techniques, drills, race strategy, nutrition, and much more.

To validate the critical importance of rest, the women’s Ironman Hawaii World Champion of 2006, Michelle Jones, gave the 2012 May issue of Competitor Magazine what she called her best piece of coaching advice:  “ Underprepared is better than over trained”. In other words:  too much training is worse than too much resting.

And so it is in life, that after periods of intense mental or emotional stress we need a period of rest. Without it we can’t sustain peak performance.  Even in video games, such as “18 Wheels of Steel” you are required to incorporate periods of rest as part of the game.

Sooner or later, most of our bodies show the ill effects of prolonged mental and emotional stress.  So how do we rest?  We simply allow the body to perform the miracle of regeneration.  All of the cellular regeneration that takes place during sleep helps us rest.  But we don’t have to be asleep to rest.  In “The Power of Rest – Refresh, Rebuild, and Renew” by Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H, there are brief techniques to reduce stress, lose weight, feel healthier and be more energetic.

In sports training we call this “active rest”.  In our daily lives we are enhanced when we add periods of rest while we are awake.  There are many ways to actively rest.  These include deep breathing, yoga, and stretching.  Contemplative ways include listening to music, visualizing, meditating, and feeling gratitude.  Interactive ways such as playing games, laughing with others, or communing with animals and plants and nature are also “active rest”.

Next time your body, mind, or spirit is too stressed, rest and relax in any way you choose to do so.  And enjoy your rest!