Running down the steep rocky path, I knew I had pushed my body too far this time. The usual post summit euphoria was not there – joy, elation, achievement, the feeling that I could do anything. Instead I felt tired all over, dehydrated, faintly sick and unhappy.
What was happening?
Fast forward almost 3 months and I now know that I had overtrained and crucially not listened to my body. I needed to rest not run. I had drained my body of its reserves, rather than training in a sensible manner that suited my physiological load and level of stress (see Blog – Health is a Balancing Act). I needed more sleep, but also – and most importantly – more rest in the day. Some downtime to help my body and mind relax.
As Paul Chek (founder of the CHEK Institute) says: Are you training or draining your body? Our bodies are like a battery of energy that, with continual use, will run out of power. As we all know, once fully drained, a battery must be replaced or recharged. We only have one body – which can’t be traded in or replaced – so we must learn how and when we need to recharge it.
In this busy modern world where everything seems to happen at great speed, many consider their long work hours a badge of honour. Although working 10+ hours a day may be manageable in the short term, us humans are not designed for this level of continuous energy expenditure and we risk running our batteries out completely. You may just think you need to ‘harden up’ – other people manage a 12 hour work day, and a busy family/ social life on 5 hours sleep… Don’t they?
3 types of rest
The importance of rest cannot be underestimated and there are 3 types of rest we must be aware of and apply in our lives – total, active and passive rest.
Total Rest (sleep) is the most complete way to recharge that battery with the body doing crucial repairs between the hours of 10pm and 6am:
- 10pm to 2am: physical repairs where cells of our muscles, bones, joints and internal organs (call this your ‘hardware’) are all assessed and reconditioned.
- 2am to 6am: physiological repairs take place, downloading and processing your mental and emotional thoughts from the day (your software). The latter part of the night is often when you have your most vivid dreams.
What time do you go to bed? I have always been strict on my sleep patterns and am rarely in bed past 10.30pm nowadays. As a Personal Trainer I have very physical days – starting my day at 5am – so I know how important my sleep time is. I really feel it if I miss out on any sleep before midnight (one hour before is worth two after).
Active rest is a conscious reduction in your workload, bringing down the intensity of your day from 100% ‘go go go’, to a more realistic and manageable level. At work this might mean reallocating some of your to-do list to tomorrow or doing simpler, less stressful tasks to take the pressure off and allow an easier day. This will allow your body on all levels (physical, mental and emotional) some crucial ‘active’ rest.
In athletic terms, active rest means not working out more than 60% of your normal maximum. Instead of a ‘sweat it out and feel the burn’ gym session, do a shorter session with lighter weights, or go for a swim or walk instead. For me – especially after *that moment* on the trail a few months back, this has meant no high-intensity hill runs or even any running. I have had to change my approach, or risk burn-out. This has been a real challenge for me as I am part of a team again training for the Oxfam 100km Trailwalker event in June. After a few weeks of almost no training, I am back out on the trails and really enjoying walking but very conscious that I mustn’t push my heart rate or intensity too high. I am also loving spending time in the garden; planting and weeding and generally being outdoors!
Passive rest means taking an actual break from whatever you are doing; leaving your computer/workstation for 10 minutes to go for a short walk, some meditation, reading a book or listening to some music. This will allow your mind some time and space to re-focus and your energy ‘battery’ levels to recharge a little, ready for the rest of the day. Most days I spend 10 minutes lying on a mat stretching and breathing. I also try to have at least 30 minutes at lunch time with a newspaper or book (and no iPhone!).
In summary, just like eating healthy food, drinking plenty of water and positive thinking (see BLOG 6 Foundation Principles of Health), all three types of rest must be included in your life every 24 hours as a priority, not a maybe. Have a think about how you can make a few simple changes today that make a big difference tomorrow for your future health and wellness.