The idea to train, train and train has been ingrained in athletes from the moment they put on their first uniform. More is better – too many athletes believe. If my competitor is training five hours a day, I must train six.
But most athletic trainers today know there is a threshold. Too much training can hurt performance in the long run. Some trainers will even say that the off day is the most important day of the week. The problem is convincing athletes of the same. And even those who buy into the importance of rest or off-training days struggle to stay sane for those 24 hours.
Below are some tips to make off-training days more productive.
Change Your Mindset
It’s not an off or a rest day. It’s a muscles-grow, performance-improves day. It’s a well-established fact that muscle hypertrophy and neuromuscular improvements don’t occur during training but during recovery after it. Another way to look at it: no off day, no improvements.
It’s the simplest, yet most effective recovery technique. In “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery,” by Christie Aschwanden, the acclaimed FiveThirtyEight science writer, she writes we should pay less attention to ice baths, cryo chambers, and sports drinks and just get more sleep to enhance recovery.
Shoot for eight to 10 hours.
Focus on Mobility
Mobility doesn’t necessarily mean stretching, although stretching can play a role in mobility. Mobility takes a full-body, integrated approach to fix the problems that limit movement and performance. Mobility can be yoga movements, foam rollers and other tools to improve joint range-of-motion and soft-tissue pain.
Spend 15-30 minutes every day with more time on your off day dedicated to improving your mobility. Entire books are dedicated to the subject but do check out the work of Kelly Starrett at mobilitywod.com, the mobility guru himself, for more information.
If you’re feeling good and just itching to get out and play, or even if you feel a bit sore, it won’t hurt to get out for a hike, walk, easy bike ride or swim. Performing a recovery activity will stimulate blood flow to your muscles, enhancing the delivery of nutrients that help muscle repair and help flush out the substances that hurt it.
Off days don’t mean you should take a day off from your diet. Be sure to continue to eat antioxidant-rich, micronutrient-rich and vitamin-rich foods that will supply you with nutrients. This also means you shouldn’t cut carbs or protein on an off day either.
Make sure that you’re consuming enough healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado. Fats can slow digestion, but this is something you don’t have to worry about on a non-training day. Your body is trying to repair itself. Be sure to give it the fuel it needs to do its job.
Bishop, P.A, Jones E., & Woods A.K. (2008). Recovery from training: a brief review.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(3):1015-1024.
Gleeson, M (2002). Biochemical and Immunological Markers of Overtraining. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 1: 31-41.
Jeffreys, I. (2005). A multidimensional approach to enhancing recovery. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 27(5): 78-85.
Aschwanden, Christie. (2019). Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery.