Rest and Recovery Will Make You Stronger

I used to think I had to train harder more often to get faster, but shin splints have recently forced me to reconsider that idea. Turns out, I’m on to something. It’s called rest and recovery. Who knew?

I guess elite athletes do because they actually use sleep as an important piece of their training. Athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, stress the importance of sleep in this great graphic: “Eat, sleep, and swim, that’s all I can do,” reads a quote by Phelps. One from Bolt says, “Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.”

The truth is, the real improvements to your body are made during rest and recovery periods like fitness pro Alex Baskerville pointed out in the article “Smart Athletes Rest”: “…your body needs rest in order to become stronger and rebuild itself.” When you exercise, you do damage to your muscles. When you rest, they repair themselves.

Many athletes, elite and not, find it extremely difficult to take time for rest and recovery, and in the Chicago Tribune article “Rest and recovery: Why athletes need it,” writer Julie Deardorff asks author and health expert Sage Rountree why that is. “Because the Western mentality is about control and doing, not surrender and just being,” she said. “When we get something wrong, we want to work harder to ‘fix’ it, instead of giving the body time to recover and rebound.”

How to Rest and Recover

So, what do you do on rest and recovery days? When Deardorff asked Rountree in the Chicago Tribune article what strategies athletes can use to recover; she said sleep was No. 1! She also recommended fueling properly and paying close attention to the way your body responds to your workouts by keeping track in something such as an exercise journal, for example.

An article on Active.com answers that question in a different, pointing out that rest and recovery can be very unique to the individual, but that it doesn’t mean sitting on the couch all day. “Examples of rest and recovery activities are walking, static stretch exercises (after a warm up and loosening up period), dynamic stretching, swimming, water running, and riding a bike.”

When to Take Rest Days

How often you should rest depends on the athlete, but if you need help deciding, read the Runner’s World article “Time to Rest?” to figure out if you’re overdue for a rest day. As a general rule, most fitness experts recommend one rest day per week.

Do you take time to rest and recover? What do you do on rest days?