I recently got back from a family vacation where there was nothing but palm trees, sun and sand. From a training point of view, it would have been the perfect opportunity to get in a solid week of training. I opted, however, for it to be a scheduled week of rest and recovery and quality time spent with my family, something that seems scarce these days. R&R is not something triathletes find easy to do. It is, however, one of the most important aspects of training and should be the 4th discipline in your triathlon training program. It would seem logical to keep training to get faster/stronger. Who needs rest when you could be out on your bike putting in a few more hours or taking that quick run? Wrong. We get stronger through recovery and rest. Progress in training is made by stressing your body over and over, then allowing it to recover and adapt or absorb all the hard work you've put in. After you've put rest time in, stress it again, rest again and so on, and so forth. As you train, with each workout your body slowly breaks down. When you give it time to rest and recover, it gets stronger. It's during the time of rest that you get your strongest. If you continuously train without taking time for the body to repair, the effects and benefits of all the time spent take a negative toll on your body, and instead of gaining strength, your body keeps breaking down. You'll notice your performance start to decline. This is when it's time to stop. Get some rest and slowly build back to where you were. Overtraining is not something you want to happen to you. It can take weeks to bounce back. Some signs of overtraining are sleeplessness, fatigue, irritability, a craving for sugar or carbs and a decline in your performance. At this point you also risk injury or illness due to the body's weekend immune system. So now that you know you need time to recover, how do you go about doing so? Your typical training block should look like this: 3 weeks of build and 1 week of rest. During the build weeks, your intensity and volume will increase. During the rest weeks, you don't want to simply sit on the couch and do nothing. Your workouts are shorter in duration and, although the intensity is there, it's minimal to keep your body fresh. Typically your volume may be decreased by 50%. During this time, you should take at least one day completely off. During your build periods one day a week where you are inactive can give your body and mind time to relax. We all work, have family and other commitments and it's difficult to fit it all in. One day where at least you don't have to worry about a workout makes it a little easier to deal with every day tasks. Active recovery or a very low intensity workout/short duration is also a good way for your body to rid itself of any inflammatory metabolites and other damaged proteins caused by your build block. You get your blood pumping just enough to get your body to circulate all the damaged goods out of your system. I suggest swimming as an ideal active recovery activity. The massaging effect of the water creates an analgesic effect as well as aids in increased circulation. There's no stress to joints and it's easier to manage keeping your HR down. Don't forget as always, to mind your hydration, take in some good clean food and get some good sleep.
So the next time you're scheduled for a rest day, take advantage of it. Remember, it's a time for your body to absorb all the hard work you've put in. Consider it money in the bank. Enjoy!