There are typically two types of people when it comes to recovery days. The first revel in their day(s) off. They kick back, let the diet slack and enjoy the time they spend relaxing giving both their muscles and mind a warranted break. The second category of individuals loathe their day off. Often victims of exercise addiction, these people can feel anxious and/or moody without their daily dose of adrenaline rush. And yet, as an athlete who endeavors to be a serious competitor, giving your body a break is of paramount importance when training for any triathlon or racing event.
Let’s clear up one major misconception regarding recovery days. A recovery day does not translate to: doing nothing. Many health and fitness professionals would agree that our bodies are designed to be active each and everyday. Certainly such activities as light walking, biking, swimming, and/or stretching are all examples of movement that can and should be done on your recovery day. Increasing your heart rate, encouraging some labored breathing and breaking a sweat are things we can stand to do each and every day. The key is to not go overboard. Your training plan should include heavy work days, speed days, and light work days. Do not confuse your recovery day with a light work day. Timed intervals and/or carefully measured repetitions and sets really don’t have a place on your day off.
And of course, there is a flip side to the above-mentioned recovery day scenario. A really challenging, strenuous workout and/or race can and should be followed with a recovery day where no physical exercise is done. Listen to your body! If you feel too much overall fatigue and exhaustion it makes complete sense to spend the day recumbent. In fact, muscle tissue needs to repair, rebuild and strengthen, so it behooves you to allow your body enough time to do so. Energy stores have often been depleted and fluids have been lost. Use your recovery day to properly rehydrate and consume meals to restore glycogen (a combination of both carbohydrates and protein).
Recovery days are also vital for an athlete’s psychological well-being. Continuous training can often weaken the mind of even the strongest sports competitor. Most of us aren’t full-time athletes so we don’t have the luxury of having our body and mind keen on just achieving one end goal. As a recreational athlete, rest days give us time to maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals. Truly, it can seem as though there is not enough time in a day or week to meet all of our expectations and responsibilities. Allowing for a day where no workout must happen can actually improve our piece of mind.
At the end of the day, recovery days DO have a place in your workout program. You ultimately make the decision with regards to how much or how little you wish to accomplish on those days. Remember, with consistent training you always run the risk of over-training and/or injury, so definitely be mindful of that. Also, don’t let recovery days make you feel guilty. Think about all the time and energy you spend pushing yourself during your workouts. A little break here and there is much deserved and gives you an opportunity to focus on other areas in your life.