This is part 2 of a three part-series of articles from our Tuvizo-sponsored athlete Andrew Tunstall.
Everyone knows that to get fit you need to train; and logic follows that the more you train, the fitter you will get. So imagine you could run flat out, all day, every day…. you would be super fit, right? WRONG. You’d be dead probably, and it wouldn’t take too long either. When you train, your body breaks down. Afterwards, when you are tired, stiff and sore, your body regenerates itself, rebuilding what was broken down so it is stronger than before. Each successive bout of effort destroys your body a little, and each time it is followed by the body’s attempt to rebuild and strengthen.
If you can get the timing right between effort and rest, the overall trend will be a steady increase in strength and durability (or ‘fitness’). However, if you get it wrong, either you will break more than you build and the body will eventually fall apart; or you will wait too long between efforts and the body will never quite get the message and bother to make you stronger. The problem for some of us is that we are bullet proof. I am one of the worst I have ever known, so I know an over-trainer when I see one.
A few years ago I was training 16 to 20 times per week; massive loads, with 500km cycling, 60km running and 20km swimming all squeezed in around a full-time job with a couple of gym sessions thrown in for good measure. I remember bragging to a friend once that I had gone 60 days without a single day off! Then, in the last week before World Triathlon Champs, I backed off and did almost nothing for 4 days, believing this was all the rest I needed. On race day I was tired, stiff, weak – and I completely underperformed. I had over-trained terribly, then tried to “cram” my resting into those last 4 days.
That rest, coming after going so long without any breaks, actually only served to send my body the message “at last it is all over, you can stop struggling to rebuild.” My exhausted body just shut down, and there was no stimulating it back up to the required performance levels on race day. Of course there were warning signs – the symptoms of overtraining are well documented (like poor sleep, lethargy, persistent aches and pains, and a general lack of performance improvement). I was permanently shattered; falling asleep in any meeting after midday, and racing at the same speeds for months (ie not improving). The answer is to REST regularly between those hard sessions. Training is the investment, but you cash it in by resting.
If you just keep paying out in training, and never allow your body to cash in from resting, you will not see the rewards. If you are tired, REST. If you don’t feel motivated to train, then DON’T TRAIN (and I don’t mean because of cold weather, or because you don’t want to miss a movie on tv – I mean if you are feeling tired, sore, stiff or listless). Your body knows better than you do. If you are unsure of whether or not to cram that one extra session in to an already busy programme, ask yourself these two simple questions: “If I don’t do this, will I lose fitness?” The answer will nearly always be “of course not”. The second question is “If I do this, could it push me over the edge into overtraining?” and if you are honest the answer will often be “yes” (or at least “probably”). Now you know that extra session is not worth it. Chris Carmichael, the renowned triathlon and cycling coach, famously said "you don’t get fit by training hard; you get fit by recovering from training hard"
For the self-motivated, self-coached athlete, resting can take more discipline than training. It should be the first session you pencil in when you plan your training schedule. This article is brought to you by Andrew Tunstall, an athlete sponsored by Tuvizo, a night running gear and reflective walking gear company.