In my opinion, the most overlooked aspect of a training program is rest and recovery. I’ve never been a fan of the “go hard or go home” approach. Working hard is extremely important. In fact, it’s a necessity. But, there’s a time and a place to work hard, and there’s a time and place to recover.
My mindset hinges on listening to the athletes and their bodies. How they feel on a daily basis should have an impact on how you train them that day. Just like any day in any given job, not every day is a good one. Any sort of excessive sympathetic neural activity can hinder an athlete and their performance substantially. Some factors that can cause excessive sympathetic neural activity include:
Lack of Sleep
Poor Training Schedule
...and so forth.
More trainers and their clients can benefit from a basic understanding of the Autonomic Nervous System and how it works.
Let’s break this down:
It’s divided into 2 subcategories: The sympathetic and parasympathetic subdivisions. Think of it like a car. The sympathetic is the gas pedal. The parasympathetic is the brake. They work synergistically to get you to your desired location. And you don’t even need to use the Google Maps app.
Within your body, the sympathetic kicks in when any sort of stress hits your body. Think lifting weights, running, seeing your gym crush, sprinting from bears, stuff of that nature. The parasympathetic is where all the adaptive responses occur. Think of maintaining homeostasis. Bringing your heart rate back to normal, lowering your cortisol levels and a bunch of other sciencey lingo that you can read in thick fancy textbooks.
So what happens when a person becomes overly-driven in their sympathetic system?
Well, what happens when you put your car in park and “put the pedal to the metal” for extended periods of time?
A few things:
Absorption of nutrients from food will be limited. Very little adaptive response will occur from training. Cortisol levels will be elevated, which can hinder sleep and may also store fat. The anabolic environment will be low which isn’t conducive to building muscle, and the catabolic environment will be high.
All that HIIT work you’re doing everyday because your trainer said it’s the best thing ever? That might not be helping.
So what’s the ideal way to recover?
Here’s the tricky part...It depends!!! (Coincidentally enough, like everything else in the fitness industry)
Ask yourself this: What do you like? What calms you down? The good news is you have several options.
Since there’s no one around to volunteer, let’s just use me as an example. If you’ve met me, you may have caught onto the fact that there are 7 hamsters running around in my head, all in different directions. They don’t even have a wheel to keep themselves in check. Ever been to a hamster rave? Welcome to my head at 7:24am on a Tuesday.
Personally, yoga has never calmed me down. I am, without a doubt, in the minority of people that it doesn’t work for. The same goes for pilates. I experimented listening to classical music while lying on the floor doing some diaphragmatic breathing. Same result.
The hamsters just keep running. And I don’t even like cardio.
I recently went to Float YXE to try out their sensory deprivation tanks, in hopes of slowing down my brain. If you’ve never heard of a float tank, the concept is simple.
You float naked. In the dark. In Epsom salt water. Just you and your thoughts.
Sounds weird but compared to other stuff I’ve done…it’s really not. The water is skin temperature so it’s quite warm. In terms of the actual floating, it’s buoyant enough in there that you couldn’t flip yourself over if you tried. Translation…you won’t drown, and you’ll be warm. All sensory inputs are also minimized (no noise, light, or distractions).
I wasn’t sure what to expect but knew there was quite a bit of research to back up their claims of what the tanks could do for recovery…so I was intrigued.
For the first time in as long as I can remember the hamsters stopped running. All of them. All at the same time.
Dreams really do come true.
I was in complete relaxation for the next few hours. And in fact, I noticed the results up to 3 days later.
If you have trouble slowing your mind down, or just want to try something new…give the sensory deprivation tanks a try.
They may or may not be for you. You never know until you try. Life’s like a box of chocolates, right?
The point of this blog post is to find something that helps you relax. Something that lets you shut off from the rest of the world for an hour or two every week. If you’re having trouble losing weight or gaining muscle mass, less may be more. Turn off the sympathetic system and allow yourself to recover.
Hey, if all else fails, at least you can cross off the “being naked in public” box. Cheers.