Respect Recovery

Most serious athletes and fitness fanatics are either training too much or not enough. I'm pretty sure it's one of those. "Optimal" improvement lies on a razor thin line somewhere between training and rest. Athletes can't know for sure if they are walking that line, but it's easy to tell if they stray far in either direction.

While it will always be easy to make excuses that result in laying around with a bag of chips and unreality TV, there are growing numbers of driven and devoted athletes who would benefit from nothing more than a day or three of rest.

On one hand, a certain amount of consistent training is needed to stimulate the body to adapt and reach new heights of performance. On the other hand, too much training and competition tears the body down before it has had time to recover, much less improve. Outside of technique, nobody gains or improves during training. The magic happens in all the other hours of the day; when the athlete is sitting in class, playing video games at home, and especially while sleeping.

Athletes, parents, trainers, and coaches would do well to remember that actual results are determined not simply by how much training is performed, but by how much training an athlete can recover from. Sorry coach, but an athletes recovery ability is determined by far more than what you can program. Age, gender, genetics, diet, stress, and the amount of sleep all play a large role.

So before you schedule those 5 a.m. workouts before class, please consider the 6 to 8 hours of classwork, hour of social time, minutes of family time, and hours of homework that will be wearing on the athlete until well past 11 p.m. If you want a thin 18-year old to gain 15 lbs of muscle before the spring season, don't have him or her running bleachers for 40 minutes 3 days per week on top of practice and weight training. Athletes who can tolerate, much less improve from, such a schedule are truly outliers.

I understand the value of extreme pre-season conditioning practices that build character and team unity and act as a self selection process for the final roster. There are certainly times for those lessons. There is certainly a time when an athlete must decide if he wants to work to get better or just have fun. But whoever signed up for getting worse while not having fun? The "more is better" approach, where athletes are chronically pushed on 5-, 6-, and even 7-day per week programs is worse than useless. Mental toughness may be worth the price of physical stagnation, up to the point where somebody gets injured.

All the glory and applause given to training, willpower, dedication, and hard-nosed coaching leaves little opportunity for us to hear the stories of drop-outs and injuries that are largely due to a lack of intelligent planning. They are stories of ibuprofin and arthroscopic debridement. They are stories of well-intentioned but unwell PEOPLE dragging themselves around day to day, beating their head against a wall, wondering why they're seeing such little return for all their efforts toward something they use to love.

Those stories do exist.

I see them most days in the clinic.

And I was one of them.

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