The importance of the 3Rs (part 2)


Last Tuesday I wrote about the importance of incorporating sufficient rest days into your weekly exercise regime, to allow each muscle group time to fully repair and recover (read the previous blog post if you missed this).

Following on from that, it is important to look out for the signs of overtraining: being tired & lethargic on a regular basis, needing more sleep than usual, muscle soreness that limits your ability to move about as normal, frequent muscle niggles/aches & pains, a plateau in your training progress, amenorrhea in females (periods stop). If you notice any of these things, its time to regress your training plan beyond the odd rest day and have a deload week or two.

During a deload week you would have slightly more rest days than usual and then on the days you do train, train at a lower intensity to normal: be it less distance, fewer intervals, fewer repetitions, lighter weights etc. You could also reduce the time of your training sessions, so spend 30 minutes instead of 45 minutes in the gym, or 45 minutes instead of your usual hour.

As well as sufficient rest days, other ways you can prevent overtraining and injury are to make sure you warm up and cool down properly before each training session. A warm up thins the synovial fluid in the joints which allows for a greater range of motion. In general a warm up should consist of 5-10 minutes of light CV activity (such as the bike or cross trainer) followed by dynamic stretches. If you are not sure about dynamic stretching, ask your gym instructors to show you some, but spinal & hip rotations, hamstring leg swings, shallow squats and lunges are a good place to start (think of football substitutes on the touch line waiting to come on the field and you get the idea). A cool down is the time for static stretching, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds minimum.

So what do you do on your rest days? You can of course do no activity whatsoever other than your usual walking to get from A to B. However “active recovery” is a term used by performance athletes to indicate a rest day that still keeps the body moving, helping with muscle elasticity whilst still allowing sufficient muscle repair and regrowth. Here are some ideas for active recovery days (and some just for overall wellness!):

  • Long walk
  • Swimming (followed by a hot steam room & ice regime!)
  • Pilates/Yoga
  • Light Dance class
  • Stretch and Mobility session
  • A gentle cycle ride
  • Foam rolling
  • Meditation, relax, read a book
  • Prepare your meals for the week!
  • Do something creative – paint, crafts, knit, sing, play a musical instrument

Participating in a creative activity which uses the hands has great benefits, often reducing your stress & anxiety levels. My next blog will discuss this further, for now pick up a paint brush and have a go!

Lastly, don’t forget the two essential ingredients to any successful training programme: sleep & hydration. Aim for a minimum of 6 hours sleep per night and drink 2-3 litres of undiluted water per day, more on a training day (and even more than that in scorchio weather like today!)

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