Body Transformation Series, Part 5 of 7
“Some of us may have grown up believing the fallacy “No Pain, No Gain,” but the risks of overtraining include illness, injury, and lost training time. Of course, you should expect to be tired after a hard workout, but you should recover by the following morning.”
In 1962, researchers at the Human Population Laboratory of the California Department of Health studied the relationship between health and lifestyle habits and found that health and longevity are associated with the following:
● Adequate sleep (7 to 8 hours a day)
● Regular meals
● Weight control
● Not smoking
● Moderate alcohol consumption
● Regular exercise
The study found that men could add 11 years to their life, and women could add 7 years, just by following six of these habits (Breslow & Enstrom, 1980). Sleep is an important part of longevity and performance, so let’s examine your habits to see if a change is in order.
Men and women who sleep less than 6 hours per night are considered “not as healthy” or at higher risk for health issues compared to those who sleep 7-8 hours. As you might expect, too little sleep is more of an issue than too much. Sleep is characterized by alternating stages of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and deep sleep. REM is accompanied by changes in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone and dreams. If sleep is interrupted, we tend to become anxious and irritable during our waking hours. REM sleep constitutes about 20% of total sleep for the night, with the remaining time spent in deep sleep, providing us the rest and recovery needed from fatigue. Missing some deep sleep does not create sleep deprivation, but if a substantial amount of REM sleep is missed, the body will attempt to make it up in subsequent nights, meaning you will spend more time in REM sleep later, when you try and catch up with missed sleep. Going without sleep seems to impair creative capabilities, which suggests a function of sleep is to restore a fatigued cerebral cortex, the intellect area of the brain.
Physical activity enhances the ability to fall into deep sleep, without altering the time spent in REM. Too little or too much exercise can result in sleep disturbances, and significant sleep loss appears to suppress the immune system. As fatigue levels increase, immune function goes down. But you can bolster the immune system by getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly. However, if training intensity, duration, or frequency occurs in amounts greater than a person is accustomed to, without adequate amounts of rest and recovery, the risk of overtraining increases, a condition described by fatigue, poor function, performance, and suppression of the immune system.
“When we are in tune with our bodies, we can recognize the need to back off and take some recovery days.”
We grew up believing the fallacy “No Pain, No Gain,” but the risks of overtraining include illness, injury, and lost training time. Of course, you should expect to be tired after a hard workout, but you should recover by the following morning. The fatigue from regular, daily training is simply the application of the overload principle, which requires you to do more in order to achieve a training response. When we are in tune with our bodies, we can recognize the need to back off and take some recovery days. Yet, most dedicated fitness enthusiasts who exercise daily seem inclined to overtrain and sometimes miss the warning signs, which include lethargy, fatigue, poor performance, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and even illness. Because the symptoms arise slowly and over time, overtraining can be difficult to recognize.
If you are starting to feel hindered in your training, or have reached a plateau, barring injury, try to identify if you are on a collision course with overtraining. Symptoms include boredom, overwork relative to rest, exhaustion and stress, immune system suppression, hormonal imbalance, poor nutrition, rapid unexplained weight loss and dehydration. Once you start training hard and really get serious about your exercise program, you should become familiar with symptoms of overtraining. The treatment for overtraining is relative rest, and serious cases may involve time off from training or even bed rest.
Pulse Index – Take your pulse for 60-seconds uninterrupted in the morning before rising for 5-7 consecutive days. Average the daily rates. When the morning pulse is 5 beats per minute above normal, suspect illness or overtraining and take a rest day.
Weight Index – Check your weight in the morning and average it over 7-days. A rapid or persistent weight loss could indicate problems.
Temperature – Establish your daily temperature with a morning reading for 1 week. Look for signs of elevation.
If you are feeling like you have a cold coming on, there is some research that says exercise is beneficial, as it can boost the immune system. But you want to make sure you are not putting yourself at greater risk by going on a run simply because you think it will make you feel better when it only makes things worse. If symptoms are above the neck (i.e. a stuffy nose, sneezing, scratchy throat), try a test run at half speed. If you feel better after 10-minutes, you can increase the pace and finish the workout. If symptoms are below the neck, with aching muscles or coughing, or if you have a fever, nausea, or diarrhea, take the day off. You can return to your workouts once the fever is gone for at least 24-hours (Eichner, 1995).
“The TRX Suspension Trainer offers users hundreds of exercises for improved range of motion, increased flexibility and overall mobility.”
Does Stretching Improve Performance?Flexibility is important because it contributes to mobility of joints, skin, and soft tissues. Flexibility is defined as the uninhibited range of motion around a joint and in the adjacent soft tissues. Lack of flexibility may be a factor in the development of acute and chronic injuries, repetitive trauma and low back problems, as injury can occur when a joint is pushed beyond its normal range of motion. Some studies have found stretching before a workout or competition can diminish performance. However, recent literature reviews have revealed that short, static and dynamic stretches held less than 30 seconds prior to performance have no adverse effect. Stretching cannot be overlooked when participating in a holistic training program. Check back with Blog #4 to review the ACSM FIIT Guidelines for Flexibility.
Performance PotentialDon’t miss out on a training day because you need to rest. There are many recovery options that will continue to offer performance enhancement benefits. The TRX Suspension Trainer offers users hundreds of exercises for improved range of motion, increased flexibility, and overall mobility. The TRX also offers several workouts for stretching and strengthening, a perfect supplement to a training program. The TRX Strength & Flexibility workout is available on trxtraining.com, and is perfect for an active rest and recovery day, while still keeping you in the game.
Relax, Restore and Recover
Self-massage using a foam roller is another way to relax tired tissue, restore joint range of motion and help you recover from intense workouts. The benefits of self-massage may include:
● Correcting muscle imbalances
● Decreasing muscle soreness
● Increasing extensibility of the soft tissues at joints
● Increasing neuromuscular efficiency
● Helping to maintain functional muscular length
● Relieving joint stress
Muscle balance helps to provide optimal joint motion, leading to better mobility and enhanced performance. Self-massage using foam rollers can assist athletes in the reduction of muscle pain and tension, and restoration of normal muscle length and balance.
A standard foam roller is 3 feet long and about 6 inches wide, although shorter more portable ones are also available. Foam densities come in soft to very hard and some rollers even have tread or other features to change the quality of the experience. It is important that you find the texture and density that is right for you.
A roller that is too hard will decrease your desire to use it, for it can cause bruising and may not be enjoyable. Although there may be a little discomfort when using a foam roller for self-massage, it should not cause pain or bruising. Common areas for rolling include the lateral thigh (IT band), gluteals, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
Rollers can be used pre or post workout, but are best when combined with some stretching. Try rolling on an area using 3-6 inch strokes at a controlled pace. Spend about 45-seconds to 1-minute on each area. If you find a tight spot, try holding the roller on that area to try and release the knot. Be sure to balance both sides of the body and stretch if you are using the foam roller post-workout.
Yoga for Recovery
Yoga, particularly hot yoga, has inspired millions of people as a way to achieve flexibility, relaxation, and meditative states. If you aren’t into the mystical elements of yoga (some are and some aren’t, and either way it’s all good), yoga is a safe, enjoyable, and potentially relaxing flexibility program, not to mention a great alternative to high intensity training.
1. Breslow, J. and J. Enstrom. 1980. Persistence of health habits and their relationship to mortality. Preventative Medicine 9:469-483.
2. Eichner, R. 1995. Contagious infections in competitive sports. Sports Science Exchange 8(3):1-4.