Rest days aren’t just about muscle recovery

 

Rest days are so important! Boring, yes, I’m fully aware, but I speak from experience when I tell you that having a rest day is as important as all the conditioning and training you put your heart and soul into on a daily basis.
In my naivety when I first started contortion training, I overtrained my splits and sustained 3 injuries which took me 6 months to recover from. So trust me when I say rest days are a crucial part of your training.

So, what is a rest day?

A rest day plain and simple is what it says on the tin … an entire day of rest. No, this does not include yoga or a long walk, these are still forms of exercise and whilst a rest day may come easily to some, others find it hard to hit the pause button. This is because we, as a circus community are so passionate and dedicated to achieving our goals that we see this rest in a negative light as SLACKING! So we overwork, we overtrain, we get ill and we continue to train through this perceived period of weakness until we burn out!

The benefits of rest aren’t just purely for muscle recovery, they encompass a variety of factors contributing to your overall well-being. The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. So, what can you do to optimise your rest days and boost your health?

  1. Catch up on sleep – Sleep is a large attribute to an individuals well being, with studies finding that sleep deprivation has a negative impact upon numerous biological and neural functions including reduced concentration, a depression of the immune system and impaired creativity and planning skills. It has been found that as little as 1.5 hours of sleep deprivation per day (recommendations are for a typical 8 hours) can impact you performance by as much as 26%. So catching up on those zzz’s can be a huge benefit to your rest days.
  2. Decrease stress – The body reacts to stressful situations by a ‘fight or flight’ mechanism which was beneficial thousands of years ago whilst dealing with a bear attack. Although now a day, we don’t have to deal with these intense threats, the body reacts in the same way. In our modern society, we live in a state of high arousal (stress) as a result of challenging work-personal-family life balance, obsession with competition and the desire to be perfect (instagram definitely hasn’t helped these idealistic expectations of life).
    When it comes to thinking about how stress affects performance it is important to mention that not all stress is bad. If you weren’t a little stressed when you perform you wouldn’t be able to full off that desired move at the end of your routine when already exhausted. But, if your body is in a constant state of flight, high levels of cortisol and Adrenalin will build up, causing you to feel increasingly fatigued, sore, achy and unable to perform to your highest potential. Not only this but the high levels of cortisol can physically block other useful hormones such as dopamine (which aids with happiness), lower your metabolism and can even slow down your fat burning rate which …. dun dun dun … equals weight gain. Now, if that doesn’t make you take a proper rest day then I don’t know what will! So, do something for yourself to decrease that stress, whether that is cooking your favourite meal, having a hot soak in the bath, getting your hair re-touched or my personal favourite is mindfulness, which is a form of meditation. Try using the app headspace, but to really see a difference schedule in 5 mins of this app during your daily routine.
  3. Diet – a balanced diet blah blah. We all know how vital a balanced diet is to optimal performance, yet we neglect our nutritional intake often, maybe to look slimmer for that on stage performance. But how detrimental can a lack of nutrients actually be? Did you know that performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as 2%? It has been found that if an inidividuals dehydration exceeds 5%, this can decrease their peforming capacity by up to 30%! Did you also know that not getting enough protein in your diet not only affects muscle recovery but can cause additional problems such as a weakened immune system and lack of energy? Finally, were you aware that if you’re trying to aid with nutritional protein deficit and hate protein shakes, chocolate milk is as, if not more effective. Tasty.

So remember, rest days are as much about letting your body recover as about letting your muscles recover. They are as much a part of your goal planning as the times you put your all into training. Enjoy it and listen to your body thank you!

References:

  • Sleep and the elite athlete (2015) Shona L. Halson, PhD
    https://www.gssiweb.org/en-ca/Article/sse-113-sleep-and-the-elite-athlete
  • Effects of sleep deprivation on neural functioning: an integrative review. T.W.Boonstra, J.F.Stins and P.J. Beek (2007)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2778638/
  • Stress: a social issue (2018) https://www.brunet.ca/en/advices/stress-a-social-issue.html
  • Dehydration and it’s effects on performance by Asker Jeukendrup and Michael Gleason
  • Cirque Physio Blog
  • Stretchitapp Blog