In the world of competitive sports the word rest is not regularly used. Athletes continually push themselves for hours on end each and every day of the week in order to become the best they can be. Often times this means training through fatigue sickness and even injury. On one hand this is very heroic behavior. On the other hand it can mean a downward spiral with respect to an athlete’s health and performance in the long run. I share a philosophy with other nutrition and sports performance professionals. It is simple really: if you give your body half a chance it will find a way to heal. A body regularly fueled with the proper nutrient-rich foods is of course the foundation from which this philosophy is validated. But there is more to the story than just eating well and it makes all the difference in the world. I am not going to explore the concept of resting your body when you have an injury. In the first place it should be commonplace that an injured athlete at least modify his or her training regimen and seek treatment to expedite the healing process. In the second place this is a decision that is often complicated by specific individual scenarios that go beyond the scope of this article.
I am most concerned with a more subtle sign that the body is in need of a break from training. John Douillard explains it in his book Body Mind and Sport. It is a very simple method and only requires a moment each morning to monitor and track. All you need to do is create a heart rate log take your heart rate first thing each morning before you get out of bed and record it in your log. Do this for several weeks and then compute an average. This will be your target early morning heart rate. You will continue to monitor and record your heart rate each day. If on a particular day you take your heart rate and it is either 10 beats per minute higher or lower than your average (target) morning heart rate you would do well to rest from your regular regimen for the day. A fluctuation in heart rate by 10 beats per minute or more is an indicator that your body’s immune system is preparing to mount an attack on a bacterial or viral infection in your body. It can also mean your body is under a great deal of stress. In any case if you push through and choose not to rest you will most likely put your body in jeopardy the result being sickness increased fatigue or even injury.
Listening to your body is typically not difficult to do. It just takes a little practice at raising your awareness-level. The most difficult thing for driven goal-oriented athletes to do is make the decision to actually take a break. In the long-run however it is the key to staying healthy competitive and fulfilled.