Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coach Laura: Rest Days

We already know how I feel about new year's resolutions. BUT. I'm all about goals. I realize I'm burying the lede by talking about this since it's not immediately addressing the topic of this article, but I hope you'll indulge me one more time about goal setting. I stumbled upon a fantastic article about setting goals. It succinctly says the things I think I'd been vaguely stumbling around last time. It talks about setting goals using a strategy called "identity-based habits." 

To pique your interest, here are a couple of snippets from this article: 

To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. Performance and appearance goals are great, but they aren’t the same as habits. If you’re already doing a behavior, then these types of goals can help drive you forward. The interior of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.
If that intrigues you, please read the rest of the article.

Now back to the original question. This comes from a reader who has been consistently working on attainable goals by walking. She wants to generally increase her fitness and is not concentrating on weight loss; rather on exercising (in her case, walking and doing some stretching and gentle strengthening exercises). She has noticed that as she's consistently done this, she is getting stronger and feeling better about herself. And after several weeks, other people started noticing the change in her physical appearance as well and commenting to her about it. (If you've read the article I reference above, you'll know why that's meaningful.)

I just finished my workout for the day and was able to go further at a higher intensity then I've been able to do before this. Overall, it felt really good, and I feel good about my progress. Maybe one reason I felt so good was because of the two-day rest that I had. I'm hoping to find the balance in daily exercise and resting. Tomorrow I plan to do the one-mile walk-at-home video so that I'm doing something, but changing things up a bit. Does it count for a rest day if you work as long and hard but at something else? Or should you just back off all around?
Great question, and thanks for asking it! The general fear (if that's not too strong a word) of taking a rest day is that you might lose any progress that you've made so far. But your muscles need time to heal and recover.  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting. 

Did you hear that? I think it bears repeating:  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting. 

Instead of thinking of it as a "rest" day, it may help if you think of it in terms of "recovery." This doesn't mean that you get to completely slack off, though. As you correctly surmised, it's important to keep active. That way you won't lose any of the progress you've made in one area. You will instead be able to grow stronger and develop skills in other areas. If you're focusing on walking, for example, as your main activity type, then on your recovery days you might consider adding a yoga or stretching routine. 

It's important to make sure that it's an activity you enjoy. If yoga or stretching sounds boring or doesn't float your boat, then you can try swimming or hiking - something different. Those types of activity have the potential to emotionally and mentally refresh you so that when you return to your regular activity, you can approach it with renewed enthusiasm. Your walking muscles will appreciate the break too. 

Something else you can do on your walking recovery days is add some strength training. Adding more muscle can only help you burn more fat. To allay another fear before you even ask it - there's no such thing as "bulking up" with just regular strength training, unless of course, that is your discipline and desire. Adding some basic weight training is one of the best things you can do for yourself. If you're looking for a place to start, here's a good reference. You don't have to do everything on that list, but it will give you some good ideas as a starting point.

Here's something to consider if you're on the fence about strength building:
When you strength train with very heavy weights for low numbers of repetitions, you build incredibly DENSE, tight muscle.  It seems counter-intuitive, but if you really want toned legs, stomach, and arms – picking up small weights and doing lots of repetitions isn’t doing anything. The benefit comes from lifting heavy weights with a low repetition count. 

I've thrown more information at you than you probably wanted, but I hope you've been able to glean something useful from it. 

Keep those questions coming! And remember, you can never do too many good things for yourself. Don't give up, just keep pushing forward. Give yourself credit for the things you've accomplished; don't tear yourself down for not being perfect. 

To your heatlh!

Coach Laura

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Laura, thanks so much for addressing this question of mine. Your answer is exactly what I was looking for. I like the idea of calling those in-between days "recovery" days. That helps a lot. And that article about goals is really helpful, too. I've often tried to tell myself that I'm an athlete, but I guess I don't really believe it. Still, though, I'm gaining confidence and am pressing forward, and I really really appreciate the encouragement.