The Best Know How to Rest


Our popular culture is filled with admonitions to “Just Do It” and “Push your limits.” We hear aggressively pompous questions like “What’s your excuse?” aimed at people who don’t adhere to some sort of arbitrary exercise pattern. A lot of this is good marketing but it’s not reflective of the reality behind truly great sports performance, career longevity, creativity, and good health. We don’t hear much about the massive importance of rest.

I’m very happy to see a discussion of rest in Sports IllustratedHow extended breaks in training help elite athletes—and why you should take them too is an excerpt from a book titled Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg. They offer the example of 42-year-old Bernard Legat the multiple Olympic medalist and world champion runner:

But here’s the thing: If we never take “easy” periods, we are never able to go full throttle and the “hard” periods end up being not that hard at all. We get stuck in a gray zone, never really stressing ourselves but never really resting either. This vicious cycle is often referred to by a much less vicious name—“going through the motions”—but it’s a huge problem nonetheless. That’s because few people grow when they are going through the motions. In order to give it our all, and do so over a long time horizon without burning out, we’ve got to be more like Bernard Lagat: Every now and then, we’ve got to take it really easy. In addition to his year-end break, Lagat also takes an off-day at the end of every hard training week. On his off-days, Lagat doesn’t even think about running. Instead, he engages only in activities that relax and restore both his body and mind such as massage, light stretching, watching his favorite TV shows, drinking wine, and playing with his kids.

Every hard-exercising, hard-working person should read this and take this advice to heart. This doesn’t just pertain to high-end elite athletes. In fact, the article does a very good job discussing how the need for regular and at times extended rest periods applies to everyone in any field of work. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Off-Season Part II: What Does It Look Like?


As I noted in my prior post, I’ve engaged in a lot of fun and challenging physical activities. Now it’s time to step back a bit and rest.

Effective training is made up of peaks and valleys. Training and rest are flip sides of the same coin. Rest must follow training in order for adaptations and progress to take place. The more extensive, prolonged and/or intense the training, the more rest is needed. Here’s an outline of how I plan to conduct my off-season.  (It’s not technically a full season, btw.)

Short-term plan

Week 1:

  • No running.  None.
  • Only easy bike rides: to/from work, maybe 1 or 2 easy road rides, no mountain biking
  • de-load week from lifting: This is week 4 of a 4-week block. I’ve been lifting 4 days/week; this week will probably be just 2 at the most. I’ll do some variations on the lifts I’ve been doing. Workouts will be short. Less will be more.
  • Prioritize sleep.

    Week 2:

  • To paraphrase a friend’s take on off-season: If I feel like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel like it, then I won’t.
  • “It” being anything from road/trail running to road/trail riding to hiking to whatever else there might be.
  • Start a new 4-week lifting block. This will involve hard work but since my riding and running will be reduced, I’ll still be resting to some degree.
  • Continue to prioritize sleep.
  • Weeks 3-4:

  • This will take me to the end of October.
  • Continue lifting
  • Some mountain biking
  • Some trail running
  • No real planned training beyond the lifting schedule
  • Ski season comes up soon.
  • Feasting/gluttony season is also waddling my way.

Beyond one month:

We have a big trip coming up the first week in December. It’s a scuba diving and other-fun-stuff trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica. Since it’ll be a beach gig, the wife and I want to look our best in swimsuits and such.

The real challenge is that my wife and I are in fairly good shape. We don’t need to lose much fat. Our big-picture eating habits are mostly very good. We exercise very regularly and we have a consistent, healthy sleep routine. There aren’t any big, bad habits we need to change. Thus it’s small details we need to mind. Here are some thoughts:

  • We’ve given up booze except for my birthday and Thanksgiving.
  • The only sweets we’ll have are following a significant (minimum 2-hr) physical effort such as a ride, run or strenuous hike.
  • It’s probably a good idea for me to give up peanut butter. It’s probably a little too easy to eat. Further, that it’s ground up makes the calories easier for my body to access than regular nuts.
  • Maybe consider giving up dairy?
  • As December approaches we will likely cut the carbs a good bit, and up the protein, fat and vegetables.
  • It’s very easy during this off-season situation for weight to creep up. With all the training I was doing this summer, I needed to eat a lot and I could eat a lot without any consequence. Now I plan to lower my activity level but my nervous system will still want to eat like I was during the summer. Thus…
  • I’m trying out the Eat This Much app to help me plan meals that correspond to my needs. This helps bring awareness to my current habits so I can tweak them in the right direction.
  • I need someone to take my body comp.
  • The current lifting scheme should help add muscle.
  • I’ll gradually resume significant endurance activity which should contribute to reduction in body fat.
  • Review my Precision Nutrition text to figure out else I need to do.



Off-Season Part I: Resting is Weird.


I just finished a 10-mile trail race and I feel good. I’m pleased that my Achilles held up. It seems I took the right approach to addressing the pain in that are.

I am grateful and very happy to have had a lot of fun over the past few months in the great Colorado outdoors. This spring and summer were full of activities including the following:

Besides these events, I put in the time to train for all of them. I’ve also continued lifting though for most of these past few months it’s been at a minimal level, about twice a week though that has changed recently. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, but now it’s definitely time to shift gears.

I’m feeling a bit tired and beat-up. I can say without hesitation that it’s time for some rest. Rest is an interesting concept. Most people probably get a little too much rest. Some of us find it difficult to take time off though. Strangely, it can be a challenge to time away from challenging physical work.

Saying, “It’s so difficult to take a break from all this grueling stuff,” sounds loaded with pretentious fake humility. I don’t say this to sound like some sort of supreme, tough-guy super-athlete. There is a strange type of mental state that many of us have that isn’t entirely rational, healthy or wise. Our love our chosen activity(-ies) can verge into irrational dependence and obsession.

Our running, riding, swimming, climbing, skiing, lifting, — our athletic achievements and work — define us. What are we without the sweat, toil and achievement?

We also start to think crazy thoughts. Take just 48-72 hours off from working out and many an exercise aficionado starts to go insane. We think things like,

“All my muscles have shriveled like prunes and I’ve gained 30 lbs of pure fat!”

“My lung capacity is probably that of an emphysema victim!”

I am nothing but crippled, human lard!

That’s just after a few days! Taking several weeks or a whole month away from training can be excruciating!

This is all nonsense crazy-talk. It’s foolish to think we can keep pushing and pushing to no end. Following a serious season of training and/or competition, rest is exactly the activity an athlete needs. It’s easy to accept this fact on an intellectual level. It’s more difficult to accept it emotionally.

I Need More Rest & Recovery


Sometimes I tell my clients, “I make all the dumb mistakes so you don’t have to.”  Well, I continue to make less-than-intelligent decisions from time to time when it comes to exercise.  I’ve been working out very hard for several weeks and I seem to have overstepped my boundaries.  I’ve got some aches and pains that are proving difficult to resolve. Therefore it’s time to dial back my efforts, prioritize rest, and let all my various tissues and functions restore themselves.

I want to deadlift 500 lbs.  That’s my big goal this year.  In order to hit this goal I must put in very hard work.  Hard workouts must be balanced by adequate rest–but not total rest.  I’ve been lifting three days per week with the idea that I’m doing one heavy workout, followed by a light workout 48 hours later, then a medium workout again 48 hours after that.  Then it’s two days off lifting and I start it all over. As important as it is to lift hard on the hard day, it’s equally (maybe even more) important to ease up on the other days, especially the light day.  So while I’ve definitely been hitting the hard days, I believe I have fallen short of my goal of lifting light.

So here’s my strategy. I’ve based the next few weeks on a variation of the Texas Method as discussed in Practical Programming for Strength Training, the brilliant book by Rippetoe and Killgore.  This calls for a Monday/Wednesday/Friday type of pattern with a medium workout on Monday, a light workout on Wednesday and and the heavy workout on Friday.  Here’s my plan:

Monday: Medium Day

  • Back squat: 3 x 8 reps
  • Pushups:  3 x to exertion (10-25) but not exhaustion; alternated each workout with
  • chin-ups: 3 x 5 (I may play around with band chin-ups to get more reps; I’m not terribly strong on the pull/chin-ups and my forearm is banged up.)
  • Back extension: 3 x 8-10 reps
  • I must stay far away from anything that feels like exhaustion or muscular failure.
  • I’ll likely add back bench press and/or overhead presses once my wrists and shoulders feel better.

Wednesday: Light Day

  • Turkish Get-Ups: 1×5 reps each arm–AND THAT’S IT!

Friday: Heavy Day

  • Deadlift: work up to 1 x 2 reps near goal max
  • Speed deadlift: 3 x 3 around 70% of goal max alternated each workout with kettlebell swings
  • Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 5 reps
  • chin-ups: 3 x 5 alternated each workout with
  • pushups: 3 x to exertion (10-25 reps)

The key to all this is paying attention to how I test during each workout after every exercise.  I’ll be assessing and re-assessing my range of motion frequently (most likely with a standing toe-touch type of assessment), and I’ll be performing Z-Health joint mobility drills often.  If I tighten up at all or if I feel any pain then I MUST stop and call it a day.  This is of course counter-instinctive to me but I know I’ll feel better if I do.  The ultimate goal is 500 lbs. on that deadlift and I won’t get there if I’m beat up.

Recovery Strategies, Heat Acclimation Training for Cyclists, Healthy Lifestyle vs. Genetics


We’ve got three useful articles to point out.  One deals with recovery strategies for runners, specifically why damage is a good thing.  (I imagine this information will apply to other types of athletes–cyclists, swimmers, weightlifters/bodybuilders for instance).  Another article discusses research into how training in the heat can increase cycling performance in both hot and cool conditions.  Finally, research suggests a healthy lifestyle can affect cardiovascular health more than genetics.

When Damage Is A Good Thing

Steve Magness is a Washington, D.C. area runner and exercise scientist who writes a blog called the Science of Running.  Recently he’s written a piece for Running Times called When Damage is a Good Thing.  Magness does a good job of explaining the training adaptation cycle:

“We improve from training by putting our body through stress that it normally does not encounter. When the body encounters these stressors, whether it is a decrease in oxygen, increase in lactate or low glycogen stores, it responds by increasing our ability to deal with the stressors, thereby improving our running performance. The stress, recover and adapt cycle is the foundation of training.”

Most important to the article though is the discussion of how recovery methods such as anti-inflammatories, ice baths, and antioxidants may impede the adaptations we’re looking for.  Magness states:

“All of this scientific theory and research sounds good, but what does it mean practically?  It doesn’t mean that antioxidants, ice baths, Advil or taking a Gatorade while running is necessarily bad. It means using those items at the wrong time or after the wrong workout could negate some of those hard-earned training adaptations. The key is to understand when it’s beneficial to use those methods and when to avoid them.”

Read the whole article to understand the strategy Magness recommends.  It’s certainly an issue worth pondering if you’re a serious athlete–endurance athlete or otherwise.

Heat Conditioning for Cyclists

Science Daily gives us an article titled Exercising in the Heat May Improve Athletic Performance in Cool and Hot Conditions.  Researchers at the University of Oregon studied two groups of cyclists: one group underwent heat acclimation while training and the other group worked out in a cool environment.  What did the researchers learn?

The study found performance increases of approximately 7 percent after 10 heat acclimation exposures. “In terms of competitive cycling, 7 percent is a really big increase and could mean that cyclists could use this approach to improve their performance in cooler weather conditions,” said researcher Santiago Lorenzo.

Healthy Lifestyle Wins Out Over Genetics

The final article,  Healthy Lifestyle Has Bigger Impact on Cardiovascular Health Than Genetics, also comes from Science Daily.  There are two big points from this article which discusses two studies.

  • To stay healthy in older age,  five key healthy behaviors should be adopted while young.  Those behaviors are: not smoking, low or no alcohol intake, weight control, physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • One of the studies states, “only a small proportion of cardiovascular health is passed from parent to child; instead, it appears that the majority of cardiovascular health is due to lifestyle and healthy behaviors.”  Thus we see that poor genetics is sort of a straw man when it comes to determining our health.  It’s our own behavior that’s far more important.

Recovery & Restoration Methods for Endurance Athletes Part III: Caffeine


“We’ve shown that caffeine reduces pain reliably, consistently during cycling, across different intensities, across different people, different characteristics.”

To this point I’ve discussed nutritional strategies and cold water immersion as recovery methods for endurance athletes.  Now, the quest to relieve sore muscles, malaise and fatigue continues with a look at caffeine.  While caffeine could’ve been discussed as part of nutrition, its role is quite different from the role that food plays.

Science Daily does it for us again.  Two articles profile caffeiene’s benefits.  The first, Caffeine Cuts Post-Workout Pain by 50 Percent, Study Finds, discusses caffeine’s post-workout role.

The article profiles a study from the University of Georgia where caffeine’s effects were studied in nine female college students.  The subjects engaged in a workout that induced mild post-workout soreness.  One and two days later they performed one of two different thigh exercises with some subject having taken caffeine and others taking a placebo.  One caffeine-consuming group reported a 48 % reduction in pain compared to the placebo group.  The other group experienced a 26% reduction in pain compared to placebo.

The authors concede several weaknesses in the study.  First, there was a small sample size.  Second, the subjects were all female.  Finally, they were not regular consumers of caffeine.  So we don’t know if the effect will be seen in the public at large, among men and/or among people who regularly ingest caffeine.  That said, the findings may be of interest to endurance athletes looking to recover from strenuous workouts.

Move over Gatorade...

Move over Gatorade...

The second article, Caffiene Reduces Pain During Exercise, Study Shows looks at caffeine as a pain reducer when taken pre-workout.  This study was performed by former competitive cyclist and University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Robert Motl.  He and his friends had long consumed caffeine prior to tough rides.  He eventually decided to study the substance.

Motl wanted to examine the effects of caffeine on muscle pain during high-intensity exercise as a function of habitual caffeine use.  He examined two groups: one made up of habitual caffeine users, the other made up of non-caffeine users.  He found both groups had similar reductions in muscle pain during exercise after caffeine consumption.

Motl says, “We’ve shown that caffeine reduces pain reliably, consistently during cycling, across different intensities, across different people, different characteristics.”

So what are the practical implications?  Motl explains that caffeine and its pain-reducing effects should help you push harder and thus go faster and/or longer during your workout or race.  Or perhaps you could do your same workout but more comfortably.