Give back what you take out to reap the rewards of training efforts

By Seiji Ishii

Athletes often view programming of training through glasses that only see the “what” and “how,” and not the “why,” nor through the bigger picture that includes “when.” In their quest to garner gains at all expense, they can get blinded to the wide angled and long termed view required for consistent gains over an extended period and career.

Planning of training in the broadest sense is about energy balance. Physical training costs energy; its withdrawal from the bank that is in constant flux. Smart planning uses withdrawals in a gradual progression to induce stress followed by deposits that allow actual changes in the body to adapt to these stresses. Periodization plans these cycles; a typical periodized schedule may include two to three weeks of gradually increasing loads (comprised of a combination of duration, intensity, and frequency of physical workloads), where fitness is decreasing, followed by a rest week (or de-loading week) where the total workload is halved. The energy saved during the rest week fuels the body’s rebuilding of tissues and other components that build fitness. But the rest week and day to day recovery only occurs if the energy deposits are also intact. The big ones are food and sleep but can include other regenerative activities such as receiving massages, relaxing, etc.

All this gets a lot more complicated when you also consider the other things that make “auto drafts” from the energy account. These happen all the time, but many athletes disregard them when calculating their relative energy balance. These are emotional energy and mental energy costs. These are not whimsical costs that only sensitive people need to heed. The hormonal reaction to stress is the same regardless of the source of stress- fighting with a friend or spouse will elicit the same hormonally damaging response as an intense bout of training, as will a day at work that is mentally draining. These hidden costs must be respected and included in the estimation of energy balance.

Most motivated and elite athletes don’t have a shortage of motivation. Given a choice, they will all want to add to the training load or stick to the plan regardless of what they may feel. Athletes almost always admit to feeling something that signaled the need for a break or reduced training load after the fact, which is most likely too late, injury or illness already forcing a rest. No amount of motivation can overcome physiology; athletes get a rest eventually, whether volunteered or not. Body processes happen slowly, and feelings of fatigue can temporarily disappear underneath the feel-good hormones released once exercise commences. These are the cases where athletes can seem “to get away with it,” but eventually and 100% of the time in my experience, it WILL catch up to them, and the more they get overdrawn, the bigger the penalty.

It takes a lot of experience to be able to feel and then act when it’s time to re-establish energy balance and take a rest week in the program. It’s easy to dismiss the late afternoon doze off, eliminate it with coffee, and ride that caffeine wave into your training when from the outside it is obvious that a de-loading week is in order. It is also important to remember that during rest weeks, the energy inputs need to remain the same as a training week so that there is an energy surplus to be spent on adapting the body to continued and larger stresses. Respect what you feel and give your hard-working body what it deserves so that it can repay you for all your sacrifices made in the name of physical gains. Keep the energy balance in mind day to day and beyond and take the rest weeks where fitness is building instead of receding.