REST stands for: Repair. Eat. Sleep. Time. Today we’re going to hear three different perspectives from three experts on why it’s not only rejuvenating to take some intentional rest time, but actually super-effective and useful for your training goals themselves too.
REST WITH PLEASURE, BABY: WHY REST DAY IS NOT A WASTE OF YOUR TIME - AT ALL
Regeneration phases are not only important for your physical and mental health, but also highly benefit your performance itself - according to Fabian Karst, physiotherapist and former head physician of neurology, PD Dr. Christoph Zimmermann and our resident dermatologist Dr. Nadine Voshege. Keep reading for exciting insights and tips!
LET’S HEAR FROM THE PHYSIOTHERAPIST FIRST
Fabian Karst is a triathlete, physiotherapist, personal trainer and owner of Karst’s training center and specializes in the recovery of professional athletes. While talking to Fabian about the balance between tension and relaxation, he gives us some inspiring and insightful snippets on the subject of regeneration and holistic recovery.
Physical Nation: Hello Fabian, as an athlete and trainer, you must have a relatively high level of sports activity per week. What does rest day mean to you?
Fabian: Rest day has, in fact, an enormous impact on your personal performance. Not only when it comes to exercise, but also in our professional lives and in our free time. I view regeneration on three levels:
- Orthopedic: Physical regeneration is essential for the prevention of injuries.
- Mentally: an important factor so you don't keep thinking about your next to-do and can just be without doing anything for a while
- For the cardiovascular system: Those who only train intensively without regeneration risk overtraining and thus their athletic ability.
There has to be a mix of all of these three components because one doesn't work without the other. You can only achieve long-term success in sports, work and your social life when you keep everything in balance.
Physical Nation: That sounds super-plausible, but what does it look like when you put it into practice? How do I incorporate this type of regeneration?
Fabian: The keyword here is planning. Especially if your week is jam packed with workouts! In any case, you should ask yourself at the beginning of the week: How do I plan for my upcoming training? If we are assuming you’re looking at your workout schedule from Monday to Sunday, I would always recommend, for example, that you do your strength unit at the beginning of the week. The risk of injury is lowest when you are rested. Then you could go for a run on Wednesday and use the weekend for a session focused on mobility, e.g. something like yoga. Certainly, the more often you train, the more relevant this question will become.
Physical Nation: Got it - regeneration seems extremely important. But there is a difference between active and passive regeneration - can you tell us more about that?
Fabian: To be able to explain the difference here, you’ll have to look at the activity load of a particular exercise. I would classify all activities as active regeneration if you are exercising with a fairly low load, and if what you are doing isn’t similar to your usual training. Some examples are:
- Swimming, both doing the crawl and breaststrokes; Aqua jogging
- Inline skating instead of walking
- Yoga, pilates, active stretching
However, there are also great opportunities for passive regeneration, which above all have a strong mental component. For example, a visit to the sauna or an ice bath, or getting an hour-long massage. You can also book a physiotherapy appointment and get professional help with stretching. Even though this might sound a bit extra, it can really prevent stress and promote regeneration if you’re someone who works out a lot.
Physical Nation: Well, these types of regenerative activities always seem to be linked to some kind of physical activity. There are also scientific studies that show sleep is an effective form of regeneration. What are your thoughts on that?
Fabian: I’m with you 100%. Scientifically speaking, sleep is a significant form of recovery. I should have totally made space for a bedroom in my training camp so that I have a way to take a peaceful power nap in there! By the way, this is a really good general tip: If you have the opportunity to take a power nap mid-day, do it! You’ll really have a lot more energy during the day. And that’s not only important for exercising, but also for any other area in your life.
Fabian has put together three more tips for us on how to achieve a balance between “tension and release”. As always in life: everyone is different, but give it a try anyway!
- Sleep: Add half an hour more to your usual sleep time. Either in the morning or during your naptime.
- Food: choose a meal that you take plenty of time for; eat mindfully, not just while on the go
- Movement: do some movement for half an hour, but without exerting yourself
The goal behind it all: learning to stay consciously in the present moment. And not letting stress become part of your time off because you’ve got to get through your to-do there as well.
SO WHAT DOES THE NEUROLOGIST HAVE TO SAY?
So we’ve learned that if we incorporate different phases of rest into our everyday life, our organism starts regenerating. And tissues start repairing. But what exactly is happening in our body? That’s what we asked PD Dr. Christoph Zimmermann, former chief physician of neurology at a reputable clinic:
"The muscle is a biological, molecular machine. It converts chemical energy into mechanical movement. It has movable parts that generate force (muscle fibers) and passive parts that transmit force (tendons/connective tissue). Mechanical movement, therefore, is in essence muscle work. The muscle adjusts to increasing or changing loads through various adjustments. This affects the generation of energy (more cell structures in which energy is generated), the mechanics of the motor (more muscle fibrils, increase in cross-section) and the strengthening power transmission of connective tissue in the muscle and onto the bones.
These processes also help clear damage caused by the movement. As with any other motor, maintenance work cannot be carried out during operation and full load (while training). Maintenance needs to take place during times when there is no training, which is what we call regeneration. Parts that were damaged or aren’t sufficiently working are being replaced or rebuilt. These regenerative processes are the basis for all training success. However, they run at different speeds: Muscle mass and blood flow, and also the ability to absorb oxygen (VmaxO2), increase faster than the load-bearing capacity of your connective and supporting tissue. It has to be balanced, otherwise there’ll be injuries.
This means training needs patience: we want to reap the benefits of our biological growth processes. But plants don't grow faster if you pull on the young stalks, right? Training requires planning: we want to see progress. That’s why we’re looking for training situations that require muscle development and strengthening. It’s most likely to achieve this with cyclical training plans. Some can do this with experience and self-awareness alone. But most people can’t. Therefore, working with the feedback from someone who has experience and who you can trust, or working directly with a trainer (if you’re training regularly and quite seriously), will help you protect yourself against possible lasting damage and injuries. These questions are different for everyone. Answers will also vary depending on what type of exercise you do. There is no one right answer for everyone. A day off during the week should be good for almost everyone. Training works in recovery. "
SO WHAT DOES DERMATOLOGIST HAVE TO SAY?
Now we’ve looked at both the muscles and the body side of things - let's take a look at our skin. We asked dermatologist Dr. Nadine Voshege about whether rest days are also needed when it comes to our skin. She advises:
“Let's just take a look at what happens at the skin level during exercise: First off, our skin is supplied with more blood when we are sweating. Our veins widen, which enables us to give off heat. And what feels good on the skin after an intense workout session? Anything with a cooling effect. And possibly active ingredients that help our veins go back to their previous state.
Secondly, we sweat right inside and on top of the skin. The sweat glands secrete sweat through our sweat ducts. It will often stick to our skin, which isn’t harmful to the skin, but, depending on predisposition, this can cause itching. And what do we do after (not just because of that)...? We shower. When we’re showering, lipids are often lost from our skin. However, we need them for resilience. The skin barrier has to be restored afterwards. And the answer to that: Providing our skin with care by applying lotion or cream.”
Wow! So many details - we trust you’ll need a sec to let that all sink in! But the best news is that you can celebrate rest day as your new favorite day without guilt! Finding the right balance between tension and release is one of the core values of Physical Nation. It’s not only important to balance work time, free time, healthy nutrition and fun - but also balancing your workout times with periods of relaxation. A big thank you to our three experts for their insightful explanations and advice. ‘Cause sharing is caring - as always.