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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Running on empty

September 27, 2010 11 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

As those of you who have been following NTS for a while hopefully know, I’ve spent the last several months in training for a race to support Girls on the Run, my absolute favorite organization to date. In case you’re not yet part of the cool club, check out my post on the GOTR organization or my guest post on Healthy Tipping Point to learn more about why you should become involved with helping girls succeed too.

I actually had the wonderful fortune to have lunch with two of the staff of the Cincinnati chapter of Girls on the Run recently. Erin and Mary were absolutely fabulous and shared with us (yes, I dragged Justin along – and he earned a new name – Husband on the Run!) about the mission and day-to-day operation of this organization. Did you know that every single girl that participates in this chapter gets a brand new pair of New Balance shoes, so that no girl is without proper footwear and no girl has to be singled out? Can you imagine?! The enormity of this part of the program (which is only a tiny part, mind you) made me literally tear up. GOTR is what dreams are made of…


But back to training.

Despite my newfound passion for GOTR, my training has not been all sunshine and cherry pies. It’s been tough, rough work. Which I suppose is what training for something is all about – pushing yourself harder and further than you thought you could. I’ve seen progress in my running that is still incredible to me, thanks to the support of a good friend (i.e. coach), a commitment to a good cause, and maybe a dash of my own perfectionism.

I’ve also seen progress because I’ve taken rest seriously and I haven’t pushed myself farther than I should go.

According to Jack Raglin of Indiana University’s department of kinesiology (that’s the science of human movement, says Wikipedia), approximately 10% of endurance athletes train too hard. Others estimate this number to be much higher, citing that most athletes are actually over-trained and chronically injured. The obvious risk is injury and becoming sidelined (potentially permanently) from the entire event. A recent Wall Street Journal article cited that 25% of people who sign up for marathons don’t make it to the start line. (I’m doubting their cars ALL broke down.) Having once been forced to give up marathon dreams due to pushing myself too hard, too fast, I’m a firm believer in the power of rest.

Animals like my cat have absolutely no problem with this idea. So why do we?

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While you may think that pushing yourself to new heights requires daily grueling work-outs, quite the opposite is true. The body needs (and longs for) rest days in order to repair and strengthen muscles and replenish your energy stores. In fact, the recovery period is when the real effects of the training occur (a bit counterintuitive, I realize…).

Overtraining is a serious liability. Besides the risk of muscle and joint damage, training too hard can cause exhaustion, an eating disorder, depression, and decreased performance. And who in the world, after months of giving it your all, wants to wind up tired, sad, and in a brace? Not this girl.

Experts (like Lyle McDonald at Bodyrecomposition) recommend that those who are exercising intensely get both active rest and passive rest. Active rest refers to doing something physical or training related, but usually for a shorter period and at less intensity. This is all based on what you typically do, but if you’re a runner, you might actively rest by doing a short jog at pace significantly slower than you would on a training day. Or cross-train to give the muscles you’re normally using a break.

Passive rest is just like it sounds. Plant your butt on the couch and read a book. Or watch t.v. Or read Nourishing the Soul. Just don’t do jumping jacks or cycle fifty miles. Your body needs at least one day completely off per week. Having training-free days is vital to ensuring your muscles stay strong and you don’t get a divorce. Plus, when else are you going to catch up on Project Runway?

Another form of rest that some experts recommend is taking a more extended rest once in a while. Does the thought of taking a week completely off make you cringe? Probably all the more reason you should. If you worry that there’s no way you could meet your goals by taking extended time off, consider Deana Kastor, the Chicago and London marathon champ. She takes two months off from running a year. This isn’t to say she sits around eating Oreos during the breaks, but she stops running. Studies indicate that taking a week off does not result in significant losses of aerobic fitness or strength.

It’s all about… wait for it… listening to your body. Seriously, people. How often do I have to say this!? It’s amazing how the human body really has all the answers. If your body is craving rest or more sleep, respect your own wisdom and comply.

Have you over over-trained and gotten injured? How adept are you at listening to your body’s signals for rest?

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11 Comments

  1. Emergefit
    4 years ago

    “According to Jack Raglin of Indiana University’s department of kinesiology (that’s the science of human movement, says Wikipedia), approximately 10% of endurance athletes train too hard. Others estimate this number to be much higher, citing that most athletes are actually over-trained and chronically injured.”

    Okay, so I will chime in here with a degree in Exercise Science, and a few decades of S&C work for prep and collegiate athletes:

    I would eyeball that number closer to 50% – at all levels; from rec marathoners to elite runners. But part of over-training is under eating and under sleeping. It also relates, not just to pushing too hard, but pushing too hard at the wrong times and in the wrong ways.

    One of my struggles with the profound institutionalism marathon preparations and protocols(at all levels), is that this institutionalism has formed a giant barrier between the athletes and his/her instincts. But that’s what institutionalism does, yes…..? And so it goes…

    Reply

  2. Amanda
    4 years ago

    I’m currently taking a couple of days of to recoup from straining a muscle. It’s really hard for me to skip my usual workouts but I know it’s what my body needs
    Amanda recently posted..Hear the Wedding Bells Ring

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      It’s so tough, but so necessary, especially when muscles are strained! Good luck recouping.

      Reply

  3. Jayna @ Healthy Living Bites
    4 years ago

    Did you write this post for me? Ha ha, I’m seriously not THAT self centered, but I definitely once again feel an affinity to your subject matter.

    How adept am I at listening to my bodies signals- extremely! How adept am I at ignoring those signals- perfection when I want to!

    Take this back injury. Once I started feeling the sciatica the first time I switched from running to walking and concentrated on strengthening core muscles. In two months I was pain free and my primary care gave me the go ahead to run. After my first day running I noticed my back was “twingy” (I like making up words). I decided I NEEDED to run so I did- two more times. Then my fourth run back I had to stop after 1/4 of a mile because my back hurt so badly. The rest of the story is on my blog LOL.

    Anyways, even though I feel my back with every step I take on my walks it is SOOOO hard not to start running. My mind wants to run, my body can’t without risking even FURTHER injury. The most frustrating part- no one can give me an answer on when or even IF I can start running again.
    Jayna @ Healthy Living Bites recently posted..Breakfasts- Birthdays- and Bengals

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Reading about your back pain makes me literally wince! I’m glad that you’ve been taking it more slowly recently. Your point about your mind and body debating is an interesting one! I hope that one day you are able to do what you love – whether it’s running or other movement.

      Reply

  4. Katie
    4 years ago

    It’s funny you posted this today of all days. I am training for a 5K (granted it’s not a marathon or even a half, but it’s a goal of mine I haven’t reached in a long time) and am using the “From the Couch to a 5k” program which has you running 3 times a week. I didn’t think I would be able to do it at all and thought even less how going only 3 days a week could possibly make me ready, but I have felt stronger and stronger every time I’m out.

    As I was ready to go (setting the alarm I mean) to get up and go this morning, my body was telling me to sleep… it needed the rest. Although I now will need to “reschedule,” I know my body wouldn’t have been worse off all day today without the extra sleep.

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Hey, a 5k is a big deal! And I’m glad to hear that you listened to your body yelling at you to sleep!

      Reply

  5. Justin
    4 years ago

    Taking rest days is very difficult for me when it is not a “scheduled” rest day. I put a lot of trust in my training program, so the thought of changing things up, especially this close to the marathon, really scares me. But I think you bring up a good point, once again, about listening to your body and understanding what it really needs. I wish you had posted this yesterday so I would have felt OK about pushing my run a day… I think I really could have used another day to recover after my long run.

    Reply

  6. Margarita Tartakovsky
    4 years ago

    Great post, Ashley! One of my fave parts is the picture of your adorable kitty!! :) I appreciate you educating us about active and passive rest, too. I’ve been wanting to start running for a while now (I used to a bit here and there and enjoyed it) but I’m not that well-versed about training. I love your emphasis on listening to our bodies. So key! I’ll definitely keep this in mind when I’m running (i.e., walking and jogging verrryyy sloooowwwlllyyy…hehe).
    Margarita Tartakovsky recently posted..Writing a Body Image Memoir

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      I’m excited that you want to start running! I’m happy to help if I can on the training piece. I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the past few years!

      Reply

  7. Elizabeth Jarrard
    4 years ago

    great post once again! i firmly believe in the power of rest!!

    Reply

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