Like so many of us these days, I found myself going and going, getting caught up in the "lift heavy, go for the PR" mentality of fitness. It was exciting to see that PR number going up. I was taking minimal rest. My hamstrings were always sore. I had tremendous tightness and pain in my adductors and quadricep tendons. Still, I kept going. I was ignoring all signs of overtraining. I thought, "if I just foam roll a little more, I'll be fine." I was also spending a lot of money on a masseuse. All of this, and I was not fine. I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee, the knee that was historically my good knee.
When I recently came back from vacation, I had a rough time getting back into the swing of things, including my workouts. My body really hurt. Mentally, I was exhausted. It became apparent that something had to change.
The fitness industry has always promoted the idea that if you want to attain the body you want, you have to train hard. Think of of the training mantras often posted on social media or uttered by some fitness professionals. "No pain, no gain." "Go hard or go home." "Beast mode."
To some extent, yes, you need to work hard to build muscle and lose fat, but that isn't the entire story.
When you train, you are putting your body through stress and breaking down muscle tissue. Constant stress raises cortisol levels in your body, which can cause increased fat storage, anxiety, and fatigue.
Constantly breaking down the muscle tissue without giving it time to rebuild can cause pain and injuries. This is where we are more likely to tear the muscles and connective tissues, suffer sprains and other injuries.
Changing up your routine and resting are just as important as the hard work that you put in at the gym. Muscle repair and growth happens when you rest. Hormone levels can also reset.
Deloading and active rest are two components of training often ignored in the mainstream fitness world.
Deloading is basically scaling back for a short period of time, usually a week. You can lighten your load (the amount of weight you are lifting), change your exercise selection, or work on the exercises that are improving and feeling great while cutting out the one(s) that are suffering.
When you are doing an active rest, you are taking a break from the normal workouts, but continuing to be active. For example, rather than lifting, go for a walk or hike, do yoga, or play tennis.
Active rest is also done for a short period of time, usually a week, but can go for two weeks, if your body is crying out for it.
Deloading and active rest should be built into your workout program. Try 3-4 weeks of strength training, followed by one week of deloading and active rest. Listen to your body! If your body says it needs a change or some rest now, and you are only on week two, don't push through! Take that rest or make a change in your program. Building in a deloading phase and an active rest phase into your program will actually help you make gains and keep you from injury.