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How to Know When You Need a Break

Whether you’re training for elite levels in sports and fitness or you’re training simply to maintain your current level of fitness, knowing when you need to take a break can be the difference between getting stronger and performing better or risking injury.

Every person is unique and can’t follow the same training schedule. Although in a team sport everyone is performing the same routine and running the same drills, you have to be empowered to speak up when you know your body needs a rest.

So this post explains just how to read your body’s signals to determine that you need a recovery day and gives you ways to keep the lines of communication open with your coaches and trainers to discuss your needs. This post also details how a Pilates reformer can support your goal of performing at high levels but lowering your risk of injury.

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Understanding When You Need a Recovery Day

Especially at elite levels of training, you probably find it difficult to delineate when your body is under normal stress and when you’re body is speaking up to let you know it needs to rest. Training to perform at elite levels can be grueling and tough every day as you push your body to new levels of strength, endurance, and performance.

Paying attention to how a body signals that enough is enough can help keep you healthy and competing instead of sitting on the sidelines injured or in physical therapy working through an injury. To make gains for your sport or fitness, your body needs time to recover. As you work out, you tear your muscles, but when you give them a break, they repair themselves and become stronger.

That means that recovery—taking a break from regular training—isn’t laziness or a pathway to quitting. Instead, it keeps you healthy, reduces your risk of injury, and allows you to continue making gains. Your body needs recovery time not just simply for rest but also for your body to pump vital nutrients to your muscles for complete recovery and repair.

So if you want to keep training for high performance, then be on the lookout for these signs:

  • You feel sore—more than usual. This is a line that may be difficult to process at first. After all, elite training means you’re going to be sore quite often. However, extreme soreness is what you need to watch for. When you try a new movement or at the beginning of training for a new season, you tend to have a level of soreness you don’t normally experience. If you begin feeling that kind of soreness or even at more extreme levels, you likely need a recovery day. Although tearing your muscles is a regular part of training, if you don’t allow adequate time for those muscles to repair but instead continue a high level of training that continues to target those same muscle groups, you could be risking tissue damage and injury. Whether by keeping a journal or discussing with your trainers, you need to gauge your level of soreness each week to ensure you’re receiving time for proper muscle recovery.
  • Working out becomes more difficult. This signal may be paired with extreme soreness as described above. Like soreness, this may be difficult to detect because you’re used to pushing yourself and facing a new challenge daily with training. But if every workout and every drill has you feeling like you’re not able to keep up as you normally do, have a discussion with your coaches and trainers. There’s a difference between working out to failure and failing at every workout. So if feel like you’re treading water and simply finishing instead of finishing well, you likely need additional time for recovery. Like soreness, your muscles have not received adequate time or nutrients to repair themselves and need more time to give you what you need to perform at competitively high levels.
  • You feel tired. Like all other signs, feeling tired is a normal part of elite training, but feeling tired all the time is not normal. If you’re overtired, you’ll find yourself unable to focus as you normally do, and you may also have a difficult time finishing workouts that you normally can accomplish with the same effort. You’ll also notice your reaction times suffer as well as your ability to process things like strategy, drills, and plays. You may even experience yourself having trouble with cognitive functions like recall. Coaches tuned into their team will notice these signs, but you need to stay dialed into these factors so you can self-assess as needed. Just like how you gauge your soreness, gauge how tired you’re feeling each week. You should notice these signs earlier than your coaches. Then you can give them a heads up on what you’re feeling so they can also assess your training regimen and performance.
  • You’re having trouble sleeping. It may sound counterintuitive to discuss sleep issues after explaining that you might be tired. After all, you probably figure that if you’re overtired you should have no trouble sleeping, but for elite athletes who train hard, the opposite is true. You have probably read that working out is a stress reliever, and it’s precisely that aspect that can actually cause sleep disturbances in elite athletes. When you train or work out even for fitness, your body releases stress hormones, which is how your body learns how to react and respond to stressful situations. When competing at high levels, you train so many hours each day that you may keep your body in a keyed-up state that prevents you from relaxing and sleeping normally. Trouble sleeping is easy to spot, so know your body and your sleep habits. Be aware of what workouts affect you most and cause issues when you need to sleep. Lack of sleep can have all the same effects on your athletic and cognitive performance, but it can also affect your immunity. So not only can you risk getting injured, but you can also risk getting sick.

When you notice these major signs, you need a rest day, but recovery doesn’t have to mean avoiding any activity at all. In fact, you can continue pushing yourself by using a Pilates reformer. A reformer takes the focus off of your sport-specific training and allows you still push yourself mentally and physically through an active recovery workout. A reformer gets your blood pumping, fueling your muscles with the nutrients they need to repair effectively.

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Talking About Your Need for a Recovery Day

Whether you’re on a scholarship or have a professional contract or are training to secure one, taking a day off even for an active recovery workout can feel scary. You may think you’ll lose ground or you may feel intimidated discussing your needs with your training and coaching staff, but your health and well-being drive your performance. So if you want to push yourself and train hard for high-performance sports, then you have to advocate for yourself and your need for recovery days.

Coaches and trainers put a lot of time into devising a training schedule, which takes into account ramping up your workouts to ensure all athletes are in prime condition for peak performance times. However, every athlete has different needs and responds to training differently. Your support staff understands this and is open to conversations about your individual needs. So be sure to bring it up when you notice signs that your body needs recovery at a different time than the rest of your team.

Here are some ways to advocate for yourself:

  • Bad workouts or extreme soreness: Whether you notice it, your coaches, or both, acknowledge the reality that everyone has a bad workout every once in a while, but point out to your coaches that consistently performing poorly in workouts is a sign for you that you need some additional recovery. If you’re feeling extreme soreness, describe to trainers what you’re feeling and how it’s unusual for you to be that sore after regular season workouts.
  • Sleep issues: Whether you’re tired or not getting the sleep you need, bring it up with your coaching staff to discuss strategies for additional recovery to get your sleep back on track. Keep track of the additional symptoms and tell them how the lack of sleep is affecting your cognitive and athletic performance.

One effective way to notice the signs you need a recovery day is to simply keep track of it. You don’t need a formal spreadsheet or fancy journal, but a training log is an important tool for every elite athlete. You should be tracking your levels of performance, soreness, and sleep and noting what affects you most. Keeping a training log is a way to show your coaches that you’re taking proactive measures to stay healthy for competition.

One way to keep yourself on track for both training and effective recovery, incorporate workouts on a Pilates reformer into your training schedule. These total-body workouts can reduce your risk of injury while also giving you an efficient way to take advantage of active recovery.

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