Rest is a weapon. That’s what I tell my athletes. I love coaching an over-eager athlete who chomps at the bit, who yearns to work harder, for longer, with less recovery, and sometimes, with less food. I love teaching that athlete when to rest. Once they truly learn this lesson, they never forget it.
Many smart coaches have said that we DO NOT GET STRONGER from training. We get stronger from RECOVERING from training. This is a fact. Hit a true soul-sucking 20RM back squat. Rest 1 hour and try to hit that same number again. If your load was a true max, you won’t be able to best it. Even the next day, good luck. A week later, you still may have trouble. The intensity of an activity can put you in a state of fatigue, masking your fitness.
Another popular saying is this: Fatigue masks fitness. I have a great example of this. Last year, I was fortunate to train the first female smoke jumper in 10 years to pass through the Boise base. She is an absolute beast of a woman with a huge heart. For her, I programmed 5-6 days of workouts each week for 6 months. I peaked her training volume one month out from the Boise camp at 20 hours of training. At this point, she was almost broken. If she tested then, she would have produced garbage numbers. Instead, over the next four weeks, I steadily decreased the training volume following a taper similar to competition preparation for Olympic Gymnasts. It worked like a charm. She PT tested on camp day 1 after her four-week taper and crushed her all-time best marks. Two weeks later, she was well into the grueling 40-hours of physical training/week training camp, but when she performed a second PT test during camp week 3, she surpassed her first week marks despite the crazy volumes and camp demands! Even though she trained less and rested more during the final four weeks before camp, she produced performance bests that she had never before touched. She learned how to use rest as a weapon.
Due to her success last year, I fortunately gained referrals to smoke jumper hopefuls for this year. One smokejumper candidate I currently train has run ultramarathons. Think back to the overeager athlete dying to work long and hard from above… that’s her. Yesterday, she performed her programming out of order and ran 16 miles of varied terrain trail at a fast pace, followed by high volume speed training. She was SMOKED today! This morning, she took a PT test, an important measurement of her current fitness. My programming specified taking a day or two of rest before PT testing so she could hit this fresh, but she attempted testing with no days of rest, resulting in a poor performance. She found it bewildering that her pull-up, push-up and sit-up numbers decreased considerably after the high running volume from the day before. I explained that even though she did not perform any specific upper body training the day before, she did smash her nervous system pretty hard by running those fast intervals after the long trail run, which could have significantly down-regulated her nervous system’s ability to produce upper body force the next day. Simply put, she was physically beat down. During a long phone call after her test, I explained that her true abilities are masked by accumulated fatigue. I also reassured her that she will be in the best shape of her life if she patiently follows the recovery parameters built into her program! I guaranteed her that come camp time in mid-April, she will be in ludicrous shape.
The same rules apply to you. Rest for your goals. Work hard, yes! But work smart as well. You recover when you rest. Fatigue masks fitness. We adapt by recovering from training. Training in a recovered state allows you to produce greater bouts of intensity and maintain increased volumes, and these drive compounded adaptations! So if you’re ever stuck in a plateau, take a few days to a week off and come back fresh, or follow a true deload week. You’ll be thankful you did.