"It is also important to view rest and recovery as essential parts of training. As I have learned to implement this shift in mindset -- to appreciate time off and also recognize its challenges -- I have become a wiser, healthier and more balanced athlete."
I am someone who used to struggle a lot with taking time off from my sport. I never looked forward to taking a break in between seasons. I also still told myself that I had to do something during this time. Similarly, during times that I was injured, I felt that in order to compensate I had to work extremely hard and workout even more than I would if I was healthy.
Now, as I have grown and matured as a person and an athlete, I have learned that there is a HUGE and IMPORTANT differentiation between training hard and training smart.
As athletes, we are conditioned to work hard. When you grow up as an athlete or are involved in the world of athletics in any way, you are taught things like "give it everything you have," "do everything you can to be the best" and "sacrifice everything for success." While these attitudes toward sports are -- in one sense -- what may make an athlete stand out, they are also what can lead to injury and burn out down the road. It is unhealthy to hold yourself to these standards 100-percent of the time.
There becomes a balance that must be found and it comes from "giving it all you got" and working to be the best you can be at the right times. I used to believe that in order to be the best I had, I had to do everything that I possibly could at all times. Little did I know, however, that having this mindset 100-percent of the time led me to many injuries from over training and never giving my body a break.
Five years later, I realize the mindset I used to have which led me to overtrain and over focus on the wrong details, was rooted in lack of confidence, trust and belief in my future self. Now, as I've become older and wiser, I prioritize training. I work smarter not harder.
I trust myself that when it is time to train, lift or cross train, I will work in the right way. And I know that I will because working hard is in my nature. However, I also realize that in order to train smart, I have to be intentional about those days, which are meant to be easier and lighter in order to maximize my effort on a hard day. When my easy days are supposed to be easy nowadays, I take them easy. And when my body feels like it needs extra recovery, I listen to it.
This type of trust in your body is a hard thing to learn, but it is ultimately what will keep you healthy and maximize what you gain from workouts. It also comes with belief in yourself, in trusting that you will show up when it matters, whether it's in practice or competition.
But if we embrace it, our body and mind will reap many benefits from taking a small break. It's about a simple mindset shift: to embrace and appreciate the time and not let it stress you out that you aren't constantly training.
Some of the best athletes often say that the one thing more important than training is recovery and rest. The rationale behind this is that you can train as hard as you want for as long as you can, but you will not reap the benefits of this hard training if you don't allow your body to properly recover.
This is why I have tried to adopt the mindset of "quality over quantity." I try to remember that trusting the process of training is about knowing how to balance training and recovery so that I am able to reach my potential at the right time. It's not about reaching my potential in every given moment; it's about crafting my training and rest to reach my potential during championship season.
If you also find it difficult to take a break from your sport, either intentionally over an off time or because you're injured or sick, here are some ways, from my personal experience, in how you can come to appreciate this important time.
Taking time off from your sport in between seasons can be imperative to your success long term. Your body needs this time to rest. You work so hard during training cycles and an intentional week off is what your body needs to recover and reset for the next season.
It's a time where you can truly listen to your body's need to rest. If you feel like doing something, do it, but if you feel like you don't, don't. As athletes, this unstructured time off can often be stressful and unwanted. But if we embrace it, our body and mind will reap many benefits from taking a small break. It's about a simple mindset shift: to embrace and appreciate the time and not let it stress you out that you aren't constantly training.
Switch your mindset to actually view rest and off time as a part of training. It is intentional, and a key part of reaching your potential at the right time.
If you are injured, taking time off is also imperative to allow your body to heal. As I previously mentioned, my approach toward training when I was injured used to be to compensate and train extra hard to stay in shape. While maintenance of some fitness may be important, it will only delay the return to your sport when you don't allow your body to properly heal.
Know the limitations of your injury and listen to them. From my personal experience, I found that when I took my training by feel when I was injured and I didn't over do it, I came back refreshed, healthy and did not run into any additional injuries while I ramped up again. I cherished my body for its ability to heal and I gave it appropriate time and space to do so, while also moving it in ways that felt good and helped me maintain some (not all) of my fitness.
Again, it's really all about balance.
In conclusion, it can truly be a challenge for the dedicated athlete to take time off without stress and uncertainty. But it is also important to view rest and recovery as essential parts of training. As I have learned to implement this shift in mindset -- to appreciate time off and also recognize its challenges -- I have become a wiser, healthier and more balanced athlete.
Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a senior at the University of Delaware. She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This past spring, she was named on the CAA's Commissioner's Honor Roll. This is a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners.