I bounced into a rock on Sunday.
I was on my bike, turning through a downhill berm at Mountain Creek Bike Park. I popped out of the turn over a small roller, which turned out to be a straight shot downhill. Whoops.
A bike that’s in the air isn’t a very controllable bike, and a bike that is parallel to the ground won’t be very controllable when it lands. As my bike skidded down the trail, I bounced behind it, across the trail and into a rock. Getting back up took a few minutes. It was awesome.
My friend Steve helped triage ride and rider while I realized that I’ve spent far too long not getting the wind knocked out of me. Getting up sucked. Getting back down the mountain sucked. Heading back up was exhilarating, because that’s just what you do. As we rode the lift back to the top of the mountain, I checked my Tweeter feed. I realized crashing was a learning experience.
Don’t worry, it wasn’t one of those overwrought, “Fall down 6 times, get back up 7.” Please, that just explains the rest of the day. No, I’m thinking physiology. I’m thinking about stressors. Particularly how we respond to and adapt to them.
My accumulated level of ‘hurt’ on Sunday is one that all athletes are familiar with. “I can finish this activity, but tomorrow is going to suck.” Normal, right? We’ve all been there. Balancing that fine line is absolutely up to you, but let’s talk about it first.
Most of the folks that I know are historically bad at balancing training stress, and stress in general. The big problem with stressors, training, and the idea of ‘overtraining’ is that there are seldom things that our body can’t do; we just need to give ourselves the opportunity to adapt to it. We’re rarely over-trained: We’re just under-recovered. There’s a difference.
In strength training land, it’s become common to associate Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) as indicative of ‘good’ training, so it’s often an internalized baseline of what’s necessary for results. If you’ve internalized regular soreness as a good thing, I challenge that you’re not getting the best results possible.
It’s not that you’re working too hard; keep that shit up. It’s that you’re not providing yourself with adequate recovery time. If you’ve just swung a kettlebell for 45 minutes, and decide to follow that with a 90 minute hot yoga class, followed by happy hour four hours at the bar, staying out until 2am, then waking up at 6:30 to repeat that while experimenting with intermittent fasting, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Okay, so maybe not fail, per say, but I believe you’re limiting your ability to thrive in our modern world. Everywhere we turn, we hear about stress. There’s stress everywhere, from traffic jams, late subway cars, arguments on Facebook, failing relationships, and the worst plight of the 21st century; when you drop from 4G to 3G.
We thrive on our ability to survive stress. A simple search of fitness motivation pictures shows you sweaty fitness models and quotes deemed to be motivational. I often interpret them as, “Here’s a great excuse to be an asshole to yourself, avoid reflecting practice, work harder to matter what, and eventually just feel like crap.” Here’s an example:
Maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that we can avoid failing in the first place. It’s a right of passage, yes, but you don’t need to make the same mistakes people have been making just to feel determined or accomplished.
Discussing strategies to reduce stress are ill-fated; we live in a world where you’re more likely than not to ignore the recommendation to put your computer away before bed, and when we militantly demand standing desks for all, it’s easy to press ⌘+W and close the window.
So, how can we start looking at some of our more demanding activities and events as training stressors? It’s easier than you think.
First, let’s check out your physical load during the week. Our standard Monday-Friday work week leaves Saturday and Sunday as the big days to go out and party and play hard. In my case, it’s riding your bike into rocks. For you, it may be golf, dancing, romancing; it’s anything you want. If you can expect your Saturday and Sunday to be crazy, why don’t we bookend them with two days that we know won’t be as crazy?
That means you should automatically set aside Monday and Friday as ‘recovery’ days. This recovery could be because you’re mentally and/or physically sore, but respect those days. Perhaps your training session is 20% calmer than you’d otherwise train. Perhaps you replace strength training with a walk or spin class. Maybe you decide to DVR your favorite show so that you can watch it another night, and you nail your 7-9 hours of sleep. If you’re waving the Weekend Warrior flag high, protect those days with calmer days so you can rock your weekends.
Finding this high day/ low day balance can be huge for allowing yourself adequate recovery time. We mentally need activity that makes us feel challenged, accomplished, and often as a result, tired. When that’s the case, we physically need activity that helps us develop fitness while simultaneously energizing us for our next bout of badassery.
My most recent article for the Mark Fisher Fitness blog discussed four of my favorite strategies to recover from the stressors of daily living and training. Quite often our efforts for health & hotness domination are squelched not by our mindset or dedication, but by the misguided belief that more is better. Training hard is tough stuff, and the first thing we need to do is assess our lifestyle so that we can train smarter before we train harder.
Check it out here:
Training harder and harder and harder is akin to crashing into a rock again and again without ever changing how you do things. Take the time to reflect on how your behaviors impact how you achieve your goals, and consider that sometimes, we need to spent less time working hard and more time working easy. Then decide what you’re going to get after today.