Fighting the “Mehs” - When Taking Some Time Off Is Good
Two weeks ago, I looked at the upcoming programming for my gym. The weeks to come strayed from our normal, focused training and emphasized a lighter vibe before we were to hit the next cycle of more serious training again. Week one would include a light approach to proficiency testing and the second week was dubbed “Fun Week,” a series of goofy partner workouts that included movements like thirty seconds of freestyle dancing and “dolphin burpees” - if you did not make a dolphin noise at the top of the burpee, the rep would not count. Normally I’d be stoked about this type of break from conventional workouts. But I just stared at the workouts, rereading them, waiting for some kind of excitement to kick in. It never did.
One great thing about being an athlete over forty is that I now understand that when I have zero excitement to work out, it’s time for a break. I no longer spend weeks trying to forcibly motivate myself back into it, or flog myself with endless insults about my lack of drive and determination. All the “come on!” and “just do it!” encouragements in the world are sometimes not enough - and are usually not what we need anyway.
I had hardly reached the more serious signs of overtraining, but the early signs were starting to subtly bleed through. Mostly notable was my loss of enthusiasm and I was starting to sleep worse. When I don’t sleep well, the fabric of my life starts to unravel. I was just tired, in general, and feeling “meh” about lifting anything.
So I took two weeks off completely from CrossFit. I vowed not to be lured into a workout no matter how fun things started to look or how many of my friends asked me to workout with them. Usually when I reminded them that I was taking a break, most of them said, “Oh yeah, good idea. Breaks are good.”
During the first week of my break, I had no trouble at all staying out of the gym, other than to coach. I ran a little, rode my bike, and played a little tennis. I even ran some stairs once, but other than having to put equipment away in the gym, I wasn’t even temped to lift a weight. In fact, when I had to demonstrate a kipping pull up for a beginning student in class, the thought that crossed my mind was: “But I’m on break!” My second thought was, “Uh oh, I hope I can still do one.” It’s funny what your mind will tell you when you make yourself rest completely. You will not lose all your strength taking a little time off. In fact, after initially easing back into your routine, you may feel stronger as your body has had time to actually recover. As Andrew Read says, “Training = work x rest.” Not work, work, work. Our bodies and minds just shut down after a while with too much work.
During the second week of my break, I concentrated a lot on re-cleaning up my diet. I tightened up the areas I had let slip a little. I think it’s always important to reevaluate your nutrition. Is it working? How do you feel? Did that last experiment work or bomb? I couldn’t pretend that my lagging energy was only caused by working out too much. Nutrition always plays a role. Always. And reevaluating only seems a natural part of the rest and recovery process.
During this second week, I was tempted to jump into a couple workouts. I didn’t, but I felt it was an encouraging sign that I was feeling better and wanted to get back in the game. In the past when I’ve become burnt out and bored with a particular type of workout, I’ve simply given it up and blamed it for not working well for me. That’s not to say the workout was working well for me or that it didn’t bore me after a while, but looking back I may have simply needed a break rather than proclaiming that it “wasn’t working.”
Today will be my first workout back in two weeks. I’m excited to go back, but I’m also a little nervous. I know to ease back in and not go for personal records today. I will spend today reconnecting with the fun and function of it all, which frankly is the point, right? Like many of you, I am an everyday athlete not trying to qualify for the Olympics or the CrossFit Games. I’m training for a great quality of life, prolonged health, balance, and fun. And to realistically achieve all of that, rest and a few breaks here and there must also play an integral part.
Don’t ignore the signs that you need a break or a rest - not even the early signs. Your body and mind will thank you.
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