Holy J’s on my feet, fam! (Just bought my first pair of actual J’s a few weekends ago in Chicago. Excited. Obsessed.)
Yes, you read the title right. Yes, I took a week off, and oh yes, you’re about to get all the deets on how I reacted to that mess.
In the world of “training like an athlete,” there’s this thing called rest, and if you’re me, the only time you “rest” is during sleep if your body decides to cooperate. Some nights sleep doesn’t come, even though you put in 3 hours at the gym, plus a hike and several long walks with the pup.
I’m a go-til-I-drop person. I don’t really know (or like) limits, and I’ve trained myself to keep pushing when I should probably stop. For evidence, here’s this revelatory conversation I had with a friend recently:
As you can see, this “Let’s ignore everything and keep going, yay!” business made me Resident No. 1 of Overtraining Capital. Three years ago, I was Captain Ouchy, Mayor of Hip Hurty City. Notorious overtrainer.
I knew this going into my first Competitive Trifecta Spartan season, and I promised I’d be honest about my limits. And while I was (sorta), I didn’t always follow-through. I cut back on some lifts and workouts when the bod was saying, “Yo… Cool that you’re tough and all, but uh, we hurt. Chill.”
More often, the internal monologue went thusly:
Body: Hey bro. I know you’re addicted to your exercise endorphins, but uhm, we didn’t eat enough protein or get enough sleep the last couple days. Maybe make it a light day?
Me: Oh… Uhm… Okay… How bout I run 4 miles instead of 5… at a 10-second slower pace?
Body: Yeah… Gonna need more than that. Maybe pick: Spartan or lift today.
Me: What if I do my Spartan workout AND my lifts… but not shoot hoops for an hour after?
Body: Yeah, do that, but also, do less of something else, too.
Me: *feels guilt/fear, wonders if this will sabotage entire season, if this will be the difference between kicking major ass and competing like a mediocre noob (which I am, but don’t want to seem)* Uhm… Okay. *mentally decides to take out one exercise and maybe not do some lunges during the Spartan WOD because the knees have been hurting abnormally lately*
Body: …You know I can hear your internal monologue, right? I do not approve. This is not enough. Take something else out.
Me: Okay. *doesn’t, goes for 2 hour hike with Shadowpup later*
This is standard. And also stupid. I am completely aware, and you cannot be stubbornly stupid without a price.
I know not every workout should leave me obliterated. And while I “know” this, I push anyway. I spend roughly 2.5-3 hours a day at the gym between Spartan and weightlifting, not counting days I shoot hoops, or Stairmaster, or row, or whatever else sounds appealing after. I used to lift to burnout every day and then couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t execute a single pull-up. (I’m smart and dumb. Hello, my name is Bossey Boots, and I make no sense.)
It became clear that I needed a week to fully rest. I knew it was going to be tough; I didn’t like the idea, but the best choices are often the most difficult. (Thanks Dad.)
The Week Before
The “what if” squad took residence in my thoughts.
I’m prone to anxiety and depression, and have struggled with both since hormones officially “made me a woman.” Nature is so neat.
What combats them best is plenty of sun, hikes, and exercise-induced endorphins. It’s the primary reason why I’m now so exercise-obsessed. Correlational relationship: The more I exercise, the better and happier I feel. Conversely, the Ick Feels are more manageable when they do show up if I’m well-worked. I’m far more even-keel than I used to be.
Anyway, I spent the week leading up to my “vacay” trying not to obsess over what could go wrong. Would I feel low? Would I have to battle back the “bitch squad” of thoughts that come along with depression? Would I be itchy/anxious/dying to get to the gym?
I didn’t question whether I’d stick with it – I knew I was at a point where I didn’t have a choice.
There were also other questions: What if my body actually feels better? What if I don’t want to get back into it after a week off?
(A split second later, I laughed. Yeah, right. That’ll never happen.) What will I do with all that extra free time usually spent working out?
I let thoughts come and go, not giving too much attention to the negatives. If I fed into that, I knew I’d never make it through the coming week.
The Week Off
I decided to utilize active rest, knowing that loafing wouldn’t be beneficial. I needed time to recover and repair, not to turn into a koala-sloth hybrid (Each sleep for 18 and 20 hours a day, respectively).
I planned to do some pool-work, but the CRWC decided to drain their pool. Of course.
So, I improvised with HotHouse Yoga (yessssss), low-effort stationary biking while reading, long walks with pup, a morning of shooting around, and lots of foam rolling. (Apologies to my apartment neighbors for all the strangled sounds of pain and torment.) And I even took an entire day off – no active rest.
I had more aches/pains/knots in areas than I was aware. When I stopped being in constant “go mode”, my body was able to better communicate,
“YO, HEY, WE HAVE A HUGE KNOT RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS QUAD!”
“OH AND ALSO THERE’S THAT RECURRING KNOT UNDERNEATH YOUR SHOULDER BLADE! THOUGHT THAT GOT BETTER, DIDN’T YA? NOPE!”
“OH, AND HEY, THAT KNOT IS CAUSING A RIPPLE EFFECT INTO YOUR LEFT BICEP AND TRICEP, SO YOU SHOULD WORK THOSE OUT!”
“OH, AND WAIT! IT BANDS ARE TIGHT, WHICH LIKELY MEANS YOU’RE NOT USING YOUR GLUTES PROPERLY. OOPS!”
I also learned how to roll out my lats, and holy bananas, that is un-fun. The golf ball-plantar fasciitis roll comes at a wicked close second.
The Week After
It was a most educational week. I read loads of articles via Outside Online (new obsession). I start and end my days that way, even if the material I’m reading has nothing to do with training (like the mysterious disappearance of The Bear Lady).
I found areas that need regular TLC. I taught myself handy (uncomfortable), beneficial stretches. I need to make besties with the foam roller. While I have been avidly working on hip balance and strength to combat my incessant hip flexor problems, there’s always more for mobility and range of motion.
Time off gave my body much needed rest, which gave my muscles more time to grow. My lifts increased. I crushed 20 burpees in a minute with ease, where I used to kill myself to get 15. Form dramatically improved. I’d been having difficulty maintaining good form (which I’m a freak about), likely because my muscles just needed a break.
Best of all, my mental and emotional well-being didn’t suffer. I was convinced I’d feel depressed or wildly anxious. I thought high-intensity driven endorphins were the only solution. Turns out, a good mix is probably best for both my mind and my body.
So, what’s the verdict?
Complete the week and get back at it, relieved to not have to take any more time away from the gym.
Actively searching for other ways to work my body that don’t require a daily beating.
Hey, even this stubborn HBIC can learn new habits.