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Why are some athletes OK with training 7 days/week (1 day being just movement, without any actual physical stress) and others, like me, need a day off? In a Science of Ultra podcast with Dr. Shawn Bearden, Dr. Shona Halson, Senior Recovery Physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport, clued me in.
It depends on one’s own psychological landscape.

There are athletes who have trouble taking a day off. They feel stressed if not engaged.

Then there are those, like me, whose mind is quietened and strengthened by regularly turning off sport specific focus.

I found through experience that just “ticking the legs over” as an easy day stressed me mentally, which decreased my ability to recover and hampered growth. Why? Because I need that day to do something completely different, organise stuff in my life, or do nothing at all. That time allows me to recharge, improve my health over time, and concentrate more fully in training the other six days.

Stephen Magness and Brad Stulberg write in ‘Peak Performance‘,
Stress + Rest = Growth
• Training breaks us down–mind & body.
• Restoration builds us up.

“Recovery and sleep are just as important as what you are doing on the track, on the road, and in the pool. …Put the same focus on recovery as you put on training.”

Athletes: observe patterns in mood and performance markers; and talk to your coaches.
Coaches: learn more about your athletes; and adjust training schedules accordingly.

Go to bed an hour earlier!
An extra 1 hour/night of sleep = 7 hours more sleep per week. That’s almost an extra full night of sleep every week! Sleep improves performance by a tangible amount: so, instead of trying to get in an extra 30-45 minutes of training, do something easier, and that’s known to increase mental and physical performance–SLEEP.

Dr. Halson also points out that our perception of health habituates over time. Thus, although we may be sleep deprived we may not recognise it but increasing amount and quality of sleep improves physiological and biological functions.

On another note, sleep removes amyloid plaque and tau tangles from the neurones in the brain. It’s that waste that leads to mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s. No matter who you are, you would most likely benefit from sleeping more.