You have been training for months. Every day, you listen to your running shoes rhythmically slap against the asphalt, intently focused on the dark blue line at the bottom of your swimming lane, and felt the burn in your quads as you pedaled up just one more hill. So why can’t you go even faster or further?
If this question has popped into your mind at some point along your training journey, don’t fret, you are not alone.
Training is much more than just logging extensive mileage. Of course, it is a major piece of the puzzle, but it is simply not enough to make you achieve your personal best time or enjoy the process. What’s worse, you could seriously injure yourself.
Embracing a holistic approach to training, including knowing your “why”, the benefits of proper nutrition, and the importance of rest days, will hurtle you across the physical or metaphorical finish line in a faster, healthier, and more satisfying way.
When you think about your fitness, first consider why it is important for you to exercise.
What is your “why”?
We are not talking about a surface-level “why,” such as “I want to lose weight” or “I want to run a marathon.” Those goals are fine, but why do you want to lose weight or run a marathon?
Don’t skip this step, as it may mean the difference between significant, long-lasting results and no results at all. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.
To help you figure it out, try using the “5 Whys” technique. For instance:
1. Why do you want to run a marathon?
Because I want to feel a sense of achievement.
2. Why do you want to feel a sense of achievement?
Because achieving this run makes me feel energized and confident.
3. Why is that important?
Because feeling energized and confident allows me to achieve my personal and professional goals.
4. Why is that important?
Reaching personal and professional goals will allow me to live a fulfilling life.
Because… because that’s why!
By the time you reach your fifth “why,” you will have a solid understanding of what you are training for.
Having a strong sense of why you are training and knowing the emotional reason behind your goals will give you a clear vision, determination, and the energy required to put in the work that is necessary to achieve your goals, especially on the days when you don’t feel like training.
Your underlying motivators will kick in and get you out of bed and out the door to live your best life and achieve your wildest dreams.
Another vital component of training is nutrition. You need to focus on hydrating and fueling your body with the aim of improving athletic performance. You can run longer, lift more, swim further, or do whatever sport you want with the right nutrition.
Whether you are a competing athlete, a weekend sports player, or a dedicated daily exerciser, the foundation to improved performance and a faster recovery is a nutritionally adequate diet.
A basic training diet should:
Include a wide variety of foods like wholegrain breads and cereals, vegetables (particularly leafy green varieties), fruit, lean meat, and low-fat dairy products.
Provide adequate fluids to ensure maximum hydration before, during, and after exercise.
Broadly speaking, your energy intake should be divided into:
45 to 65% from carbohydrates
15 to 25% from protein
20 to 35% from fat
If you exercise strenuously for over 60 to 90 minutes every day, you may need to increase the amount of energy you consume, particularly from carbohydrate sources.
You may also need to consider your caloric needs, macronutrient amounts and ratios, meal and snack timings, vitamins and minerals for recovery and performance, and hydration. Tailoring these considerations to your body weight and composition, the amount of time spent training, and the type of sport you do can dramatically improve your performance.
Last, but certainly not least, comes rest.
When you are in the training zone and really loving your workouts, it is tempting to skip rest days. We get it, you are noticing great progress, your energy levels are buzzing, and every session leaves you grinning. Working out more can only be a good thing, right?
Not necessarily. Exercise, like most things in life, is all about balance. While it is great you want to push yourself harder, time out is as vital as working out.
Rest days allow your body and your mind time to recover between workouts. They stop you from burning out, injuring yourself, and losing your mojo, and ensure you are ready and able to give your next session everything you’ve got. They also give your body time to adapt to your training and grow stronger and fitter.
In short, if you want to enjoy sustained progress, you're going to have to put your feet up occasionally. But how many rest days should you take?
The amount of rest days each person needs varies. It can depend on a variety of factors including the duration of your workouts, your current fitness level, goals, age, and genetics.
Rest days don't have to be spent vegging out watching Netflix, though. Active recovery – which means very gentle, low-impact exercise – can work in your favor, too. Taking a walk, playing with your dog in the park, stretching, and self-massage with a tool like a foam roller all work.
Ultimately, rest days help you get stronger, avoid injuries, make fitness progress, train even harder, and build long-term good habits.
Overall, if you embrace a holistic approach to your training program, you will benefit from improved physical and mental health and are guaranteed to achieve your fitness goals.