Why You Should Never Miss a Rest Day

By Tom Farrow

Elite performance coach Tom Farrow is back for the second part of his series! The topic: things that everyone can learn from professional rugby players (and elite athletes in general).

Taking time to recover is vital in order to improve performance. Photo c/o Ashmei.

So, the World Cup is underway and we’ve already seen some great action and impressive upsets. Japan beating South Africa, for example, is a great example of why sport is so exciting and also demonstrates how high performance isn’t as simple as having the most experienced or physically imposing players. It’s the complexity of elite performance that makes me so interested in it. But having said that, when athletes or teams stick to some important key principles, they significantly increase their likelihood for success -- and you’re no different!

"We all think that training makes us better, but guess what? It doesn't."

Part 1 of this series on how to train like an elite athlete focused on what I think is the most important principle in training – don’t get injured. It’s the most important principle because if you do get injured, you will struggle to stick to this second principle: always seek to improve (and allow time to improve).

recovery is when you get better

We all think that training makes us better, but guess what? It doesn’t. You don’t get better when you’re training, you get better when you’re recovering! If you don’t allow time for this recovery, or if you train so hard you’re not recovered in time for your next training session, then you don’t improve.

When we talk about getting better through training, what we’re really referring to is the training process, and this is a process of stimulus and adaptation. The training session is the stimulus and the time between training sessions is when adaptation takes place. The way we become stronger, fitter or faster is by sending a signal (stimulus) to the body to do so and then the body responds by adapting to that stimulus by giving us a little bit more strength, speed or fitness than we had before.

The body and mind are always taking in the environment they exist in and always responding to it. So when we’re training, what we’re really doing is trying to convince the body that it lives in a world where it needs to be stronger, fitter or faster.

Under armour rugby

Photo c/o Under Armour

the body likes to supercompensate

The reason the body responds like this is because it doesn’t actually like working harder than it has to, so it always seeks to become more efficient. Which is why when you send a stimulus to the body it actually improves slightly more than is necessary, because it’s lazy and doesn’t want to have to improve again. This process is called supercompensation.

"Unless you continually perform a little bit more work each week, you will cease to improve."

If we continually send the same stimulus over and over again, it has less and less impact on our improvement each time we send it. This is a problem for those that get comfortable in a routine of the same classes/training programme each week. Initially the routines may be incredibly effective, but unless you continually perform a little bit more work each week (either more reps, more weight, more sets, more distance, more time, more speed – all depending on what your desired outcome is) you will cease to improve.

always seek to improve

Always seeking to improve doesn’t just affect performance goals, it also affects those with aesthetic, (body composition) related goals. From the perspective of burning calories in order to lose fat, if you repeatedly do exactly the same training it will utilise less and less calories each time you do it. Or if you’re looking to build muscle, doing exactly the same training will have less and less effect on how much extra muscle you gain, eventually resulting in no extra muscle in return for the time you’ve spent training. Whether you’re a man or woman, aesthetic focused training is essentially a balance between building muscle and burning fat. If you aren’t doing either of those things, your body composition won’t improve and you won’t look better on the beach!

be considerate and consistent

This doesn’t mean you need to change your schedule from week to week – a consistent schedule is actually much better at maintaining the habit of training – it just means you always need to be considerate of what your current ability is in order to push yourself slightly beyond it. But as we said in part 1, not too much!

This is the art of training: finding the balance between a stimulus that improves and one that over-exerts, and that point is different for everyone. Even for individuals it differs depending on the time of day, experiences of the day/previous days, current psychological state and many other factors, so (as we said in part 1), it’s very important to listen to your body. This applies to everyone; from elite athletes, to people aiming to improve body composition, to older individuals aiming to maintain the quality of life they’re used to. The only thing that differs is how the principle is manifested.

To summarise:
    • Be considerate of your current ability
    • Always seek to improve relative to this, and
    • Listen to your body and don’t overdo it!

Next up in part 3: a more specific rugby training principle that all fitness enthusiasts can learn from.

Tom Farrow is a Performance Coach and Personal Trainer. He is the founder of Areté Performance, a sports performance and personal training company based in London.