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That’s right. Rest. You will not fall off the wagon. You will not lose muscle mass, mobility, or skill. You will, rather, more proactively integrate the positive adaptations from exercise, learning, and self-growth which you so diligently seek.

So often we forget to check in with what matters most – the way we feel! We measure progress by stepping on the scale or looking in the window every time we walk by. We analyze ourselves in the mirror and listen to the chatter of judgement that is constantly going on in our heads. We aren’t guilty of judging other people, we are most often guilty of judging ourselves.

In fact, we create reverence for others who appear to be in better shape than us, happier than us, or just killing it more than we are. This state of envy is formed off of false perceptions created by the highlight reels of people’s lives.

As an athlete, CrossFit classes are a part of your daily routine. Routines are important and they keep you ahead in the game. While working out 7 days a week you’re seeing progress and results in your fitness. Then all of sudden you start to plateau. You aren’t peaking during workouts anymore. Maybe you don’t sense the same level of energy and enthusiasm for your self-care practices.

You think the answer is to train harder so that your fitness doesn’t fall behind. You start doing extra credit workouts three days a week. You are in such a sympathetic nervous system activation state that you can’t wind down at night and start having trouble sleeping. Do this for a few weeks and no longer are you plateauing. You are just burned out. The progress and improvements you were working for simply fall away. This is what overstressing the body, which is so common today, will lead to. A burn out into a heaping pile of discontent and visceral unhappiness.

Our nervous systems need time to recover. Throughout life, we are in a constant flux of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activation which tells our bodies to “fight or flight” or “rest and digest”. We need both nervous system states to be function well for us to look and feel our best. Our ability to balance between these nervous system states is manifested in our adaptability or our ability to manage all of life’s inputs appropriately. A common metric utilized to measure our ability to manage life’s inputs is Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV scores tell us how well we recover from inputs (i.e. fitness, stress at work, nutrition, etc) and shift between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system states. When our HRV is relatively high that means we have a good balance in life and are adapting well to life’s inputs. Conversely, when our HRV is low we are in a constant “fight or flight state”. That means our bodies working in overdrive and unable to properly recover and attain the positive adaptations to fitness which we are working toward. Excess stress is therefore manifested as poor physical and mental performance, suffering well-being, and less than optimal body composition. [1]

So, here’s a tip: Train SMART, not hard and you probably guessed it, REST.

Here are some key ways to unwind, relax, and allow your body to recover so that you can return to your beloved routine for making yourself more awesome every day:

  1. Foam roll before bed. Foam rolling helps to relieve tension in the body and helps you wind down for a great night sleep.
  2. Create a sleep ritual to improve the quality of sleep.
    1. Light some candles
    2. Take a hot bath or shower
    3. Listen to relaxing music.
    4. Drink herbal decaffeinated tea.
    5. Anything else that will help you wind down.
  3. Learn and practice meditation. Research proving the benefits of meditation is extensive. Positive effects from meditating are profound and ubiquitous to all body systems. This is a topic which calls for a dedicated post. [2,3]
  4. Put your electronics away at least an hour before bed. Use this time to read, have a conversation with a loved one, or for intimacy with your partner. [4-6]
  5. Turn down the thermostat to 65 – 67 degrees. [7-9]
  6. Take at least one complete rest day each week which may include grocery shopping or other self-care/household tasks that get your blood flowing. Also, make at least one active recovery day a part of your normal training regimen.
  7. Practice breathing techniques for a few minutes each day. Examples include the 4-7-8 technique, box breathing, or these stress management breathing techniques:
    1. Northwestern Medicine Breathing Techniques
    2. University of Michigan Breathing Techniques
  8. Get restorative rest with a complete break from work, fitness, and other stressors at least two days each quarter. Maybe go camping, on a long hike, or just stay at home and do absolutely nothing.
  1. Kim HG, Cheon EJ, Bai DS, Lee YH, Koo BH. Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature. Psychiatry Investig. 2018 Mar;15(3):235-245. doi: 10.30773/pi.2017.08.17. Epub 2018 Feb 28. Review. PubMed PMID: 29486547; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5900369.
  2. Rusch HL, Rosario M, Levison LM, Olivera A, Livingston WS, Wu T, Gill JM. The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2019 Jun;1445(1):5-16. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13996. Epub 2018 Dec 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 30575050; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6557693.
  3. Dentico D, Ferrarelli F, Riedner BA, Smith R, Zennig C, Lutz A, Tononi G, Davidson RJ.Short Meditation Trainings Enhance Non-REM Sleep Low-Frequency Oscillations. PLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0148961. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148961. eCollection 2016. PubMed PMID: 26900914; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4764716.
  4. Van Someren EJ. Mechanisms and functions of coupling between sleep and temperature rhythms. Prog Brain Res. 2006;153:309-24. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(06)53018-3. Review. PubMed PMID: 16876583.
  5. Kräuchi K. The human sleep-wake cycle reconsidered from a thermoregulatory point of view. Physiol Behav. 2007 Feb 28;90(2-3):236-45. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.09.005. Epub 2006 Oct 16. Review. PubMed PMID: 17049364.
  1. Gilbert SS, van den Heuvel CJ, Ferguson SA, Dawson D. Thermoregulation as a sleep signalling system. Sleep Med Rev. 2004 Apr;8(2):81-93. doi: 10.1016/S1087-0792(03)00023-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 15033148
  1. Tähkämö L, Partonen T, Pesonen AK. Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm. Chronobiol Int. 2019 Feb;36(2):151-170. doi: 10.1080/07420528.2018.1527773. Epub 2018 Oct 12. PubMed PMID: 30311830.
  1. Cho Y, Ryu SH, Lee BR, Kim KH, Lee E, Choi J. Effects of artificial light at night on human health: A literature review of observational and experimental studies applied to exposure assessment. Chronobiol Int. 2015;32(9):1294-310. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2015.1073158. Epub 2015 Sep 16. Review. PubMed PMID: 26375320.
  2. Touitou Y, Reinberg A, Touitou D. Association between light at night, melatonin secretion, sleep deprivation, and the internal clock: Health impacts and mechanisms of circadian disruption. Life Sci. 2017 Mar 15;173:94-106. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2017.02.008. Epub 2017 Feb 16. Review. PubMed PMID: 28214594.