Athletes: Make Rest a Strategic Part Of Your Off-Season Regimen

The St. Lucian high jumper, an Olympian and a 2015 NCAA champion at South Carolina, explains why being intentional about offseason relaxation and “active rest” are essential for any athlete who’s recharging for another year of competition.

The end of the season is finally here, and what a relief it is! The pressure has subsided, our bodies are tired, and it’s time to relax and refresh.

Rest—often overlooked—is an integral part of an athlete’s career. We push our bodies to their very limits, which requires immense mental focus, motivation and physical tenacity. You can’t overestimate the stress that our bodies and minds undergo to perform at a high level. This is why planning your rest period is as important as planning your training and competition schedule. Taking care of your body will extend the longevity of your career.

Planning Your Rest Period

Here are a couple of core ideas for planning your rest period and ensuring that after a long, tiring season, you’re refilling the tank in the right ways:

  1. Evaluate your season.
    First things first: You should always review and evaluate your season. Were there particular types of workouts that you noticed really helped
    to push the needle in your performances? Or did you learn something new about how your body reacts to particular foods you eat before race day? This is the time to take note of what worked and what didn’t, and to then determine what needs to change or remain the same for the coming season.
  2. Address lingering injuries.
    This tip is probably the most important, but often the most neglected. Many times when we get to the end of the season, because we are so tired and ready for a break, lingering issues are swept under the rug and forgotten. But if injuries are left unaddressed, they have a tendency to return when training begins again. If you have been dealing with an injury—or maybe even just a couple of niggles here and there—it’s a much better idea to meet with your physio, come up with a rehabilitation plan and implement the plan during your offseason rest period.
  3. Intentionally plan your rest.
    Resting can be hard for elite athletes. Because of the level at which we complete, we often tend toward extremes. This can, of course, be problematic during training periods, raising its head in the form of overtraining. It can also be a problem in the offseason, when we might feel like shutting down completely, becoming glued to the couch and starting a never-ending Netflix binge with pizza in hand. It’s very likely that your coach (and your future self) would prefer that you maintain some basic level of fitness during the offseason—nobody wants to start from square one when fall training begins. This is why it’s so important to sit with your coach beforehand and agree on what your rest will look like and how long it will last. This simple step will help reframe your rest period as an integral part of training rather than as a total departure from it.
  4. Include some active rest.
    The second reason taking time off can be difficult for elite athletes is the all-too-familiar guilt and even anxiety that can arise after the first week or two of rest. To non-athletes, this might sound crazy. You would assume that after a long, intense season—starting with preseason fitness training and painstaking preparation, and continuing through the long runs, intense weight room sessions, competition after competition, and the pressure and high stakes—that we athletes would soak up every single moment of time off! For the most part, we do. But when the rest period actually begins, it can sometimes be tough to take a legitimate break. Not working out can feel alien and downright lazy, even though we know our bodies need it! One solution is to incorporate healthy active rest. Choose an activity that is fun and low-intensity, but different enough from your sport that it challenges you. Personally, I love swimming during the offseason. It challenges different parts of my body than does athletics, and once I get into longer swims, it even becomes meditative, truly serving its purpose as an active rest mechanism not just for my body but also for my mind.
  5. Rest your mind.
    Rest is not only for your weary body, but also for your mind. Athletics is an intense sport, requiring extreme focus. This means that you need to find a way to take a mental break from it all. That might involve traveling somewhere far away from your normal places and routines, or it could mean returning to your hometown for some family time with loved ones and friends. Dedicate some relaxation time specifically for your mind so that when it’s time to turn the focus on again, your mind is well rested and ready to go.

Above all, this period should be full of things that bring you joy and enable you to feel refreshed. Whatever you choose to do, know that you’ve put in the work and it’s time to enjoy your well-deserved rest. Recharge and get ready to do it even better next season. Onward to 2021! See you in Tokyo!

 

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