“Over-training” is a term that is thrown around a lot, and I’m not sure if everyone truly understands its meaning when they use it. I have seen some coaches and even doctors scare kids and adults out of sports and other physical activities for fear of “over-training,” and on the other hand, I have seen this used by athletes to avoid a rigorous training schedule. It can be very tricky to know when a scenario is truly dangerous for the athlete and when an athlete is just making excuses to skip a workout. The balance of the body breaking down and building back up is a tricky dance. Think of your body like the bucket of water below, in order to keep it full you have to constantly replenish it with recovery strategies so that it doesn’t drain completely. Life is stressful, you can’t avoid it, work, school, kids, parents and training all take energy away from us and if we don’t find ways to fill our bucket back up we will start to notice changes in the form of bad moods, crappy workouts or even injury.
Every year with my pros we get to a point where they are training really hard for weeks, and they start to notice their energy levels drop, their mood changes and their performance at practice starts to slip. This is usually the time we have the conversation about their recovery strategies and lifestyle choices. We discuss what they have been eating, how much sleep they’ve been getting, talk through some life and family situations etc. Usually these talks uncover what the true problem is, they are under-recovered.
How the nervous system regulates your bucket
The nervous system is the control panel of the body, without your brain talking to muscles and every other cell in your body you’d be dead. Without digging too deep into neuroscience let's talk about two sections of the nervous system, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS) and (SNS).These two can be seen as opposing forces in terms of keeping our bucket full. The PNS is best known for RESTING and DIGESTING, while the SNS is known as the FIGHT or FLIGHT type of responses. When it comes to training and dealing with daily stressors our SNS takes on the brunt of the workload draining our bucket while the PNS is responsible for resting and restoring, making sure that we can absorb the nutrients from our food and build new tissues that have been broken down from training, filling our bucket back up. You can’t have one without the other, the trick is finding the harmony between the two. This comes with a great deal of self awareness and the right team to provide you with the proper feedback and tools to help keep you in balance.
One of the easiest things you can do for recovery is breath work.
One of the best and most underutilized tools I have used with athletes ranging from Major leaguers to little leaguers is restorative breathing. Many people take breathing for granted and those that learn how to use it can tap into their Parasympathetic nervous system and lower their heart, calm their mind and relax their body, all of which fill up our bucket. One way of practicing restorative breathing is by lying on your back in a relaxed position. Then place one hand over your heart and the other over your belly button. From here try to inhale so that only your hand over your belly rises as your belly inflates without your other hand rising. This teaches you how to breathe into your belly and not into your chest and neck region. Try to increase the length of your inhales and exhales to 4-6 seconds each.
I highly recommend everyone consider adding in breath work into their daily routine. There are many other important recovery techniques that should be incorporated as well such as sleep, nutrition and having a systematic training plan, but for starters let's start with one thing we will do thousands of times each day, breathing.
Read more about training patterns and not muscles HERE