One of the hardest thing as a coach is to get a driven, ‘type A’ athlete to take an ‘easy week’.
“But, coach! How will I ever qualify for Kona sitting on my arse!”
And the funny thing is that, intellectually, these athletes know that rest and recovery is the key to getting stronger… But that doesn’t stop them falling into the trap of thinking ‘more is more’. For this reason, I thought it was worth talking through a few of the ‘whens’, ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the recovery week.
Good question! There are a couple of schools of thought here:
1) The regularly scheduled, (e.g. 3 weeks on, one week off’) rest week. Now, this isn’t a bad place to start, especially if you’re working with new or inexperienced athletes who don’t necessarily have the bodily awareness to know when they need to pull back. This can psychologically be a nice break as well; knowing they have a de-load week coming up can keep them motivated through tougher blocks of training.
However, and the reason I prefer option 2, is that option 1 can mean that athletes can sometimes end up taking rest periods when they quite frankly don’t need them.
2) The ‘when required’ rest period. The main reason I prefer this method is that it addresses the ‘motivation to take a break’ issue and at the same time allowing for optimal training load before we throw in a break.
There are a number of methods you can use to ‘call’ a rest week, but of course, all require good communication and collaboration with your athlete.
- Using data, (objective methods). The best example of this would be looking at ‘Training Stress Balance’ (TSB) in the Training Peaks, ‘Performance Management Chat’ (PMC). This indicates the cumulative training load an athlete has been under and paints a picture of how fatigued they may be.
Another data point we could look at is workout performance. If the athlete is struggling to hit pace, power, HR values they would normally have no problem sticking to on a normal basis… that’s a flag. Especially if this happens for a number of sessions in a row.
You could also look at ‘heart rate variability’ (HRV) as well. A consistent drop in HRV being a strong indicator that the central nervous system needs a break. But more on HRV in another post.
These provide the coach with a pretty good basis for kicking off a conversation about a rest period. But the data is far more compelling with…
- Mood/Motivation, etc, (subjective measures). These require that athlete being honest with themselves and with their coach, but if someone is displaying the following signs then it’s probably a good time to take a break.
- Lacking motivation to train
- Suffering mood swings
- Sleep disruption
- Brain fog/trouble concentrating
- etc, etc..
Most of the ‘why’ I’m not going to get into here, (i.e. the physical adaptations to training load)… this has been covered in detail elsewhere. And I’m not going to get into the obvious ‘mental break’ side of things either.
So what else is there?
- The social – taking time to catch up with friends and family. This often takes a back seat to hammering laps at the pool.
- Planning and education – If you must keep your heads in the game then you can use some of your newly freed up time to take a look at your season plans, reset goals, etc.
- Hobbies and interests – Chances are you’ve been neglecting some of your other passions, (especially if you’re a triathlete). So pick up that guitar and remind yourself that there is life outside of sport.
- Mobility and injury prevention – if you’re like most people you’ve probably been neglecting your foam roller and yoga sessions… you know what you have to do.
This will depend an awful lot on individual athlete and how much rest they actually require. A few considerations for variability on the ‘how’ are:
- A rest week doesn’t have to be a week! Some athletes, in some situations, will need 10 days, others might only need a 4-day block. Keep a track of the objective and subjective measures and amend as required.
- Rest and test. Periods of lower volume, where athletes are ‘fresher’ can be a good time to benchmark fitness with test sessions. This also gives the type A’s something to focus on too 🙂
- Gamify it! For the metric obsessed you can actively measure recovery metrics and make a game of it. Watch that HRV or TSB ramp back up and make sure you communicate it back to the athlete.
- Check in frequently. This will be more on the ‘subjective measures’ side of things… you’ll hear and see the life and motivation come back to your athlete.
- Keep an eye on workouts… especially for super driven people. Have a look at the uploads and make sure ‘easy runs’ aren’t sneakily becoming tempo sessions. You may need to pull your athletes up on this.
And there you have it. I’m keen to hear how you approach the ‘easy week’ below.