Importance of Active Rest for Recovery and Burnout Prevention
By: Ryan Kirkpatrick, B.S., C.S.C.S., USA-W
The process of burnout is due to a prolonged stress on the body without correct rest and recovery time. Resulting in a physical and psychological breakdown. Stress can come from many sources. A good example of stress would be resistance exercises. The purpose of resistance exercise is to load stress onto the body with the intention of stimulating adaptation to the stressor resulting in greater performance. The more intense a training session is the more fatigue. Recovery is an essential component to combat the effects of fatigue. During an athlete’s sports season there is stress on the body and everything that one does outside of their sport effects their fatigue and recovery as well. The more stress and fatigue put on the body will result in a “fatigue debt” and as it deepens it becomes increasingly harder to come out of. With training you want to feel the stress from training and yes a slight decrease in performance will occur but this is temporary. With proper recovery following the stress and fatigue of training recovery will take place and performance gains can occur. Ideally an increase in performance over the baseline in which you started.
Understanding how hard to push training and how to back off for recovery is crucial. We want slight overtraining, but not to the point where recovery results in a return to baseline performance. Understanding the progression to burnout and its effects is important when dealing with athletes.
Overtraining is this loading of higher volumes and intensities for a period of time with an understanding that a taper, or decrease in training volume will result in performance gains. There can be positive overtraining and negative overtraining. Positive overtraining is where we see an increase in performance. Negative overtraining resulting from overreaching can be contributed to individual differences in the ability to handle stress, or poor recovery which can result in staleness. Staleness results in a decrease in performance, not being able to maintain training load, and is an early warning sign of burnout. If training continues in the staleness phase you are building fatigue on an already fatigued system and no positive attributes can be reached. Burnout is the final stage and results in a “state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion brought on by persistent devotion to a goal”.
There are certain characteristics that someone in burnout may have. Headaches, weight loss or gain, depression, depersonalization, irritable, exhaustion (physical and mental), and a general lack of interest. Burnout has three distinct stages. Stress arousal; where we see irritability, headaches, and insomnia. Stress conservation stage; decreased desire, fatigue, social withdrawal. The final stage is the exhaustion stage. Signs of chronic sadness and depression, extreme antisocial behavior and thoughts of self harm. Efforts to help reverse burnout should be taken before exhaustion stage is reached.
In or fast paced and competitive society sadly burnout is now becoming more prevalent in youth. With youth were not talking only about resistance training it is the structure of highly competitive sports. Youth is now being directed to identify and stick to one sport to better their chances of playing at higher levels later in their young lives. It does not allow young athletes to spend enough time with peers outside of sport, or playing other sports causing young athletes to focus solely on identifying with athletic success, which can be unhealthy when it results in injury or failure. Youth that cannot have down time or a change from playing year round are building the physical and psychological stress which can potentially result in burnout. We see this happen with some athletes that have been playing year round in one sport since they were five or six only to quit playing once they reach high school and give up the “dream” of making it big in that particular sport.
With most things in life taking the time to recharge the batteries does wonders to the body and mind. Burnout can be prevented and treated with a few key ideals. Establishing short term goals, keeping a positive outlook, understanding emotions and communicating emotions to others, taking “time-out” to relax, learn self regulation skills (imagery, positive self talk, relaxation), and staying in good physical condition. Another important factor of recovery is utilizing what we call ‘active rest’ following high level competition. As a competitive athlete in two high level and demanding sports I learned the importance of active rest and communicate this to the collegiate and youth athletes under my professional supervision. Active rest is low intensity exercise following a period of high intensity training. In the short term, it hastens recovery by helping to speed lactic acid removal and increase blood circulation. In addition, it gives the athlete time to mentally decompress after a highly psychologically stimulating training session or competitive event. Understanding how to interpret and manage stress be it physical or mental is pivotal in performance development and longevity of sport or activity. In summary, the most vital components of achieving this goal is through incorporating a variety of training sessions into development of overall physical condition, staying attentive to how your athlete is feeling both mentally and physically on a daily basis, and utilizing active rest to speed recovery, keeping them mentally and physically healthy until their long term goals are realized.