Here at FIT, we are always encouraging clients to set goals to work towards. In the busy world that we all live in, however, these goals are unfortunately often undermined by “life events” and other time constraints that derail us. It’s amazing though, that sometimes these life events are just what we need to help push us over the edge in our performances and other goals.
Be it fat loss, a faster 10k time, or bigger numbers in the gym, it is important to set realistic and attainable goals. All of us are familiar with the S.M.A.R.T method goal setting: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. We systematically help our clients work towards these goals with what we do in the gym, as well as guidance for the other 120+ hours per week outside of the gym (and sometimes even with homework). Recently though, we had a client who took a three week vacation and still managed an incredible feat when she returned to her workouts: a 15% increase in her deadlift!
This client had just gotten back from a 3 week vacation overseas, with nothing more than the occasional run as her mode of exercise; along with lots of eating, drinking, and touring through western Europe. What wasn’t astonishing was her admission that she her body weight hadn’t changed at all while gone – this is actually pretty common – but rather her performance that day. She warned me that, “this is my first workout back, so be gentle on me.” If any of you know me, you’ll know that I’m always looking for the best possible performance out of our clients (the best of what they’ve got that day). We started slowly with the deadlift, but gradually she started to put more weight on the bar, and get closer to her prior 1 repetition max (1RM). When all was said and done, she had surpassed her old 1RM of 100kg (210lb) and topped out at 120kg (242lb)!! That’s an incredible improvement any day, but after being gone for three weeks? That’s amazing.
This performance really got me thinking, and my response was, “That’s the power of rest.” While that got a good chuckle out of the rest of the Crossfit class, it was very true. While exercise enthusiasts often use exercise to “destress” from the daily bombardment of emails, errands, kids, etc., we coaches are keenly aware that exercise is itself a stressor. Now, it can definitely be a beneficial form of stress, but as far as the body is concerned, stress is stress. What this normally hardworking client didn’t totally recognize, was that by taking those 3 weeks off to relax, recharge, and divert her attention to other endeavors, she was lowering her total stress load. What that meant was that upon returning to the gym, she was totally re-invigorated to workout, and her body was ready (and able) to take on the stimulus of a hard workout and make extraordinary progress. In physiological terms, this is what is called super-compensation: resting after a period of intense training results in improvements beyond the previous trajectory from the training stimulus. Translation: allowing one’s body to rest after continued bouts of hard training may result in even better results than expected.
This client definitely benefited from super-compensation, but there are other “feel good” reasons for her improvements: she was more enthusiastic to hit the ground running upon returning to the gym, and her body wasn’t stiff, sore, or tired from recent workouts. It’s a common thread that I try to repeat to clients: you can’t just keep beating the body up and hoping for improvements. Rest, recovery, relaxation; these are all important aspects to making gains (whether increases in weight lifted or decreases in pant size). Our stress levels have a chance to return to normal, all our bodies’ aches and pains subside, and our enthusiasm to challenge ourselves increases.
So…next time you are sitting down with your coach to discuss your goals or upcoming plans, keep the power of rest in mind. Good luck with your next challenge!