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Mental game: Rest days for your mind

Any athlete that’s progressed past the initial bright-eyed, bunny-eared, I-must-hit-every-session-and-I-must-hit-it-hard enthusiasm of a recent convert to a sport will know and appreciate the value of a good rest day. The body is not a machine, no matter how much we can try and treat it like one (and we do, let’s be honest). At some point - once a fortnight, once a week, once every couple of days - you will need to give yourself a break.

This goes just as much for your head as it does for the rest of your body. When you’re caught up in the continual drive towards physical self-perfection, it’s easy to forget that all sports - especially endurance sports - are as much about the battle of wills as they are quads. One of the biggest problem many athletes carrying out a long-term training plan have to face is mentally burning out long before they get to their target race. Here’s one soon-to-be Ironman’s advice on how to do rest days for your brain.


Rest days aren’t just about your aching muscles, but about giving you a break from the pressures of having to drive yourself every single day. It’s pretty simple psychology - if you don’t have a break now and then, you will mentally burn out very quickly. That goes for your psyche as well. If you’re going to properly get some mental rest, you need to divorce your thinking from all athletic matters for a while.

It’s hard, because we all get a little bit obsessive about the things we love (hello, nineteen-strong list of bikes I’m going to buy when I finally win the lottery). But it’s key to remember that if rest days are about the mind as much as the body, then you need to treat them so. Making sure the body is switched off from any kind of physical activity? Make sure your brain is, too. I’m not saying turn into a complete lemon; you’ll still need to use your words when someone talks to you, it’s only polite. But try to ensure that you’re not spending your non-training hours mentally stuck in training mode. 


As someone who spends a lot of his non-training time writing about training, I have a simple rest-day rule: don’t. Writing? Well, actually, yeah, I still carry that on: but not about sport on a rest day. Absolutely anything else but not sport, not training, not racing.

On rest days, my coach often advises me to be doing some light stretching, or maybe an easy yoga class. Something that ease out the aches of the body without taking a great deal of energy. Try and apply this to your brain in the same way - don’t do intense focused tasks, but a bit of writing, reading, or something else creative can get your brain firing just enough to empty it of all the week’s training stresses and worries - crucially, leaving it fresh to plough on with the rest of your training. 


One other thing I like to do to make sure I’m still getting rest in my weekly schedule is… run more. Eh? Yes, you’ve read that correctly. I take time to go and run with Goodgym, who combine keeping fit with doing good in their local communities.

An eminent sports psychologist gave a talk to my triathlon club last year in which he mentioned that athletes who enjoy their training are more likely to benefit from it. Simple, no? So take your training back to a point where it is enjoyable, and not just a process. That weekly Goodgym session to me is one where I’m not checking my GPS watch every five seconds, I’m not worrying about hitting this time or that pace - I can just enjoy running for the sake of running, spend some time with some friends, and use a bit of energy to do something that has a bit more purpose that me training for the sake of my own good.

It’s commonly accepted that volunteering and doing community work can be beneficial for people suffering from acute stress. What do super-intense training regimes cause? Stress. Stress on your body, stress on your mind. Go use that energy to go do something good in the world once in awhile, don’t forgot that we are social creatures, and you’ll find that you appreciate pushing yourself on the other days of the week that much more, and maybe you won’t find your supplies of motivation dwindling quite so much.

Go use that energy to go do something good in the world once in awhile

George Bright - @halfrust


Want to learn more about Goodgym that George mention's? Check out thier site www.goodgym.org.

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