I’m not an American. I can’t vote in the election. I did live in Chicago though for my years of grad school and I have strong ties to lots of lovely people who do live in the United States. In the Before Times, I visited the US a lot. It’s a big part of my professional life. I especially love to ride my bike there in the winter months. But as much as I care, I can’t vote. All of this is just to say is that there is nothing I can do about the American election tomorrow and yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I found this advice helpful, by the way: A safe, sane way to navigate election night — and beyond.
What’s any of this got to do with rest and recovery? A longer and smarter version of this post would draw ties between political activism and the work of the nap ministry. That’s the stuff of future posts, I’m afraid. Instead, I want to talk about rest and recovery in the much more limited context of sports performance because that’s the post I found half written in the blog’s draft folder. Yes, this week, it’s come to that.
I’ve been thinking lots about rest and recovery because as the blog’s regular readers know I’ve been riding and racing with a bike team again, on Zwift. Our team has a very wide range of ages and abilities. We have riders across all categories and lots of us in the D category are 50+. One of the differences for me, riding and racing now. as opposed to twenty years ago, is my need for rest. I don’t just mean rest days, though that’s true too, I also mean the basics, like getting enough sleep at night.
This week I’ve got enough work work to do that I imagine staying up all night and GETTING ALL THE THINGS DONE. But truth be told I never really seriously contemplate it because it’s not even on the agenda. I just can’t do it. That’s another change between younger me and older me. Likewise, I can’t race if I’m tired. Some days I nap and that helps. I try to get eight hours of sleep a night but sometimes if I ‘m working hard and working out hard even that isn’t enough.
I was reminded recently of this piece about recovery and aging athletes, from the now defunct blog The Active Pursuit.
A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.
In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”
So, if it’s not obvious already the rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete and different again than someone in her 60s.
Why should you care? Why should I care? Here’s two reasons.
One reason to care is performance. Maybe that’s about speed and strength as measured by racing but it could also be about feeling good and strong at the end of an event rather than feeling beat up and suffering. And by performance I don’t just mean racing, I mean whatever it is that you’re training for. It might be a long ride or a hiking trip.
Another reason to care is injury. Training when you haven’t fully recovered leads to injury and injuries are bigger setbacks for older athletes. We take longer to heal just as we take longer to recover. Injuries aren’t fun at any age but I also want to avoid injuries especially during the pandemic when I am trying to stay away from indoor spaces with non-household members and other sources of help, such as massage therapy, aren’t easily available.
I still haven’t worked out a training and racing schedule for the fall (and here we are November already)! I’m experimenting a bit. I’ve committed to racing with the club Monday, Thursday and Friday nights. On Sunday there is our club social ride. And I’ve got bike training to fit in. Again, younger me could do training rides in the morning and sometimes race at night. But those days are long gone.
I’m working out with a personal trainer once a week outside. I’m also using the TRX, our kettlebell, and playing about with resistance bands. Oh, and trying to get in some Yoga With Adriene. Cheddar, the dog, also needs walks. That’s not all intense exercise but it is a lot of movement and there isn’t a lot of room for rest.
I’m not humble bragging here. Racing and riding are fun. They’re my reward at the end of a long workday. Other things might take effort to get me there but my bike is pleasure even when it’s on the trainer. Exercise is also a thing I do when stressed. Almost always I feel better after. But I need to work to pay attention to rest and recovery and I keep reading how much more that matters with age.
And by “rest” to be clear I don’t mean a day spent sitting at my computer not exercising. I mean being intentional about rest, planning and scheduling a day to focus on eating good food, getting some extra sleep, thinking all the peaceful thoughts, and making only gentle recovery-oriented movements.
Like this Yoga With Adriene practice:
This has been an issue of mine for a long time, pretty much since we started the blog. See, from nearly 8 years ago, Fitting it all in and scheduling recovery time. Different activities, younger me, but the same problem.
Here are some of the things that I’ve read on the subject, while browsing the internet for rest and recovery advice.
“Few studies have examined recovery in older athletes. In 2008 one of my former PhD students, now Dr Jim Fell from the University of Tasmania, compared actual performance and perceptions of soreness, fatigue and recovery in veteran versus young cyclists over three consecutive days of doing 30 minute cycling time trials per day. While we found no differences in cycling time trial performance over time in either age group, the veteran cyclists perceived they took longer to recover. They also felt they were more fatigued and sorer each day compared to the younger cyclists.
In 2010, a French research group compared recovery rates in 10 young (30.5 ± 7 years) and 13 master (45.9 ± 5.9 years) athletes who competed in a 55-km trail run race. The researchers measured thigh muscle strength and muscle electrical activity, blood markers of muscle damage, and cycling efficiency before, then 1, 24, 48 and 72 hours after the race. The older athletes took longer to recover in all measures.
Taken together, the above results suggest that older runners who damage their muscles in training or racing appear to take longer to recover. It also appears the older athletes perceive they take longer to recover.”
“Invest in Your Recovery: As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says. Owen agrees that eight to ten hours of proper sleep is the most important part of recovery and training.”
“One of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of any exercise or training program is the recovery phase, or time spent resting. In fact, most coaches and trainers would argue it’s just as or more important than the exercise itself. During this phase, physiologically your body is seizing the opportunity to repair itself to become stronger in preparation for the next exercise stress placed upon it. It is during rest that the body becomes stronger. Not surprisingly, as you get older, the more your body relies on rest and recovery time.
The effects of aging on training and performance are fairly well known. As you age beyond 35-40, there are reductions in maximum heart rate, VO2 max and lean body mass that reduce training output and performance. Recovery seems to take longer. Experts agree that most people encounter a noticeable difference in training capacity and recovery about every decade.
While it may seem obvious that recovery time increases with age, the physiological causes are not yet fully understood. According to a 2008 article in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, one of the most plausible explanations is that aging muscles are more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage and have slower adaptation and repair.
The process of training involves some type of muscle overload, then an adaption, which ultimately produces greater muscle fitness. In order to achieve fitness gains, one has to train, create muscle breakdown, recover, and then train again. While the physiological processes in younger and older muscles parallel each other with regard to training, subtle changes in the processes within the older muscles lead to increases in recovery time.”
“Whether you’re a competitive athlete or a recreational one, either finding an intuitive understanding of your readiness to exercise or using some external measures can improve your overall fitness and help you avoid injury,” according to sports medicine specialist and physical therapist Kevin McGuinness, who practices at Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Exercising, particularly as you age, might also require a more scientific approach to how you are feeling and how you are doing, he said.AD
The good news is there is some promising research on exercise readiness, according to Carwyn Sharp, chief science officer at the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs. Although there are no specific guidelines yet for recreational athletes, what experts have learned so far can help us enhance our intuitive sense of readiness by throwing some objective measures into the mix.
One way is to monitor your resting heart rate, which can help you understand how well you are recovering from your previous exercise session. If you keep a log of your resting heart rate, you will get a sense of what is normal for you. If it is higher than usual, McGuinness said, that is often a sign your nervous system may be overstressed, indicating a lower level of recovery.”
How about you? What’s your approach to rest and recovery?