How many days a week do you work out? Now how many days a week do you work “in”?
In today’s American exercise culture we have no problem training hard and often. We relate to slogans such as “no pain no gain” and “you can sleep when you’re dead”. Some exercise communities live and die by these principles. I have seen an increase in the number of athletes coming to see me who are injured and still ready to push it full speed ahead. These athletes all have one thing in common they are great at working out but horrible at working “in”. Before we get into what working “in” is let’s look at what working out is. Working out is stress that is placed on the body and that stress costs energy. Think of energy as money and your bank account as your body. Unfortunately, you can’t go around spending all your money without putting more money (energy) in your bank account (body). Now if you continue to spend money without putting anything in the bank you will end up broke and homeless tightly griping your barbell on the corner (injured). Not to mention the loss of performance along the way. So one of the best ways to put “money in the bank” is to work “in”.
So what’s the science behind working “in”? When we work out we are activating our sympathetic nervous system which is catabolic (muscle breakdown) it’s also known as the body’s fight or flight response. When this happens our body increases our heart rate and releases hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for increasing blood sugar in the body to provide quick fuel. Along with suppressing the immune system and aiding in fat metabolism. Our body also releases epinephrine or adrenaline. As you can see this system is perfectly designed for times of desperate need. But one thing this system does not care about is your long term health. It is just focused on keeping you alive today. But most athletes want long term performance results not just one great work out. That is where your parasympathetic nervous system comes in to bring your body back to homeostasis. The parasympathetic system is anabolic (muscle building) and responsible for activities that occur when the body is at rest such as digestion. This system also lowers blood pressure and heart rate. During this time the body is trying to rest and recover from the stress that has been placed in it. One of the best ways we repair the body is with sleep through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. During sleep our body releases testosterone and growth hormone which our vital for our tissue repair and recovery.
Now let’s recap what we learned right there. First if you continue to put large amounts of physical and emotional stress on your body you will increase your cortisol levels. Negative effects of high cortisol levels are poor sex drive, fatigue, sleep, mood, ligament health, and suppression of your immune function. Do you remember how college students tend to get sick right after finals. A period of prolonged stress along with poor sleep and recovery. If you’re an athlete that wants to increase any kind of performance and stay healthy you’re going to need anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. And without activation of the parasympathetic nervous system it does not matter how good of a training program you have you’re not going to see results without these hormones aiding in recovery. One simple way to aid the parasympathetic system and its hormones is to practice working “in” techniques.
There are many different forms of working “in” and can be very specific to each athletes individual needs and goals. These activities should be scheduled just like training times and can just be a few minutes or an entire day depending on your individual needs. Working “in” is really any form of movement that does not significantly elevate heart rate. This can be in forms of specific hip mobility work, yoga or just taking a walk with your dog. There are also techniques that do not involve movement such as meditation, floor breathing, and massage. In my opinion it is important that everyone has working “in” strategies that involve non-movement based techniques and (three dimensional) movement based techniques. Most importantly it needs to be an activity that you enjoy doing. Remember working “in” should be something that you look forward to doing much like like putting some dollars in your bank account.
For more information on working “in” look up Paul Chek he has a great blog and website with a tremendous amount of information.