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It’s race season once again and that means Marathons, Triathlons and other competitive events that encourage New Yorkers to push past personal limits. But whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the race circuit or gearing up for your first 10k in the park, it’s important to remember the importance of rest.

Everyone understands the “blood, sweat and tears” approach to training. You work hard, break through barriers and improve. It’s simple: more effort = more fitness, right?

Not necessarily. Now, more than ever, doctors, coaches and trainers insist that rest and recovery are essential components of any successful program. The problem is that athletes are often so eager to see gains that they neglect this important part of the process. The first step is understanding what rest is and what recovery does for your body.

In simplest terms, rest is a combination of sleep and any times spent NOT training. Recovery refers to the actions and techniques we use to maximize our body’s repair. This may include (but is not limited to) nutrition, hydration, ice, heat or massage. And while rest and recovery may seem inefficient compared to exercise, the fact is that this is actually a period of important internal activity. In order for muscles to grow or for endurance to increase, the body’s many complex systems need time to refuel.

Training forces your body to sustain heavy loads. Soft tissues and bones require more time to recover and as a result are more susceptible to injuries from overuse or stress. The chemical, hormonal and nervous systems also suffer if we don’t allow our bodies to rest. Not to mention the toll pain or injury takes on us mentally.

The goal of exercise usually is to maximize performance. For most athletes, goals should be attainable without extreme sacrifice. Balance is key. And part of achieving balance is acknowledging limits and trusting that true progress takes place over an extended period.

Unless you’re an elite athlete, most training programs you read or hear about simply don’t apply to you. If you attempt them without building a proper foundation you’re likely to end up frustrated or hurt. In fact, modern science actually often supports doing far less than what most athletes consider normal. Many doctors and trainers currently ascribe to a philosophy known as the minimum effective dose (MED), which is defined as: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome.

This concept was developed to assess weight-bearing exercises but can easily be applied to any fitness goals from stimulating fat loss to building cardiovascular endurance. Science now suggests athletes can incorporate more rest and focus more on recovery without sacrificing gains.

You can’t always achieve more by doing more. And you certainly won’t achieve your goals if you’re injured or depleted due to overtraining. Take a break!

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