I am very lucky to work with a really diverse range of athletes, across multiple disciplines and widely varying ages and experience levels. But no matter what the age and experience of the athlete, there are some things which apply in equal measure to all of them, no more so than the need for recovery.
Of the people who come to me for coaching with a history of training and competition, a large proportion of them end up doing less training under my guidance than they used to, in some cases dragged kicking and screaming (not literally!). However, by training less, but focusing on quality sessions and quality recovery, huge progress can be made, enabling the individuals to far exceed their previous performance levels, which were produced off a greater volume of training. When working with highly driven individuals, regardless of their level, getting them to do less training and rest more can be a big challenge. In adulthood, the ability to do nothing, is a major source of anxiety for some people. These people fear that by resting, they are somehow losing fitness, and there’s something inside them telling them they’re not training enough and need to do more. In most cases this fear is completely irrational, and by acting on this fear, they actually risk doing a lot more harm than good.
I’ve said it before when writing on other subjects, but recovery is quite literally just as important as the training itself, and while the majority of people fully understand this, is doesn’t stop many having a constant internal battle of whether they should rest or just squeeze that one extra session in.
Of all the people who are over-training, the majority of them don’t realise that they are, because they feel fine, just like they always do. But that’s because they’ve reached a level of monotony in their training which means they don’t feel any more tired than they normally do, but unfortunately, they’ve become accustomed to that level of fatigue. The problem being their performance in competition will have, at best have plateaued, or worst still, decreased. It’s not until these individuals have a proper period of recovery that they realise just how tired they were.
How much training each individual can handle varies based on a huge number of variables, and there is certainly no one size fits all. However, when finding the right balance of training and recovery there is one rule that certainly does apply to all, and that’s to look at the whole picture. We need to look at everything that the individual has going on in their life outside of their training for a given sport, in particular; work/education commitments, family life, and participation in other sport or physical activity.
This holistic approach is often overlooked in young people in their teenage years because they want to try lots of different sports and activities. I massively encourage young people to try lots of different sports or variations of a sport, and believe early specialisation is rarely a good option. However, if a young person is actively pursuing a number of different sports, it’s important that they don’t try to train for all of them! Different people will decide on the sport for them at different stages, but it’s important that when at the stage of trying different things, the emphasis remains on fun and skill acquisition, not physical training. If a young person attended 3 different sports clubs, each with their own regular training sessions and competition calendars, the young athlete risks being pulled in different directions to the ultimate detriment of the child’s well-being.
For a teenage athlete, no matter what their sport, experience, or competition level, I would strongly advise a minimum of 2 rest days per week. I am unaware of any youth specific sporting competition which requires individuals do a volume of training so great that would prevent them from having 2 rest days per week. Without these rest days, the quality of training will suffer greatly, and the young athletes are at far greater risk of illness, chronic fatigue and leaving the sport early, long before they reach their potential. Even for high performing senior athletes, I enforce a minimum of one rest day per week and depending on their work and family commitments outside of the sport, often two rest days per week.
5 days of quality training sessions with 2 days rest in any 7-day period will yield higher results than 7 days of training with no rest days, every time. Even in those 5 days of training there would be some sessions of much lighter intensity than others. The human body requires significant rest to adapt (and therefore improve) from physical training. This fundamental principal of human physiology cannot be avoided, it applies to everyone, regardless of age or experience.
Parents of young athletes, I urge you all to review how much physical training your children are doing, are they getting sufficient rest? At the younger end of the spectrum the emphasis has to be on fun and skill acquisition, but as they progress to actual physical training sessions, everything must be counted, particularly if they are involved in more than one sport. Everyone needs sufficient recovery, and no matter what anyone has told you previously, no young athlete needs to “Make It” by the time they are 16! They’ve got plenty of time on their side.
If you are a parent and have concerns over whether your child is doing too much, please feel free to contact me.
Dan Small, Mountain Goat Coaching
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