Woman training with back turned

Stop Overtraining! Improve Your Performance By Resting More

Elite mountain runner Morgan Arritola believes less can be more. Here’s why.

Champion endurance athlete Morgan Arritola understands the pitfalls of overtraining. In 2010, her dream of stellar results at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver was derailed by physical and mental exhaustion. Months of intense training for the sporting event of a lifetime backfired and her performance suffered. “I was really tired and burnt out,” Arritoa laments.

Lesson learned, Morgan is now religious about proper rest and recovery – and her new approach is paying off. On June 21, she placed fourth overall and was the top female finisher in Squaw Valley’s Broken Arrow Skyrace Vertical K, a 5K race with a 3,100 elevation gain. Two days later, she went on to finish second among women in the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K (with a grueling 5,279-foot elevation gain and loss) and earn a coveted spot on the TEAM USTAF Long Distance Mountain Running Team.

We caught up with Morgan to learn more about her “less is more” philosophy:

Z: Why is rest and recovery important in a training program?

MA: With sport-specific training, it’s important to remember that the stress of training must be met with rest and recovery in order to illicit the adaptations you want. People forget that stress is stress. You need to give yourself a pass to rest if you are tired. Your training run doesn’t HAVE TO happen if you are so tired that you can’t get the most out of it. Rest and recovery are important for life in general. Sleep is often talked about but also hacked and misconstrued to the point that people aren’t getting real sleep. I believe that quality sleep is “where the magic happens” as your brain restores and your body follows suit.

Z: How can getting proper rest benefit performance?

MA: As said above, rest and recovery are how you make gains in your training. There are many tools, methods, snake oils, etc. out there but I think sleep, breathing, and a little simple meditation/visualization are the cheapest most powerful tools. If you believe your cryotherapy is working than it is, the placebo effect is real and I would not discourage someone from using tools they believe help. I would, however, encourage people to learn to listen to their own body. The human body is actually really amazing at recovering itself: swelling isn’t always bad!

Z: What happens during the rest/recovery period?

MA: Physiologically…that’s a long answer but basically your break down your body with hard training and proper rest allows adaptations to take place in order to make fitness gains.

Z: Should every long-term training program include days or weeks of rest? Why?

MA: Yes. There are many people who don’t take rest days or go on run “streaks” and to me that’s obsessive behavior. If that’s your goal, then that’s your goal but I think you should have a healthy love and desire to get out the door, lift weights, and climb mountains. If those activities become devoid of joy and feel like a burden I would encourage someone to take a break. That’s a pretty good sign of overtraining and burn out. Rest is part of training and shouldn’t be viewed as second fiddle. It’s more important that the training if you want to get better at something.

Z: Shouldn’t you just go with how you feel? (i..e, rest only when you feel tired or fatigued?)

MA: No, not always. Sometimes taking a rest day prevents that epic crash in energy which often leads to illness. You can’t get out of shape with one, two, or even two weeks of no exercise but you can get sick and or injured in just one training session that you force when fatigued.

Z: What about recovery after an intense workout session or event?

MA :There is nothing majorly different aside from good nutrition, hydration, and a little cool down. Simply going for a walk after a hard session can be more beneficial than a lot of other recovery methods. I recently read that swimming was probably the best recovery tool and while I hate getting in the pool I always feel so much better after a short swim.

Z: Why is taking time to recover something athletes can struggle with?

MA: I know some pros that are great at resting and some that are horrible. Same goes for recreational athletes. There is this idea that more is always better, which simply isn’t true in sport. Sometimes it takes a major illness or injury for this to be realized. There is a reason why you read stories in professional sport about X marathoner was so sick for two weeks before the big race and they weren’t able to run. Then, they show up to the race and destroy the field. They have done the hard training and have so many hours that actually the forced rest was beneficial to a stellar performance.

Z: How is this topic personal to you?

MA: I hate feeling bad! I have overtrained and so I know the good and bad of rest and recovery. Most importantly, over years of pushing my body, I have learned how to listen to it. I don’t wear a heart rate monitor, but I could probably guess my heart rate fairly accurately. If I’m hungry for a burger, then I probably need a burger. If I need to go to bed at 8pm and have the ability to do so, I will go to bed. I am an early riser and so I miss out on sleep on nights that I work so I am very careful with training and stress on those days where I am tired.

-Article & Interview by Stacy Whitman