I took three weeks, nearly four, off of working out. I didn’t plan it (there is so little that I plan. For years, I’d try to plan and plan events, workouts, careers, but everything always fell by the wayside of chronically ill), it just happened because I was traveling but now that I am back to training, stronger than I was before I left, I’ll be scheduling in longer periods of rest in the future.
Rest is a key factor in training and in healing from an injury or illness. The body doesn’t grow stronger when you workout but when you are at rest. The body repairs itself during sleep and if you don’t rest and sleep, you don’t get stronger, you don’t recover from illness or injury fully, you don’t heal completely.
I preach rest and sleep to my clients all the time. The ones who don’t get nearly enough sleep are all chronically injured and have layers and layers of injury (this is not to say that the casue of chronic injury and illness is due to solely to sleep nor that every person with chronic conditions doesn’t get enough but that this is my experience with my clients) Not by the arbitrary “everyone needs 8 hours of sleep a night” rule (ahem. I need 9 at least, 10 if I am working out but my brother doesn’t need more than 6) but by their own admission. When people come in to see me and every session they tell me, I am so tired or I just want to take a nap, well then, its clear that they are not getting enough rest.
I just took nearly four weeks off of any sort of training. I climbed twice in Kenya, once outside and once at Blue Sky’s climbing gym in Nairobi, I went on a hike outside of Moshi and I did yoga twice. I wasn’t completely inactive but I was hardly training. Besides that, I had a lot of 12 and 18 hour days of just sitting. I am used to biking anywhere from 5-12 miles a day, just commuting, and running, climbing, yoga-ing on top of that. On my second day back to climbing, I moved up a whole grade and comfortably climbed 5.10b all evening. Two days later, I was comfortably climbing one more grade up and tackling some 5.10d problems. Not only that but when my feet slipped off and before, where I would have either fallen or had to take a break, my feet would slip off and I’d pull myself up again and keep going. It felt fantastic to be so refreshed and back on the wall. I wasn’t particularly surprised, though. When my clients who train hard and often take 2-3 week breaks, even though they go into them fretting about ‘losing ground’ or gaining weight, they generally come back stronger. Obviously, in a two-three week break, the body has time to fully recover but I notice that something else happens as well. People come back more coordinated than they were before, nailing the choreography on a move or exercise sequence that had been just out of reach for them previously, as if their brain and body have finally had a chance to catch up to each other.
For me, I also made massive strides forward in healing from Lyme Disease when I began to sleep whenever I needed to. Initially, I slept all the time. 14, 18 hours a day. It was a really hard decision to make as rest is hard to take, especially in a society that values doing and accomplishing. When I finally put getting better at the top of my list of priorities, I had to take a giant step back from life. I stopped going out, worked half-time or less, just to sleep a lot. When I first changed my lifestyle, there were many days when I’d go to sleep at 4pm and sleep straight through until 8 or 9am. For about a year, I’d sleep 12 or 14 hours straight two or three times a week.
With people who are chronically ill or injured, I think that rest is even more important. You have to keep challenging your body to do more, but in a careful, cautious way so as not to trigger a flareup even while continuing to work through flareups and sleep enough to heal from the challenge of workout and illness or injury.