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Half-Ass It! Please!

“If they’re handing out medals, we’re racing hard!”

“Give it 110% or nothing at all!”

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

OK, so I’ve never actually heard a coach say the last one unless you are counting Yoda, but you get the point. Scroll through a list of 100 coaching aphorisms, and you are likely to encounter your fair share of these rah-rah, give it everything or give it nothing, maxims. In fact, the first was said to me at a recent county coaches meeting, and they all speak to our primal urge to “win one for the Gipper.” But these gusto-guided catchphrases can become problematic when they shift from being bumper stickers to training philosophies.

But these gusto-guided catchphrases can become problematic when they shift from being bumper stickers to training philosophies.

If your local race calendar is anything like ours in Rochester, there are probably at least a half-dozen race opportunities every weekend of the year. From trail festivals to 5k’s, half-marathons to obstacle races, you can load up your calendar with plenty of opportunities to earn shiny metal objects and post race photos to the social media outlet of your choice. But in our quest to compete are we undermining our potential to compete well, in our fervor to give everything 110% are we limiting our chance to give anything 110%?

One of the most basic principles of effective training, outlined at length in the brilliant new book Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, is the appreciation and adherence to the stress-rest-adaptation progression. While most of us are accustomed to building a “recovery day” into our weekly training plans, the stress-rest-adaptation principle does not only apply to a seven-day cycle, and our thirst for our next challenge may directly oppose this rule. At the heart of this conflict may be a flawed relationship to rest and recovery in general.

As Stulberg and Magness discuss, our workaholic culture has created the view of rest and recovery as a deplorable sign of laziness, a character flaw of comfort, and something almost un-American. After all, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right? Yet, it is only during our periods of rest and recovery when adaptations occur and growth and improvement happen. Stulberg and Magness note renowned triathlete coach, Matt Dixon’s, work to revise this view of rest with his world-class athletes. “By framing rest as something that supports growth and adaptation, Dixon’s athletes stop viewing rest as passive, as ‘not training.’ And just like that, rest becomes as productive as an additional workout.”

While Stulberg and Magness focus primarily on the role of rest and recovery in weekly or short-term cycles, the principle applies to the long-term cycles of our training and life as well. After an extended period of training, working towards a significant athletic or life goal, a period of sustained rest and recovery is essential for continued growth and improvement. So if you are finding yourself plateauing, consider your relationship to rest, and for a brief period, half-ass it! Please!

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