Depending on when you choose to start counting, we are now somewhere around 20 days into the brave new world that is COVID19. As fate would have it, the morning before the province locked down the schools I went to my local public library, (the city locked them down the next day) and picked up a few books that I had been waiting for. I now have these books for an indeterminate time, so I’ve been taking a slower, more studious approach to reading.
The first book I read was, “Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports” by Dr. Marc Bubbs. I heard about this book on a performance podcast for triathletes and decided to check it out. Dr. Bubbs was interviewed by a triathlon coach that I follow, and I was intrigued by some of the things he was saying specific to triathlete nutrition, so I decided to get his book. Don’t tell my wife but, I’ve been considering hiring a nutritionist to help take my training to the next level, she already thinks I’ve lost my mind with all this triathlon stuff, I can’t wait to see her reaction when I start pouring bone broth into my coffee.
Dr. Bubbs is the Performance Nutrition Coach for Canada’s national basketball team and has consulted with professional NBA, NHL and MLB teams all over North America. What I was expecting to get out of the book was a lot of information about athletic fueling and while there was plenty of that what I really learned was more about training load and recovery strategies. It turns out you can’t eat in a vacuum all aspects of life affect your results.
Last night after a particularly stressful day managing our lives and businesses in this new world (we are both self employed) my wife and I each had a mini nervous breakdown. The stress of not knowing what to do or how long this is going to last finally got to us and as we talked it out, I noticed I was using the same language Dr. Bubbs uses to talk about athletic recovery.
Here are the terms I learned from the world of elite athletics that we can all apply to life during the outbreak of COVID19.
It’s a well-known fact that you build muscle and endurance by continually placing stress on the area you want to increase. That’s what lifting weights and running wind sprints are all about. Functional Over-Reach (FOR) is the act of continually pushing training to the razor’s edge of complete exhaustion and then backing off. By doing this repeatedly you can quickly build up muscle and endurance getting faster and stronger over a short period of time. Most amateur athletes and weekend warriors never reach the stage of FOR however and don’t get the full growth benefit of their training. In order to get to FOR you must push past the initial tired stage and find that next gear. Some people call it the second wind but even if you can find it very few people will push it all the way to total exhaustion.
Critical to the build phase, once you’ve completely exhausted yourself you must take adequate time to recover before going out and doing it all again. Recovery times vary depending on the athlete and what you are trying to build but the point is, stress and recovery go hand in hand.
If you fail to give yourself the proper amount of rest between heavy training days, you will inevitably enter a phase of Non-Functional Over-Reach (NFOR). Simply put, you’ll stop getting any growth benefit from your training. Your strength, endurance or speed will plateau, and you might even start to get weaker. NFOR is the alarm bell or blinking red light that your body sets off saying “slow down, we can’t do this anymore!” A coach or athlete that keeps track of their training metrics will recognize NFOR the minute it starts and go into a prolonged rest phase or ratchet back training to include fewer hard days. You don’t get a second wind from NFOR, there is no benefit to continuing to push a body that has stopped absorbing training. The only thing to do is rest.
Over Training Syndrome
Finally, if you miss or ignore the signs of NFOR you will begin to experience Over Training Syndrome (OTS). OTS is quite simply an injury waiting to happen. Stress fractures, cartilage damage and repetitive strains all tend to be the result of OTS. Since you failed to recognize the signs of NFOR and didn’t get adequate rest your body simply breaks down and forces you into an even longer period of rest. In extreme cases OTS can end your athletic career altogether.
So, what does all this have to do with COVID19?
As I explained to my wife, it’s as if we have all entered a phase of mental NFOR. The first couple of weeks we could push ourselves to adapt. It was tiring but we could go to bed and night, get some rest and be ready to go again the next day. But now, with no end in sight, and no escape it’s not fun anymore. We aren’t growing, we aren’t getting any better at adaptation and we might soon start to experience prolonged anxiety, depression and mental illness as a result.
We all need to take a break. Phone a friend, watch a good movie, go for a walk, take up a new hobby. Anything really that takes your mind off the news and your social separation. Do it as often as you need to. For me that means completely shutting down all news sources between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, texting a friend at least once a day, getting up from my desk to move around every few hours, and going for a walk every afternoon. Whatever it is for you find something that gives you a mental break. We can all get stronger through this, but only if we avoid mental OTS.
Keep your chin up! Don’t over train, we’re all in this together.