To Rest or Not to Rest? That is the Question.

Last week, I decided to switch my running route up a bit to keep things fresh. I opted to stick to Central Park, but rather than run up West Drive next to the lake, I moved into the garden area just north of that. Much more narrow than West Drive, there is a multitude of meandering paths that criss-cross over each other as you run. Gorgeous trees provide a cool shade but the countless hills pushed my calves to the absolute limit.

As my legs were screaming, I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving. I passed by bewildered tourists staring at me as I weaved around birdwatchers, playful toddlers, and other joggers. Just as I saw the path break before me into open road, I felt my ankle roll unnaturally and I fell to the ground. I felt my ankle go limp and I knew I had paid the price for forgetting my form, even if it was just for an instant.

Immediately, I began wondering when I might be able to get back out here to run again. Rest is vital to recovery, but I didn’t want to fall out of my rhythm, or take any longer than necessary to get back to my routine. In a previous post, I extolled the benefits of rest and how it can be absolutely integral to recovery. Yet, I also feel there is a balance to be struck between recovery and losing the gains I have worked so hard to attain.

Too much rest can get in the way, especially if it’s not a serious injury like a mildly rolled ankle. Fortunately, I came across this article noting that one does not need to stop exercising completely if they have been injured. While a period of rest from a specific routine is suggested, one does not need to stop all exercise entirely.

Apparently, Michael Wardian, a professional runner, “had multiple pelvic stress fractures and sports hernias,” but rather than spend his time lying on the couch, he rode a bicycle. He hiked across the mountainside. He aqua-jogged and swam his way back to health; and he’s not the only one.

Many athletes across all ends of the spectrum strive to remain as active as possible regardless injuries. Whereas before painkillers and numbing agents were the go-to’s of rehabilitation, experts have now realized that cross-training could very well be the answer to retaining fitness even after having suffered an injury. That said, there are several guidelines for working out while injured:

Know your body.

If, while cross-training, you experience any pain whatsoever, you should stop immediately. Talk to your doctor to ensure you are not worsening any physical issues. To overextend yourself is to extend your injury. Also, while painkillers, especially in this scenario, may seem like a viable alternative, you should remember that pain is important. It keeps you aware of your body’s health, and informs you if you are pushing things too far.

Figure out how you hurt yourself to begin with.

Recurring injuries are common because all-too-often we don’t realize why we hurt ourselves in the first place. If we are able to figure out why we hurt ourselves, we will be able to prevent the same mistake in the future. While physical therapy can certainly heal current issues, it cannot make you avoid them outright. So, pay attention to what caused your injury, and make sure you are able to avoid the mistake down the road.

Eat well.

Many athletes eat less and reduce their calories to avoid gaining weight during recovery, this is not necessarily the right course of action. In fact, if you lessen your nutrient intake, you could be extending your recovery time. Truthfully, the best idea is to balance your diet with your workout routine. If you are able to consistently exercise by cross-training, you shouldn’t have to alter your diet at all. However, if you are forced to cut back a little, you should only reduce your diet slightly. Make sure that just because you’re not exercising as much as usual, you don’t overcompensate by reducing your food intake too much.

The need for rest changes dynamically depending on the circumstance and severity of the injury. I suppose the best way to approach rest is to understand the nature of your injury, and then that way, you can properly assess the best course of action moving forward, whether that means no exercise whatsoever, or exercise that does not exasperate the sensitive area.

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