There’s a school of thought in sports, from traditional to action, that the best strategy for getting better is to do it all the time. This goes for training as well as general play.
But a not-so-new, yet still underrated, concept about performance optimization exists — one that could actually be the key to pushing past your limit.
Here are the reasons taking a break from your sport may be the best thing to up your sports game — and how to put those whys into practice.
Your body needs rest
Got a nagging ache in your rotator cuff? Knees been feeling stiff lately? Face it: After going hard for a while, at least one part of your body is probably pushing at compromised capacity. Taking time off provides an opportunity for sore, stiff and likely micro-torn muscles to heal.
It’s understandable to be scared that a break from routine could compromise your strength or skills. But think of the athletes far better than you who’ve come back from much worse. If BMX pro Mat Hoffman can keep riding after literally exploding his spleen (and technically dying) upon falling more than two stories out of the air, you can come back from just about anything.
Your brain needs rest
Ever been stuck with a math problem while studying all day or evening, only to know the answer the next morning? That’s because our brain has a two-part system for developing skill.
The first is conscious information-gathering. We read books, practice drills and go out and play on the water or slopes. We’re basically deliberately collecting “data.”
The second part is unconscious processing. We’ve got the information, and now we need to sort it out: what worked, what didn’t, what the technique was, why we wiped out, etc. That step occurs when we’re thinking of or doing other things — or, better yet, sleeping.
More than that, our brains have limited capacity for raw information. The newest data needs to be processed, understood and made into unconscious body movements before we can add new information. Learning to jump the log will happen after you no longer have to think about shifting your weight on your bike.
Now that you know why taking a break can benefit you in your sport, the next thing to figure out is how to take time off that will best serve you. Everyone is different, so these are general guidelines. Apply them as you see fit.
Figure out your timeframeHow much time you need to take off depends on why you’re taking it. If it’s just muscle fatigue, you may need only a week or two; nagging injury could mean a couple to a few weeks and mental burnout could be months.
Figure out why you need the break and go from there. Check in with your progress frequently, and be flexible with (and honest about) your evolving needs. If you’re ready to get back in the game earlier than planned, get back into it. If you find you need more time, take it. It’s that simple.
Still do somethingPaddlers try yoga; surfers pick up endurance running; skiers learn mountain biking. Do whatever you want, but just do something.
The benefit of trying a different sport is two-fold. First, you can take your mind off your game, and second, you can see body mechanics from a new perspective.
Core rotation has a whole new meaning for paddlers in revolved side-angle pose. Looking where you want to go to follow your line is the same for mountain biking as it is skiing … and snowboarding … and paddling.
The point is, you get a fresh look at an old (and perhaps stale) concept in your sport. You’re also doing it as a beginner, so you have to break the idea down to the core elements, which helps you reconstruct it in your own sport.
Be at peace with your decision
No one cares about your decision to take a break but you. Your friends won’t call you out, say you’re making excuses or probably even notice. This is your path and yours alone, but the reason you’re taking a break won’t mean much if you stress about it.
This may be easier said than done. At the risk of sounding all hippie, use this break as an opportunity to practice mindfulness — just observing how you feel without judging it to be good or bad.
Enjoy the rest and relaxation. You’ll feel refreshed and stoked to get back into the water or on the trail before you know it.