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The Other Transition: The Importance of Rest for the Free-Living Athlete

By Deanna Pomfret | Dec. 01, 2015, 4:58 p.m. (ET)

runnerWhile doing research on proteins for performance, I came across the term “free-living athlete.” It sounds funny but it’s actually a good description of you and me and most of us out there trying to balance life, fitness and health. I look at it this way: life describes our relationships with family, work, friends and hobbies or personal interests. Fitness is how we engage in activity and sports. Health is our genetic background, nutrition and sleep. All of these areas impact performance and ultimately how well we live.

It seems simple; however, I look at that balance above very much like coaching a swimmer in the pool. There are many different things happening at once. One small change can affect many things down the chain. I may tell athletes to drop their heads lower in the water. When they do their bodies ride higher and they go faster with less effort. Maybe this decrease in effort helps them breathe better. Maybe they can now notice how the water feels on their hips or arms. One small change of the head position results in a cascade of effects that ultimately make these athletes move better.

Changes in our life will affect fitness and health and changes in health will affect our life and fitness and so forth. Like with triathlon training, we want to peak in all three sports for an event. Triathletes learn quickly we cannot go full throttle in all three disciplines all the time. We know there is a time for everything and this results in a training program or activities that are very specific to our life, fitness and health.

This is where transition comes in. Not between legs in a triathlon, but between seasons. Last week I asked a group of runners I coach to pick anywhere from one to three weeks where they will change what they do and instead of run, try something new or just rest. I know this is very hard for some of them. Maybe they worry they will lose fitness, gain weight, get soft, lazy or maybe not return to their sport. If they can free themselves up from these fears and be open to this change in activity, they will have already grown.

Take the time to transition. Look at yourself as a regular free-living human being for a few weeks. It can give you some perspective on the free-living athlete in you. You can take a step away and see things you might not otherwise see around you and the way you want to go about things in 2016.

For more about this topic, my colleague Will Kirousis of Tri-Hard Endurance Coaching describes the benefits and supporting research on taking a period of rest in his article “Hitting The Re-Boot Button: Why Stepping Back, Allows You To Jump Forward!”

Deanna Pomfret has coached fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and triathletes since 2005. She is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Road Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach, Certified Functional Strength Coach and Owner and Swim Technique Analyst with Athletic Pursuits LLC. Deanna presents at clubs and symposiums on various fitness and motivational topics.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.