Why relaxation is key to a quality workout
Think you need to ‘go hard or go home’ when it comes to fitness? Think again. Experts say a more gentle approach that includes relaxation can lead to bigger gains.
Beast mode. Be savage, not average. Weakness is a choice… You’ve probably heard them all.
But if you’re among the many people who feel they haven’t worked out unless they end up feeling tired, smashed and sore, it’s time to rethink your approach.
The fitness pendulum is now swinging the other way, with a growing body of research showing that “go hard or go home” killer workouts could be doing more harm than good.
One US study found overloading your body or not enough recovery (or both) can result in physiological and psychological symptoms that limit your performance and can, quite literally, cause you to go home (and throw in the exercise towel).
And no-one wants that.
Why your exercise routine needs to include relaxation
Fitness professional Rocco Pascale says including regular relaxation into your exercise routine gives your body time to rest, recuperate and rebuild – ultimately boosting results.
“People get so caught up in going flat out that they forget that giving your body a rest, a chance for muscles to repair and energy stores to replenish, is just as important,” Rocco, of EFM Health Clubs, says.
“Having the mindset to always be training hard can be detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve.”
As well as reducing your risk of injury and burnout, dialling down your exercise to a level that tests but doesn’t overburden you leaves you something in the tank to get through the day.
“If you’re leaving the gym or the track absolutely exhausted and with no energy to cook or play with the kids or do all those normal things that are part of a day, it’s counter-intuitive,” Rocco says.
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Relaxation time is good for your mind
Need further convincing? Psychologist and Headspace App mental health expert Carly Dober says taking the time to relax and unwind can also help you improve your mental health – reducing stress, enhancing sleep quality, and boosting your immune system function.
“I think, culturally, we haven’t necessarily valued relaxation here in Australia but science tells us that when we relax, we get more energy because the flow of blood increases around our body,” Carly says.
“Relaxing helps us to have a calmer mind, which is good for positive thinking, decision-making and concentration – our brains need that downtime to wander!
“It also slows our heart rate, which reduces tension in the body and lowers blood pressure.”
When it comes to all-important sleep Carly says mindfulness practices can act as a natural way of preparing to get deep into the zzzs.
Having a ‘rest day’ doesn’t mean doing nothing
A rest day doesn’t have to mean feet up on the couch and a “don’t disturb” sign on your door.
“Relaxing can include forms of active recovery or low intensity exercise such as walking in nature, stretching or swimming,” Rocco says.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, he adds.
“It depends on the individual, but if you’re a person who enjoys three or four hard workouts a week, you’ll need one or two lower-intensity or active recovery sessions, and some time to step back and take a breath.”
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How to build relaxation into your exercise routine
Carly offers the following tips to help keep your fitness on track without pushing your body beyond reasonable limits:
Value rest and relaxation
“You need to ensure you give yourself permission to regularly stop and pause,” Carly says.
Make mindfulness a habit
Whether it’s walking outside, guided meditation, self-guided relaxation, deep breathing, or visualisation where you imagine yourself in a restful place – make it regular.
“Yoga encourages mental and physical relaxation, which helps reduce stress,” Carly says.
“Try different forms of the practice to ensure you mix up your poses.”
And remember, she says, life is a marathon and not a sprint – and relaxation and mindfulness are important to achieve optimal wellness.
Written by Liz McGrath.