Why you should sometimes lose your fitness, according to a physiotherapist

Why you should sometimes lose your fitness, according to a physiotherapist

Victoria Sekely may not have officially started training for the New York City Marathon until June 2022, but she’s been thinking about it for two years. Big fitness goals, like finishing a marathon, start eating up your time and energy long before the first day of your training plan. So when you finally cross the finish line and suddenly your calendar is no longer filled with long runs, strength training and a 9 p.m. bedtime, it might seem a little shocking.

For many athletes, the instinct is to immediately chase the next goal. But Sekely, a physical therapist, running coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist, took a different approach after her run.

“Running is very important to me, it’s my passion. It’s also part of my job,” she says. “It takes a very big place in my life, but at the same time, if I want it to continue to do that, I also have to step away from it a bit.”

So, she decided to enter what she affectionately calls her “age of self-care”.

She didn’t run a single race for three weeks and instead focused on rest, recovery and all the things in her life that she had put on the back burner during her marathon training. While she doesn’t prescribe this amount of rest for everyone, she believes that every athlete can benefit from time off.

Why program an “era of self-care”?

Whether you’re a runner or a CrossFitter, if you like to be active, the last thing you want is to be injured. But moving from one rigorous training cycle to the next is a fast path to the doctor’s office.

“What the offseason is really supposed to do is keep you from going through back-to-back training cycles,” says Sekely. “It can lead to burnout, injury and fatigue.”

Think of it as part of your training cycle, an important element. Training for something like a marathon puts a significant amount of stress on your body and mind. Instituting an off season gives your muscles time to heal and your mind to recuperate.

“Recovery is just as important, if not more so, than active training,” says Sekely.

You will be probably lose some fitness after taking a few weeks off. And that’s exactly the point: Most people’s bodies aren’t conditioned to stay at their peak fitness level for months on end, Sekely says. That’s why even professional athletes miss out. Your fitness will return when you start training again, and perhaps even stronger than before, as your body is recharged, rather than drained and exhausted.

“I want to lose fitness so that when I’m ready to get it back, I can have that energy and be at my best performance because of that moment when I took off,” Sekely says.

It’s an idea that runs counter to hustle culture and a lot of what we see on social media. Slowing down may be less impressive, but it’s just as important.

What should you do?

In short, commit to the essentials: sleep, hydration and nutrition. If it feels good to you, dedicate a few minutes each day to foam rolling and stretching.

This season is also a great time to explore other forms of movement that you don’t usually do but could bring you joy, says Sekely. Try swimming, golf, Zumba or any other activity that interests you. Not only can it serve as meaningful cross-training, but you might also discover a new passion.

An era of self-care is also about nurturing other aspects of your life. Arrange a coffee date with that friend you haven’t seen in ages. Pick up your guitar. Take a road trip without having to worry about training.

This off-season can last anywhere from a week to two months, depending on how your body is feeling, Sekely says. Once you feel like your mind and body are ready to start again, start with slower, easier workouts like unstructured, low-mileage runs. Accelerate gradually and watch your fitness follow.

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