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The importance of working "In" and not just working "out"

Working out is great, but overworking your bodies by pushing it beyond reasonable limits is never a good idea. Even for well-trained and highly competitive athletes, striking the balance between working out and what I call working in, is critical to staying race fit, while maintaining optimal health. Now you might wonder if good health and being ready to compete aren’t two sides of the same coin. So did I, for a long time. 

The reality, however, is that in our pursuit of that fleeting fitness level we strive for, but never seem to eclipse, we often end up causing your bodies, minds and overall well-being more harm than good. Reality dictates that pushing ourselves too hard can lead to disaster if we don’t listen to what our bodies tell us. 

That’s why working “in” is such an important factor in keeping us in the best shape while also keeping us safe from burning ourselves out in the pursuit of peak performance. So what does working in entail and how do you fit it into your daily, weekly and monthly regiment? Let’s take a look.

Let’s dispel a few misconceptions first

I've seen more than my fair share of cases of people telling me that that a certain health care professional told them to completely quit exercising after they were unable to lose weight or put on some muscle. Many are told to steer away from exerting too much pressure on their bodies as a means to avoid stress, reduce the risk of heart failure or aggravate existing conditions such as asthma. While advice like this is largely well-intentioned and based on concerns for people's health, advising anyone who is able to stop exercising entirely isn’t good advice at all.

One of the miracles of the human body is its receptivity and response to positive stimuli such as exercise, meditations, stretches, or even just a walk in the park. If high blood pressure or risk of aggravating an existing condition is a concern for you, working in can act as the perfect way to reduce the intensity of your workouts, while tending to both your mind and body's need for regular and suitable exercises. 

As an athlete, doing the same gives your body the time and resources it needs to develop and de-stress after grueling, high-intensity training sessions that make up a huge part of your schedule. Athletes running thousands of kilometres year in and year out or those doing large amounts of high intensity work can risk exhausting their resources, adrenal fatigue, stress related problems and hormone imbalances when they continue to push their bodies without letting it recuperate which is so important for longevity as a runner or athlete and longevity period. 

Working in doesn’t mean working less

Think of working in as keeping the momentum going while ensuring that you avoid stressing your body out under the pressure of constant intensive workouts, be it weight lifting, running or hitting the punching bag, training is a part of life for many of us, but it is equally important to allow your body’s inner resources to go to work on the areas that we have no control over.

But reducing your training hours sound counter intuitive, right? Not so fast...

Working in doesn't mean checking off 2 or 3 hours off your weekly workout schedule and replacing it with couchsurfing and endless reruns of Game of Thrones, however tempting that sounds. The objective is to replace a reasonable percentage of your training schedule with lower-intensity exercises that not only help your body recuperate, but also develop at a faster rate. So for example, replacing 3 of your 10 hours of running with 3 yoga sessions of 1 hour each will keep your workout hours and volumes steady, while reducing the levels of stress across the total 10 hours. Workouts like Yoga, stretching, pilates all lower your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and help you recover faster and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.

3 hours of yoga, walking or even a short cycle can help you supplement intensive training sessions and develop a regimen that gives your body the rest that it needs. It's important to remember that stress caused from over-exercising can have the sames adverse effects as those of sitting in traffic, too much coffee, work pressures et al. The pressures of daily living are almost inescapable, which makes the conscious contributions you make to those stress levels so important. And this is arguably one of the reasons many health professionals mistakenly tell people to quit exercising.  

Another key benefit to working in is its ability to help reduce the mental stress associated with being a competitive athlete, a business person or busy family man or woman. Athletes often spend hours, days and nights focussing and preparing for competitions with pressure to perform their peak at front and centre of their minds. Working in allows us to take that step back, allow ourselves to participate in enjoyable, low-intensity activities that does make us feel the burn, but instead allows us to “rest and digest” and stimulating that all important sympathetic nervous system to do its’ job.

Slowing down and letting your body do its work

For many of us, working in may seem like a stretch (excuse the pun) if you’re accustomed to going hard on a high intensity schedule. And who can blame you, after all, conventional wisdom holds that the harder you go, the faster and longer you’ll compete, right? But consider how your body really works and you’ll understand why working in is equally as important as those burnout sessions. 

Our parasympathetic nervous systems are an autonomic part of our overall nervous systems that regulate aspects of our bodies such as energy levels, heart rates and blood pressure. By focusing and conserving your body’s energy and allowing it to go into recuperation mode you’re working with your body to give it what it needs to develop to its maximum potential. 

Our sympathetic nervous systems are responsible for regulating adrenaline and stress hormones that are activated in times of high pressure or activity, such as exercising, stressful situations or even arguments. When you’re exercising hard, you’re activating adrenaline and hormones such as, cortisol, which your body interprets as stress which, in turn, can harm your overall health and affect your performance in the longer run.

If you’re a competing athlete, you know that pressure on your body breaks it down in order for it to develop i.e. no pain no gain. However, if you’re not allowing your body to rest and regenerate and you’re continually allowing your sympathetic nervous system to work in overdrive, you’re setting yourself up for difficulty down the road.

Rest up and save your best for race day

Taking a step back can be tough for the competitive athlete and I’ve been there myself. In fact, it wasn’t by choice that I learned to make working in a part of my training regime. The effects of adrenal fatigue, illness and exhaustion caused by smashing it day in and day out forced me to stop and re-examine my approach to fitness and endurance training. Now, I’m a much better athlete, businesswoman and person for it. 

Working in is about striking that balance between working hard and taking the time out to regroup your mind and body down to a cellular level. Low-intensity, workouts like walks in nature or even kicking the ball around with your children helps to bring that inner balance by effectively distracting you from the “work” in working out and also makes returning to the road for a hard session all the more rewarding. It’s a scientific fact that certain exercises and activities activate hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin that supports a wide range of body functions such as reducing insulin, boosting the immune system and even preventing diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Working out and working in are both equally important parts of a well-rounded athletes regimen. Our bodies perform at their best when we allow it to do and give us what we need to get the most from it. Balance is key. 

For more insights into the lifestyle, health, fitness and mindset and to listen to the podcast on this topic  (episode 25) and subscribe to my weekly podcast you can join in on itunes or stitcher or listen via my website at  "Pushing the Limits" www.lisatamati.co.nz/podcast