There’s a school of thought in many sporting circles: ‘don’t stop persevering until you achieve mastery’. It applies to both training and competition. On the extremely competitive end, taking a break is even seen as a lack of commitment at best and weakness at worst. Fortunately, these ideas are being shown from many different performance angles as old-fashioned and problematic.
There comes a time in every athlete’s training cycle when they earn a well-deserved break. This can be daunting for people who embody a sense of relentless daily determination towards perfection. But for the performance, motivation, and injury risk of an athlete, taking a break can bring a number of benefits.
It’s hard to admit that needing a break is an important component of overall training. Along with life's daily challenges outside of sport, training and competing can take a toll on your mental state.
To really understand why we need to take breaks, it’s important to reflect on how our brains process information. First, it consciously gathers information when we practice drills or compete in tournaments. The next stage involves unconscious processing. This aims to sort information out so it’s useful for us in the future and occurs when we’re occupied with other things or, even better, sleeping.
Our brains can only take in so much raw information that has to be processed before more information can be added. Feeling like your brain is full after hours of last-minute exam cramming is an example of this in action. Exactly the same principle applies to learning sports skills.
With overextension, little aches or nags can quickly turn into full-blown injuries if you’re not careful. Your body can only work at high intensity for so long until something is pushed over its limit, resulting in injury. Taking time off provides an opportunity for sore, stiff, and likely micro-torn muscles to heal.
The key here is to step back before you burn yourself out. Don’t let an injury happen or complete lack of motivation develop before you take a break as these are much harder to fix.
On the plus side, it’s important to know that taking a break doesn’t involve doing nothing. Far from it. In fact, it’s an opportunity to stimulate yourself and grow in other areas. For example, try yoga or go swimming. The opportunities for cross-training that doesn’t put pressure on areas of your body that require rest depends entirely on your personal situation.
After a well-deserved break and less intense explorations in other forms of sport or activity, you’ll come back stronger than ever.
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