Recovery, Rest, your Central Nervous System and lack of gains.
Resting is hard which makes recovery next to impossible.
I am a workhorse. I always have been.
If I have 5 spare minutes- I’m fixing a broken handle, doing laundry, sending an email or umm… writing a blog. Ahem.
The same logic applies in the gym.
It only works for me to take 4 minute breaks between sets because I own the place. You’ll see me spotting another lifter, making coffee or cleaning up.
But how does my lack of rest or “time-off” affect my central nervous system, recovery and thus, even more importantly, my gains?
Glad you didn’t ask. Imma tell you... it's not great news for me.
Per Wikapedia: “The central nervous system ( CNS) is the part of the nervous system consisting primarily of the brain and spinal cord. The CNS is so named because the brain integrates the received information and coordinates and influences the activity of all parts of the bodies of bilaterally symmetric animals —i.e., all multicellular animals except sponges and jellyfish.”
Leaving the “sponges and jellyfish” part of that felt important to remind you of how upright you are. Good job.
Anyways, imagine your CNS like a muscle that can be overtrained, torn, but also… can grow. Like a jelly fish that grows into a really strong unicorn through information and knowledge.
Now, imagine each of the muscles you want to grow on your unicorn body like your CNS' little jelly fish minions... if the "brain" isn't operating well, neither are they.
So... Central Nervous System Overtraining in the gym can be diagnosed by a slowing in ALL or most of your movement patterns. Meaning, all of your minions are tired. You may not generate as much force or speed across the board as you have in the past or you might feel more accident prone or even gain fat!
Poor nutrition can add to the problem (feed your minions, you jerk). Maybe your enthusiasm is lacking and you just feel like you’re on the "struggle bus".
This generally happens when you have too much training on your powerlifting proverbial plate.
BUT CNS overtraining doesn’t just apply to the gym.
Life can and will affect your training and training can and will affect your life.
Physical, Mental, Emotional is the triage of happiness, right?
Having just got home from a trip… I am reminded of how much life can affect your CNS and it’s a great, visceral representation most can relate to so I’ll share...
5 days away from work and life should leave me rejuvenated, right?
Well, not exactly.
Travel is a great example of CNS Overload.
You feel fried from work, finances, kids, maybe a break up… a trip is for sure the answer.
Except, you’re just adding more for your central nervous system to process!
So how does the ultimate DOER stop doing to actually rest and recover?
1. Take a fucking nap.
#1 best advice I heard this year, “If you find yourself stuck on a problem for more than 15 minutes, take a nap”. This has worked for a number of reasons but #1 being that if I can’t solve a problem in under 15 minutes, my central nervous system is probably working overload and either 1. Needs to laugh at itself and get past it or 2. I actually need more sleep. Which leads me to #2…
2. Prioritize Sleep.
More than your “self care”, more than your workouts (I know, blasphemy!), more than your partner and even sex… prioritize sleep. Everything in life will be better if you do, I promise.
You are 30% less strong when you are dehydrated. I like to think of this as mental strength too… seriously - 30% is a lot. Read that again. You wake up dehydrated every day AND it takes up to 3 days to recuperate from dehydration…really take a moment to let that sink in and determine if you’ve ever actually been hydrated in your entire life?
Drink water. It’s simple. Wake up, drink water. Before bed, drink water. Just drink water.
I know, who has time? But… hear me out. What if you were 30% more productive overall on a return for 10 minutes of time? Also, I am a big believer in moving meditation such as a solo walk or dance and other activities in nature such as climbing which I believe bring you fully in the moment and give you the same connection to source (if you’re into that) and your inner, quieter self… as meditation, which… is the whole point of meditation. All of which also benefit your movement patterns and overall wellness. Also, you will likely find me in a bar eating alone as I am a big fan of mindful eating. It’s a thing, google it. Or Kama Sutra… again, google it #NSFW.
5. Make a list.
This one is not sexy, it sounds like another to-do but trust me, knowing what needs to be done and checking it off is very good for your overactive brain to let your CNS lean into nothingness a little more. Plus, it gives you a visual on what you might be able to delegate instead.
6. Lay in the sun (sunscreened of course, we aren't total savages!)
It’s like meditation but not… in fact, it’s better - it’s actually doing NOTHING. If something comes up in your head, write it down and go back to doing nothing. Set a timer - the world will not burn down if you spend 1 hour doing absolutely nothing.
So, how about in the gym?
Oftentimes CNS Overtraining happens when you’re transitioning from one training protocol to another and not letting go of the things that no longer serve you. Conversely, you (or your coach) might just be throwing movements at a training plan (ahem, burpees), hoping a solution sticks instead of being systematic.
Take a look at your training log - oh wait…
Step 1. Get a training log (it’s a diary for strong people).
Step 2. After tracking your training patterns, think about why you’re doing each movement - does it have a point?
If not, take it out of the program.
Step 3. If you don’t know the very specific reason why each movement is applied (or your coach doesn’t), consider a change.
Give yourself the parameters to assess, create the most optimal environment you can and move forward with a new perspective.
100% of the time, whether in life or training, this approach will give your Central Nervous System a little break to grow... like the glorious and magical unicorn it really is.