How competitive sports changed how I think about recovery
I’ve been competing at kettlebell sport for 4 years now. If you don’t know how the sport works, here’s a quick overview:
- Sets are 10 minutes long.
- You compete against people of your gender in a body weight category.
- You compete at a specific bell weight (12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, etc).
- You compete in one or more events (mine is two-arm long cycle — here’s a reference).
- In 10 minutes, you get as many reps (with perfect form) as you can.
When I first started competing, my approach to most things was this:
Give the task 120% until you literally have nothing left.
Most of the time, this means sustaining an injury.
Then, impatiently hurry through your recovery until you can do it again.
Rinse and repeat.
Needless to say, I probably spent a lot more time in recovery with this method, simply because my injuries were far worse than they would have been otherwise.
- Costrochondritis (inflammation of the ribs)
- Disc herniations
- Inflamed nerves
- and a myriad of other small injuries that made training really, really hard.
By 2020, this method was starting to take its toll.
It was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was treating work, exercise, and my relationship with the same fervor. And it caught up with me.
But this wasn’t like my previous injuries.
This time, I was out for a year.
And I knew it was time to revisit my recovery strategy.
Olympic athletes know the importance of recovery.
OK, I’m not an olympic athlete.
But…shouldn’t I be taking a leaf from the experts’ book?
Nutrition and cross-training are key, for sure. But the importance of rest can’t be understated.
In fact, many professional athletes reported improved performance during the pandemic — all because they were getting more rest.
During 2020, I reevaluated the importance of rest.
Most importantly, I moved sleep way up on my priority list. I started spending 8 hours a night in bed — even if I couldn’t stay asleep for that long.
I started reading before bed, instead of watching TV.
I started turning my phone off more, stretching every day, and incorporated a yoga practice.
I cut down the number of days a week I would train from 6+ to 4, with lighter recovery days built in.
And you know what I noticed?
I stopped getting injured so often.
I could hear my body, and I was able to listen to it when it asked for time off.
But I felt calmer, too. And I began to approach work in a different way.
The mental shift from “have to” to “want to”
Taking time off to recover caused my brain to get more excited about exercise. Instead of saying to my partner, “I have to train this morning,” I started saying things like, “I want to work on my technique today,” and “I want to see if I can lift this heavier weight.”
Interestingly, this spread into my professional and personal self, too.
The recovery, time off, and listening to my body helped me listen to my mind, too.
It stopped me from taking on too much at work, instead focusing my attention on really doing the best job I could on what I was working on.
It helped me quiet my mind and take time away from a problem when I knew I needed a break from it to truly solve it.
It helped me start this blog, something I wanted to do for about a decade now.
Recovery helped me get excited about things, and approach things with excitement — not dread
Interestingly, when I started taking more time to recover, I found myself getting better at sports.
I also started getting more done at work — in less time.
Before, I felt bad about taking breaks at work. About going for a quick walk to clear my mind. About stepping away from my computer to pet my dog and chew on a problem in the background.
I felt bad because I was afraid people would think I wasn’t working hard enough. And this mentality meant I was never fully unplugged.
Mentally, I was never recovering.
Over time, this burned me out. It made me exhausted. And the exhaustion turned my excitement to dread, until dread was all I felt, all the time.
For me, one silver lining during the COVID pandemic has been that I’ve learned how to recover. How to say no. How to take a break.
And now I see recovery as an essential part of, well, everything.
Of my success as an athlete.
Of the creative process.
Of being a productive and effective employee.
I no longer feel bad about having a lazy Sunday or taking my vacation days. I don’t feel bad when I sign off at the end of my 8 or 9 hour work day.
I don’t feel bad because I feel like I’m actually doing a service to my company.
I’m making my longevity possible.
I’ll be more productive, more effective, happier, and more likely to stay for the long term.
And that’s something I couldn’t say before.