What’s The Difference Between Rest and Recovery?
Just Because You’re Resting Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Recovering
In today’s world of endless entertainment, work commitments, and social interaction, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and need a good rest.
Most people sit down and relax to a good TV show, take a nap, or play video-games, but the reprieve from work is only temporary. While the time spent resting may be enjoyable, it doesn’t actually contribute to effective recovery.
I was a competitive long distance runner for 15 years, and if there is one lesson I learned, it’s that there is a huge difference between rest and recovery.
There’s nothing like running 60–70 miles in a week and then plopping down to rest and watch some television. That’s the average weekly training load for any competitive collegiate distance runner, and trust me, it can get exhausting. But ask any of those runners how they recover, and their answer may surprise you.
“I recover by going for an early-morning recovery run”
What!? After becoming exhausted from running 60 miles in a week, runners recover by waking up early to run more!?
Sounds crazy, but this is a standard practice among the top runners in the nation, and as crazy as it sounds, it works.
Exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler, from the University of Adger, Norway, argues that “combining large volumes of low-intensity training with careful use of high-intensity interval training throughout the annual training cycle is the best-practice model for development of endurance performance.” Runners need to do slow runs because it allows them to recover faster, and gives them a better chance at developing endurance.
These runners are some of the fastest recoverers in the world, but they are not the only people who need to spend time effectively recovering.
In his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explores research that suggests how important rest is to our productivity and creativity at work. He notes that, we as humans, are far more effective at work when we have given ourselves a chance to properly recover.
Just like the runners, we also need to recover from working, and the way in which distance runners recover may reveal an important lesson about how we too, can most effectively recover.
Rest is Passive
It’s been a long day.
Billy just got home from working overtime, and the first thing he wants to do is sit down on the couch and relax to some good old comedy television. Sounds great.
There’s nothing wrong with that, rest is important.
The important question however, is to what extent does the simple act of resting constitute effective recovery?
Certainly his muscles will relax, and his mind will find temporary distraction from it’s problems, but will Billy actually recover the energy that he has seemingly lost?
It seems important to note at this point, what the word rest actually means. It’s called rest, because at the end of the day, the time left over is the “rest of the day”.
In other words, rest is passive, and just because Billy is resting does not necessarily mean that he is effectively recovering.
Too much time spent resting can actually backfire and induce fatigue.
As I’m sure we can all attest to, watching television for hours on end doesn’t always amount to an energized or inspiring state of mind. In fact, it usually leads to the opposite. Sleeping all day can have the backward effect of making us more tired than before we started.
Rest does not always mean recovery, and it’s effectiveness is only temporary.
Recovery is Active
If rest is the time left at the end of the day, then recovery is the act of using that time effectively. It is an active and deliberate practice, and can only be fully utilized through an accurate sense of self-understanding.
This sense of self-understanding is not difficult to attain, you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or an elite distance runner before you can exercise it. Put simply, an accurate sense of self-understanding means knowing what it is that drives you.
What is your source of motivation? Where does your sense of meaning come from? What is at the center of your being and decisions?
Effective recovery means reminding ourselves of the meaning behind our work.
It means re-covering the foundation of our being, and that can only be done deliberately.
In his well known book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey devotes an entire chapter to discussing the importance of recovery. He insists that the most important thing someone can do is take time to “sharpen their saw.” It reminds me of a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln
Martin Luther also also emphasized the importance of recovery.
I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.
— Martin Luther
Covey then goes on to emphasize how important to effective work it is to take time to renew our sense of purpose, the center of our lives, and that nothing is more capable of refreshing us than this time.
Recovery is imperative to effective work because it is a form of preparation. It can be done at the end of the day, but also at the beginning.
In today’s world, it has become exceedingly easy to distract ourselves from the things that are important in life. These distractions may seem to provide temporary relief, a rest from the storm, but they never effectively solve any of our problems. The only way to withstand the storm, is to build a sturdy house on a firm foundation. Recovery is the process by which we remind ourselves of the foundation of our houses, the center of our lives.
As a human, I am the most effective when I know why I am doing what I do. That’s what distance runners are doing with their recovery runs. While running, they are both shaking out their muscles, and thinking about what it is that compels them to run in the first place. They are re-covering the basics of running and renewing their sense of purpose.
Rest means taking care of the tools, recovery means making sure the tools are being used to build the right house. They are different, but both essential to effective house building or any pursuit in life.
Hey, I’m Nate! I write about life, leadership, and travel. If you regularly enjoy my writing, then I suggest joining my weekly Email Newsletter so you can directly interact with me and be notified when a new article is released!
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