Here’s part five in our series about how to keep in tip-top shape on and off the ice: remember to take your rest days! At the end of this article, you’ll find some ideas for making the most of your rest day so that you’ll be more ready than ever to get back on the ice.
Hockey Is Hard Work
Hockey is hard work, as any player will tell you, and the science backs that up. A 1988 study of hockey physiology—in other words, what’s going on in the bodies of pro hockey players—confirmed that hockey is an intense sport. It activates players’ hearts and muscles to the extreme, and it demands an incredible amount of oxygen simply to play.
All of that is really great for your body: your body is designed for incredible feats. At the same time, your body is not designed to work as hard as it possibly can every single day.
In 2013, researchers studying professional soccer players in the World Cup found something similar: players who underperformed had played more matches in the previous 10 week period, and players who “played above expectations” had actually participated in fewer matches in that same period.
What’s going on here?
One thing that can happen is something called “lactic acidosis”—that term describes what happens when your muscles can’t get enough oxygen quickly enough. Ever had your muscles start burning during practice? That burning sensation is from lactic acid, which is totally normal and very healthy in small amounts during physical activity. Too much, though, especially without adequate recovery, can cause your muscles to experience chronic fatigue, and can actually make your body weaker over the long term.
When athletes don’t give their bodies time to recover from intense bouts of physical activity—and hockey is one of the most intense sports out there—they can harm their performance potential.
The lesson? Great players work hard. They rest hard, too.
How Rest Makes You A Stronger Player
When you take a rest day, you give your body’s clean-up crew (think your blood and your lymph system) time to clear out toxic buildup like that lactic acid mentioned above. You also give your blood a chance to infuse your muscles and tissues with the oxygen and nutrients they need to both recover and get even stronger.
Adequate rest also bolsters your mental health. Feelings of burnout can often accompany athletes who don’t give their bodies or minds adequate breaks: building in days when you are taking a step back from the sport can help you return to the sport the next day with increased drive and enthusiasm
What Does Rest Look Like?
Sometimes athletes struggle with guilt about not working hard enough when they take rest days: if that sounds like you, you might appreciate something like an “active rest day,” where you’re still moving your body, but not nearly as rigorously or in the same way as in your normal practice. Active rest days can also be an important tool in your fitness regimen, helping you to ease pressure off the same muscle groups and incorporate more movement from new areas of the body.
- Taking a long, slow walk while listening to a podcast or music can help your body gently activate while keeping exertion to a minimum.
- Gentle stretching or yoga can offer relief to tired muscles and can set them up to perform optimally in the coming days.
- A relaxed swim can be a great way to take impact off your joints and use your body in a different way. Just remember that this is a rest day! No need to push too hard on your laps.
Active rest days can be a great way to introduce movement to your recovery routine, but don’t neglect the value of what experts call “passive rest,” or simply doing nothing! Remember that athletic excellence is a holistic project: cultivating friendships, pursuing hobbies, and exploring your area are all really wonderful ways to contribute to your overall wellness. Laughing with friends over a board game or exploring a local museum or a new restaurant are important because they feed you as a person, not simply as an athlete.
Some athletes find it helpful to treat one day a week as an active rest day and one day as a passive rest day. Your coach can be an amazing resource for how to incorporate rest as part of your workout routine, and your teammates can be a great support system as you explore the benefits of rest!