Workout of the Day

When It's Good to Slow Down

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It’s fair to say that we are believers in the value of intensity in training. So long as it is met with adequate recovery, intensity is our key to driving adaptation (strength, work capacity, etc.). More intensity (by means of weight on the bar or power output) means greater adaptations, and that’s what we’re after.

It will perhaps be surprising, then, to hear me say that sometimes slowing down and moving without intensity may be a key step in ultimately improving your performance.

Enter, the autonomic nervous system (ANS). (Buckle up for a quick science lesson.)
The ANS, responsible for controlling unconscious functions of the body (such as heart rate, respiration, and digestion), is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). The SNS is our “fight or flight” response, whereas the PSNS is the “rest and digest” mode. To put it all in the framework of our training, the SNS is at work when you’re putting in the work at the gym (when we are exposed to a stressor) whereas the PSNS is responsible for our recovery from training.

As you well know, all the training in the world doesn’t do any good without adequate recovery. This is why the upregulation of the PSNS is becoming a hot topic in the world of strength and conditioning. Studies have shown a mirror effect between measures of parasympathetic power and recovery from a fatiguing training bout. Simply put, the PSNS makes you a better recover-er, which ultimately allows you to train harder (with greater intensity and volume) and become a better performer.

So where does slowing down and moving without intensity come into play? If we look at the science, we find that our ANS responds differently to varying intensities of training stimuli. On the one hand, we find that our highest intensity efforts tend to upregulate our SNS, essentially peaking our stress response; on the other hand, moderate intensity efforts (think swimming, easy jogging, hiking, cycling) have an upregulating effect on our PSNS, turning us into more capable recovering machines. Without getting too deep into it, the message here is that some level of lower-moderate intensity, while it won’t directly drive adaptation in the way that our high intensity work does, can contribute to our ability to recover from high intensity work, and ultimately to better performance. We need the stress of intensity to drive progress, but we need to be able to adapt to the stressors, too.

The good news is that training the PSNS can be a rather simple and enjoyable endeavor. There are many strategies (a topic for another day), but the simple act of moving at a moderate intensity is a great place to start. Use your off day to go for a jog, take a swim, hike, paddle, surf, etc. Pull back on the throttle, enjoy a different pace, and reap the rewards of better recovery. We need intensity, but we can’t forget about the other side of the equation.

- PS


3/24/17

  • Take 10 minutes to establish max freestanding handstand hold

  • For time:

  • 21-15-9 reps of

    • Handstand push-ups

    • Pull-ups

    • Squats

    • Sit-ups