Rest Makes You A Better Athlete

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Why did the Golden State Warriors end their 2015 championship run more or less intact, while the Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to come apart at the seams as the regular season wore on? One explanation that has been offered is that the Warriors paid attention to the most important aspect of training: rest. The strategy paid off. The franchise—known for several injury-prone players such as Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston and Andrew Bogut—ended the season with the fewest minutes lost due to injury in the NBA. Here’s how a focus on recovery (and a little luck) can help you outlast your opponents, no matter the sport you practice.

Injury prevention
Ample rest is the deciding factor in most injuries. When you work out, you break down muscle tissue with each rep. Given enough time to recover, your body will repair those micro-tears, resulting in increases to your strength and mass. If you exercise too often without time off, however, your body becomes embroiled in a state of constant disrepair. That increases your risk of strains and pulls.

The virtues of taking it easy
Not every workout has to be about leaving it all out on the gym floor. After intense performance days such as a game or a race, schedule in a few days of light recovery workouts if possible—yoga, easy runs and light weightlifting all work. These exercises allow you to maintain your fitness level without putting more strain on your body. Lighter workouts also ensure that your body stays in an active recovery state longer, allowing you to bounce back to your original form quicker than with inactivity.

Sleep improves performance
On average, athletes should be getting at least one more hour of sleep than non-athletes—your body does most of its muscle recovery in the sleep state, after all. However, getting more sleep can also have its advantages in performance. One study tracking the sleep habits of the Stanford University basketball team over the course of several months found that tacking on two hours of extra sleep a night increased the players’ speed by an average of five per cent, while their free throws were nine per cent more accurate.

Then there’s the mental aspect
Sometimes, your body can only go as far as your mind will take you. Deep sleep, meditation and frequent naps help reduce stress and anxiety. A clear mind is an incredible asset for athletes, allowing them to push past fatigue and focus more on their sport.

It only takes a few small changes
Improving your sleeping hygiene doesn’t take much. For one, you should maintain a regular sleep schedule, hitting the sack and waking up at the same time every day. If life gets in the way, consider taking two 30-minute naps during your day instead. You can also improve the quality of your sleep, not to mention your general athletic performance, by cutting down on alcohol and caffeine.

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