Rest and Recovery: The Secret Weapon You Need to Utilize

You’ve been training hard, putting in the hours at the barn and the gym – but could you actually be doing more harm than good? Scheduling in time for a bit of R&R – that’s rest and recovery – is one of the smartest things you can do for your body.

Rest is crucial – and a good dog or two helps, too! Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

When I was writing my book, I wanted to make rest and recovery the first pillar of any rider fitness program. I was talked out of this by more than one person, so eventually, I caved — but it’s still one of the four pillars of a successful exercise program. (Those pillars, in all, are Riding, Strength Training, Flexibility, and, finally Rest and Recovery).

There are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year — and so you’d better be making time for rest and recovery, or injury will sneak up on you. However, most equestrians wear the number of days they have gone without a day off like a badge of honor. That’s especially true currently, when the season in the United States only seems to slow down in November and December, rather than giving way to a true off-season like it used to, and as we still see in other countries. But even with that constant pull to get out and perform, it’s important to incorporate proper rest and recovery techniques through out the year. Down time is when the most growth happens: it is not the strength training session that builds muscle; it actually causes micro tears to the muscle tissue, and through rest and recovery, these micro tears are rebuilt stronger.

Rest and Recovery Technique #1: Sleep

You need eight hours of sleep at night, and the more active you are, the more sleep you actually need. There are so many physiological processes that are directly impacted by sleep that in this article, I’m going to only scratch the service. Sleep has an impact on muscle growth but also your cardiovascular system, your hormones, your respiratory and immune system, your metabolism, and the way you think and form memories. (Looking for more information? Check out this NIH article!) Your mind and body need to sleep in order to function properly, and there are a couple of simple ways you can improve sleep hygiene: limit screen time one hour before bed, and try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day.

Rest and Recovery Technique #2: Stop Scrolling Mindlessly

I would rather you sit down and watch a tv show, play a board game, bake a loaf of bread, go for a walk, do a workout, clean tack, clean a stall, journal — anything other than the doom scroll. Do something mindless that gets your brain into the present moment. Using social media as a decompression technique is not only not helpful; it can be quite harmful for your overall wellbeing. That negative impact goes further than the widely maligned mental health issues it can cause — it’s also probably affecting your body, too. Let’s just talk about the impact that “tech neck” is having on the workforce: it comes from bad posture looking at your phone. Your spine has a natural S curve that you want to support with good posture. Since 2020 physical therapy practices across the country have seen a great increase of this issue. If you are going to scroll, set a timer and don’t get lost for more than 20 minutes. There are so many better uses for your time.

Rest and Recovery Technique #3: Take Time Off

I am all for a good vacation — but that said, I haven’t taken one since my honeymoon in 2017! It’s important to schedule time off throughout the year and not just save the rest and recovery for a vacation. If you haven’t had a day off in more than ten days, you seriously need to consider rearranging your priorities. Don’t you want to be riding into your 90s like the Queen did? You won’t be if you suffer a major overtraining injury that keeps you out of the tack. This is not just solid advice for those eventers who are 30+, like me. I was actually told by an orthopaedic surgeon that I had the spine of a 90-year-old at the age of 14: this was from heavy wheel barrows, lifting waterbuckets and not respecting the importance of rest and recovery as a working student. It took months to reduce the pain and tingling I was experiencing, and after three months out of the tack and with a lot of physical therapy, I was able to get safely back in the saddle — but I have done damage to my body that I will live with for the rest of my life.

So, when you are sitting around a fire contemplating what you want for your year in 2023, seriously consider making rest and recovery a priority — it’s the most achievable, and probably the most beneficial, resolution you’ll make.