Work, Rest and Play
It’s hard to imagine the world’s best athletes being caught napping, yet sleep is vital to any fitness training programme, whether going for gold or aiming for a first 10k. Here, 2012 Olympic medal-winning Australian rower Kim Crow reveals her insider tips on resting well for peak performance.
Train and rest
How many of us consider sleep when we launch into a new fitness regime? For every elite athlete though, time in slumber is as vital as that spent at the gym.
‘It’s super important because recovery is everything and the best form of recovery is sleep. Athletes have a saying that you can only train as much as you can recover’, says Kim Brennan (née Crow), who will be rowing for the Australian team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Scientists have known for decades that cells and tissues get repaired overnight by a cascade of hormones controlled by the endocrine system, in tune with our daily biological clock known as the circadian rhythm. Since the body’s natural default setting is homeostasis – meaning it wants to remain in balance – given the right conditions, it will repair itself even if we push ourselves. Athletes have critically managed training and rest periods to capitalise on this, says Crow. ‘A heavy training load is meant to push you to the limits, and will create a stress response in the body. This causes tiny bits of damage to muscles and cells so the body repairs itself in a better state than before which is called “super compensation” and I can feel it’.
Lie-ins, naps and early nights
Crow’s days are a disciplined routine of early mornings and nights with naps and lie-ins around her gym circuits and twice daily rowing.
‘Regular bed times are crucial. I’m up at 5.45am to walk the dog and eat breakfast before morning training. I take an hour’s nap over lunchtime to freshen up for the afternoon session before going home to have dinner, relax and be in bed by 9/9.30pm.
Twice a week I get to lie in – I set my alarm at 9am, although feel I could sleep all day!’