It’s almost September, and let’s be honest, you’re in great shape. Or you’re almost there. Just a little longer distances, some slightly harder efforts and bam!
You suddenly feel a tickle in your throat. Your head’s pounding, your legs are shot and your heart races when you start working out. You’re having trouble sleeping and this head cold is something you hadn’t bargained for.
Probably overtraining. “Pish-posh,” you think. “I’m not an elite athlete. I don’t train full time and I’m sure I could be doing more.”
But you are human. Even the pros will tell you, the body needs proper rest to perform its best. Most nordic skiers on the U.S. Ski Team (USST) take one day off per week, and in a series of emails with FasterSkier, several explained why and what they do to pass the time.
You’re not going to lose your mojo by taking it easy, and you don’t have to go stir crazy on an off day, either. Schedule rest and recovery regularly on a day that’s convenient, when you’re busy with other things or have some travel to tend to. A little load off the legs isn’t going to kill you, and it could keep you going strong into the ski season.
On Monday, Jessie Diggins tweeted that she was helping her USST and Stratton Mountain School teammate Andy Newell “hammer some nails and build a deck in the hot sun while munching maple donuts,” and added the hashtag, “#GoodLife.”
In an email, Diggins wrote that Mondays are typically her days off. She spent yesterday working on Newell’s cabin in Weston, Vt., about 25 miles north of Stratton.
“On the rest day I try to get some work done – write a blog, catch up on emails, clean my room (okay, so maybe I don’t always get the cleaning done, but it’s a nice thought),” she wrote. “It’s also nice to do something fun on the day off, like go swimming or go to a movie or just chill out and read some good books. During a hard training week I feel like my energy between training sessions is pretty much gone, so the day off is when I get a chance to get caught up.”
While at a 10-day training camp with the Swedish national women’s team a couple of weeks ago, Diggins and four other American women had two days off, both of which were travel days. They took the first before camp started in Sälen, Sweden. Four days later, the entire group had another while driving to Torsby for four days of training in the ski tunnel. Diggins explained she stretched that day to let her muscles relax, and some of the women did yoga.
“Without the rest day, we wouldn’t have been able to make it through the camp healthy and with quality training sessions,” she continued. “The rest day is when the body builds itself back up and recovers.”
According to Newell, fitting in an off day isn’t always easy, especially while traveling. Regardless, he gets it in at some point.
“Sometimes I’ll go over 7 days without taking an off day just because of the scheduling,” he wrote. “For example when we were just on our Austria camps, which was 15 days long, I think I only took one true off day from training in Oberhof [Germany].”
During periods of high-volume training, Newell sometimes works out seven or eight days in a row to rack up the hours. He takes off a few days the following week.
“I think it’s fairly common that after intense blocks of training, professional skiers take easy weeks with 2 or even 3 off days,” he wrote.
In the summer, Newell likes to spend those days “hanging out in the sun, swimming, or working on the cabin,” he wrote. “Off days in VT are sweet because I get to hang out with a lot of my buddies who aren’t in the skiing world. We might all work on somebody’s house, pound nails, and then we all meet at the local red neck bar in Londonderry for happy hour or have a BBQ.”
See? Even the best skiers are human, too. But according to Newell, kicking back during the nearly five-month-long World Cup isn’t always so glamorous.
“Rest days during the winter can sometimes be really boring because we might be stuck in a hotel in some not so fun European town,” Newell wrote. “But as long as it’s not dumping snow or something we usually get together as a team and head out into town to walk around, hang out in a coffee shop, and just relax outside of our hotel rooms.
“We spend so much time in hotels during the winter it’s definitely worthwhile to get out and experience the local culture a little bit. It feels good to get the blood moving and walk around before you we get back to hanging out and playing guitar.”
Other USST members weigh in:
Holly Brooks: After what the Alaska Pacific University coach and skier described as an “intensive camp” in Sweden, Brooks flew to Seattle to spend three days with family before heading home to Anchorage, Alaska. She emailed FasterSkier from the Seattle airport, where her flight out was canceled.
“This was supposed to be a training day but turned into a ‘rest day’ by means of getting stuck here!” Brooks wrote. “Not ideal but some things are out of my control, right?
“I was lucky enough to squeeze two nights in at my family cabin at Snoqualmie Pass where I learned to ski,” she continued. “My grandmother who is Swedish and I had a blast making coffee bread or ‘Swedish Bula’ at our Stugan (Swedish for ‘The Cabin’)…. she was certainly on my mind during our trip and training camp there.”
Brooks usually takes one day off per week, which “could either mean a day with no activity whatsoever or it might be a light cross training activity.”
While in Sweden, the U.S. women tried a different format (two four-day blocks with one rest day in between) based on the Swedish national team’s schedule. Back home, the Americans train hard at camps for at least a week before a recovery day.
“I was certainly a bit tired at the start of the Torsby training block,” Brooks wrote. “I have a tendency to feel bad the first day of training after an off day. Fatigue was certainly built up as the camp went on and people were dropping like flies by the last day. However, by the last day (day 4 in Torsby) I felt better than the first. Sometimes your body will surprise you and it’s more resilient than you would initially expect it to be!”
But what about travel? Is it really the best time to be recovering?
“I prefer to not mix recovery days and travel, but with the amount of travel that we do in both the training and competition season, we would miss too much training if we regularly took time off for a restful recovery day AND a training day. It’s not ideal but it works, as long as your proactive about staying healthy in other ways, i.e. sleep, nutrition, trying to minimize stress, etc.
“After travel days I’m always careful to plan easy training as the body has a tendency to carry excess fluid and old injuries flare up out of no where. My first ski in the Torsby Tunnel I felt both my elbow tendinitis and a back problem; both injuries that I haven’t suffered from all summer. The next day they were gone but I think it’s important to note that easy training after travel – and perhaps even a good yoga session is a good idea!”
Tad Elliott: “When I was younger I took about ten rest days a year,” wrote the 24-year-old member of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown. “Now with [USST men’s coach] Jason Cork writing my plan I take one rest day a week. Rest is just as important as those L4 intervals. Recovery is huge and key. In Austria I had one off day. We traveled that day and I just packed and unpacked and read a lot of my book on that day.”
What do you generally do at home in Colorado?
“For a rest day in Durango I do errands with my mom most of the time and read and take naps. I also try to play golf with my twin bro when he gets off of work. I play golf a lot on easy days and off days during the training months.”
What about when you’re racing internationally?
“On the World Cup and race season I rest and I rest hard. I sleep a lot and either read or watch movies. … I actually usually don’t leave the hotel except to go to the grocery store and stock up on fizzy water and snacks.”
Simi Hamilton: “I think rest days are just as important as hard training days for us as they’re essentially the only time we are letting our bodies fully absorb all the training that we’ve been doing,” the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation skier wrote. “Plus, as XC athletes I think we’re so used to running around all day and constantly being ‘in motion’, so it’s good to learn how to just do nothing for a full day or two when you need to do that.”
What did you do on your single off day in Europe earlier this month, while traveling from Austria to Germany?
“I went out for a super easy 45 min. classic roller ski when we get to Oberhof. … Sometimes you just kind of need to do that on a rest day, especially if you’ve been in the car for a bunch of hours. … You just have to make sure you’re going super easy and you’re letting your mind drift away a little bit from where it usually is when you’re really training hard.”
Ida Sargent: “What I do on my off days depends on where I am,” wrote the Craftsbury Green Racing Project member. “Often in the winter our off days are travel days so we spend them in the van or on a plane. When I’m home at Craftsbury I like to do some work hours at the Center, which ends up usually being active recovery. I don’t train at all on those days at all but I like to stay busy and catch up on stuff.
“As far as rest days go, I think the most important thing is to listen to your body and do what you need that day. For me each rest day is different depending on how much energy I have.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.