By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating
(Read Training for the Mental Side: Injury Prevention Pt. 1 here)
Years ago I worked for the U.S. Olympic Committee and served as the team psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating. It is a sport known for an incredibly rigorous off ice training program. These athletes trained twice a day as hard as any other athletes I have worked with. What they did for dry land would make your head spin. Four hours out in 90-degree weather doing a series of exercises involving running, jumping and moving in all directions in the low skating position. Some even completed these workouts with a 30-pound weight vest on. I am telling you; it is like something you have never seen. If you just think of the 10k event in that low position. A position where there is interference with oxygenation to the muscles. Lactate builds up, pain sets in and the skater must stay low to avoid a disruption in mechanics that will lead to deceleration. You get the idea.
Shortly after I started working with them, one of the teams was going to a World Cup in Sheffield England. I would say the event was about 3 weeks after I started working with the team. And the coach was giving them time off. Yes, at times, the afternoon off – nothing, no training. Some of the skaters would go for a light bike ride or run, but nothing consistent with the intensity of the training program. I was going crazy seeing them rest. I wanted to say something to the coach because my fear was the team would not be prepared for the event. So I went to the senior exercise physiologist at the Training Center for guidance. I said to Randy Wilber, Ph.D., “Do you know what is going on? These kids are being given time to rest. Isn’t that crazy?” Randy replied, “Doug, their program is based upon science. We test their blood chemistry to be sure they have trained the ideal amount. They have been working hard for months. Tapering like this will allow all that training to result in being physiologically ready. Trust the coach. She knows what she is going.” I took his feedback on faith, but still was restless.
That coach taught me the importance of rest in the training program. She called it “regeneration time.” That is what they called it in Canada where she was from. I called it laziness. See I am old school. Back in the day we would prepare for ice hockey season by running 400 or so stone stairs in a place called Whirlpool Park in Niagara Falls, NY. In the middle of summer when the humidity was 90%, we would run and run up and down those stairs. Some of us used to vomit, but we would keep going. And if we could still walk, we would go to what was called “hells road” to run it. Hells road was about 1 mile long, and was an uphill climb the entire way. Then when it came time to get on the ice, our coach would skate us until some players were vomiting. I remember getting so dizzy because of oxygen debt I could barely stand. BUT it was an absolute rush to push like this. It felt like not only a physical victory, but also a psychological victory to handle these workouts. However, based upon what I have learned over the last 25 years, those workouts were not very smart. We were at high risk of overtraining and under recovery – a major cause of injury.
I came to value what I learned from that coach. It served me well and got me to “stay on my side of the fence.” In other words, I handled the psychological and left the physiological side to those who knew best. I accepted my old school way of training would just lead to disaster. So my hope is you experience training programs based upon the science. Getting up tired and sore day after day and losing motivation to train could mean you are pushing too hard and not getting enough rest. If you keep trying to push when over trained you will think you are too weak to complete the workouts and your confidence will suffer. Remember rest is part of a training program. Not resting enough will put you at risk for injury. Then you will be forced to rest. And that is no fun! So it is a way to prevent injury by getting down time from the grind. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy is outdated and not supported by the research. But that philosophy is alive and well and hard to change, because in some situations it works well.
Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance on or off the field.
Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating – www.drdougjowdy.com