Rest is the cessation of activity. Rest is of interest within sport and exercise psychology because performance and learning in sport and exercise domains are affected positively by appropriate use of rest and negatively by inappropriate use of rest.
The specific effects of rest depend on the length of the rest period and the length and type of event within which rest is provided. When the event is a practice or exercise session or competition, rest periods are usually taken or provided within the event and last for seconds or minutes. These periods have three functions.
First, they reduce physical fatigue induced by the activity. Physical systems engaged during activity consume energy and produce waste products. Rest affords energy replenishment and removal of these products. Failing to rest prevents these processes, which degrades physical functioning, leading to poor performance. Despite common beliefs that physical fatigue negatively affects psychological functioning (e.g., decision making [DM]), there is little evidence of this currently. Second, rest periods within an event reduce cognitive fatigue induced by the activity. Sport tasks often require full attention, especially if tasks are not well learned or the goal is to improve rather than maintain task performance. Providing full attention is effortful and leads to cognitive fatigue. Consequently, practice sessions requiring full attention are often limited to around one hour before fatigue is experienced and rest is required. Rest replenishes attentional capacity. Failing to rest prevents this process, which degrades the ability to attend, leading to poor performance. Third, rest during practice sessions specifically can enhance the learning of movement skills. The provision of rest within a practice session is termed distributed practice; providing no rest is termed massed practice. Distributed, versus massed, practice enhances long-term learning of movement skills. Theoretical explanations for this effect can be found in References: at the end of this entry.
Rest periods lasting hours or days are usually taken or provided between events (e.g., competitions). These periods have four functions. First, they allow greater energy replenishment than is afforded by the smaller rest periods typically taken or provided within events. Second, an event placing a greater-than-normal physical demand on the performer, known as an overload, causes a breakdown in the overloaded physical system. Breakdowns stimulate physical adaptations within the system that lead to a new, higher level of system functioning than existed before the overload was applied, a process termed super-compensation. However, days of rest are required for complete adaptations to occur. Thus, rest days between events allow for super-compensation following overload. Third, rest periods lasting hours or days enhance memory consolidation, particularly if they include naps or overnight sleep, which facilitates learning (e.g., of a new movement skill). Memory consolidation involves a gradual stabilizing of newly acquired memories following practice. Consolidation increases the resistance of memories to forgetting and interference from other similar memories, resulting in better learning. Fourth, a high level of motivation must be maintained for the performer to attend fully during an event as well as spend many hours per day within the sport environment (e.g., in the gym). Rest periods lasting hours or days help reverse decrements in motivation that result from extended practice and competition and immersion in the sport environment.
Practice and training regimens spanning a competitive season or longer time frame are often divided into periods, a process known as periodization, to allow athletes to obtain a high level of performance when they are required to compete. One common approach to periodization involves three major periods. The first period involves preparation for competition. The second period comprises the target competition(s). As such, the performer undertakes much activity in these two periods. The third period involves a transition between a completed competition period and the next preparation period and is characterized by weeks of rest. Rest in the transition period involves the cessation of activity but often also includes what is termed active rest. Active rest involves engagement in activities designed to help the performer maintain a base of physical fitness and movement skill while imposing a low training load.
The weeks of rest provided in the transition period afford physical energy replenishment, physical adaptation, and healing following the demands of the preparation and competition periods. Also, a high level of motivation must be maintained for the performer to (a) provide the physical and cognitive effort required during the preparation and competition periods and (b) spend many hours per day during the months spanning these periods within the sport environment. The transition period, involving weeks of rest and active rest, helps reverse decrements in motivation that may follow the preparation and competition periods.
Chronic failures to rest within and/or between practice or exercise sessions or competitions, and/ or between demanding periods of larger-scale training regimens (e.g., preparation and competition periods) can lead to physical and psychological problems that impede performance and are slow to reverse. Among these are the overtraining and burnout syndromes. Overtraining syndrome is characterized primarily by a long-term decrement in performance capacity restored only following weeks or months of rest. The key characteristic of burnout syndrome is a long-lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion, sport devaluation, and reduced sense of accomplishment.
In conclusion, rest influences performance and learning in sport and exercise domains. Athletes and coaches as well as exercisers and fitness instructors who include appropriate rest periods within and between their practice and exercise sessions and also competitions can expect to capitalize on the positive effects of rest.
- Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406. doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.100.3.363
- Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Gleeson, M., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J., & Urhausen, A. (2006). Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome. European Journal of Sports Science, 6,1–14. doi: 10.1080/1746130600617717
- Shea, C. H., Lai, Q., Black, C., & Park, J.-H. (2000).Spacing practice sessions across days benefits the learning of motor skills. Human Movement Science,19, 737–760. doi: 10.1016/S0167-9457(00)00021-X