The Importance Of Working In
By Sara Novak
We are told that working out is important to our overall health. We are told that we need to be hitting the pavement, running faster, biking harder, climbing stairs, swimming laps, and the list goes on. Yes, working out is important for your health. It keeps all the body’s systems working optimally, improves bone density, and helps with mental health, but when working out is not properly balanced with working in, the opposite can be true.
Overworking the body is not just physically taxing, it is also mentally taxing because it increases the amount of stress hormones in the body. So what is working in and why is it important to your overall health? Here is what you need to know.
Table Of Contents:
- What Is Working In
- Thai Yoga Massage
- Foam Rolling
- Take a Leisurely Walk
- Have Fun
- Get Some Rest
What Is Working In?:
Working in includes all those leisurely activities that reduce stress hormones in the body. For example, meditation, slow yoga, a leisurely walk, stretching, foam rolling—these are all activities that you should do on the days in between your workouts to help your endocrine system recover. We are in fight or flight mode all day long because of the stresses of everyday life and while working out is important to your musculature and health, it can also increase the number of stress hormones circulating the body.
Muscles are built not on the days that you are working out, but on the days that you are working in. Working out breaks down the muscles, which then grow bigger and stronger on the days where you are at rest. Without rest, your muscles will never have time to get stronger. So give yourself permission to take a break, or lots of breaks, like every other day, to allow your body to get stronger and healthier.
What Are Some Ways Of Working In?:
Working in activities are all the things you crave but never allow yourself time to do. Here are some of my favorites:
Meditation is one of the best ways of working in. The first thing I do every morning is step into my meditation closet, put on my headphones and sit for 30 minutes. While meditation takes time, it also makes time because it reorganizes your brain in such a way that you are better able to get things done. It has also been shown to reduce stress hormones in the brain.
A study published in the journal Advances in Mind - Body Medicine found that “meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.” Another study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found that in those with a generalized anxiety disorder, meditation reduced the amount of stress hormones in the body as well as “pro-imflammatory cytokines.”
To get started, simply find a quiet place in your home (it can be a closet) where you sit every day at the same time. Close your eyes, follow your breath, and put on a timer. Every time a thought comes into your mind (and the thoughts will come) go back to the breath and start over. It is not about the thoughts, they will come. It is about learning not to react to them.
2. Thai Yoga Massage
Thai yoga massage is a great way to reduce stress on the body to allow for muscular growth. Thai yoga is a type of yoga where the practitioner moves the body into yoga poses manually. It has been shown to relieve stress headaches and back pain. A study published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Bodywork found that “the traditional Thai massage used in this study was effective for short-term reduction of pain and disability in patients.”
Another study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that Thai massage increased physical relaxation and reduced pain in patients with upper back pain. Thai massage has been shown to increase joint flexibility, range of motion, reduce anxiety, and revive energy between workouts.
3. Foam rolling
If you do not have a foam roller, then you will want to add it to your repertoire. Foam rolling is a great way to dig into and relax tight muscles on the days in between intense workouts. They relieve tight balls of tension in the body and help your muscles and tendons recover. A small study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling delayed and eased muscle tension in the body.
How to use a foam roller
Do yourself a favor, and purchase a foam roller. Once you have, these stretches can help:
Over time your IT band can tighten which amounts to cinching your entire body. To relieve this, get on your side body, using your elbow to hold you up. With your front leg bent, you can use it to propel you, rolling up and down your IT band. When you find those special spots of intense tension, hold them and breathe. Breathe into the discomfort. Switch sides.
This time you will move from the base of the hip flexor all the way down the front of the leg to your knee. You will use your other leg, preferably on a yoga mat, to propel your body forward. Same thing here, find a spot that is tight and sensitive and hold it here. Bending the knee applies even more pressure to the spot that you are trying to work through. Switch sides.
My hamstrings are always craving the foam roller. Place your foam roller perpendicular to the body. Roll back and forth from just below your bottom all the way to the knee. Again, find those tight places and work through the discomfort. This is particularly good for runners. Now, switch sides.
Pranayama, or deep yogic breathing, is a great way to reduce stress hormones between workouts. A study published in the journal Neurological Sciences found that “the improvements occurred both on the examined physiological effects (heart rate and salivary cortisol levels) and on mood and perceived stress, improvements not observed in the study control group.” Another study published in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences “provides clinical evidence for the use of yoga breathing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and for victims of mass disasters.”
Inhale for 1-2-3 and hold for 1-2-3. Exhale for 1-2-3 and hold. Repeat for 10-15 minutes.
Slow yoga with ample stretching is great for your endocrine system. It can help reverse some of the damage that intense workouts can have on the production of stress hormones in the body. Move slowly and methodically through poses or, even better, try yin yoga, where you can hold the poses for a long period of time.
Yoga is particularly good for your endocrine system, especially if it is mostly deep breathing and long holds. Research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings “indicates that yoga is a viable antihypertensive lifestyle therapy that produces the greatest benefits when breathing techniques and meditation/mental relaxation are included.”
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6. Take A Leisurely Walk
You do not always have to be getting somewhere in a hurry. On your work in days, a leisurely stroll may be all you need. Walking helps keep you moving and it gets you outside in nature. Research has shown that nature reduces stress levels in a meaningful way. It has been called nature therapy and with good reason, nature is great for the soul. A review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that nature therapy is a health-promoting method for the reduction of the modern-day “stress-state.” A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that “nature positively influences mental health; however, in most cases, additional research with more rigorous study designs and objective measures of both nature and mental health outcomes are needed to confirm statistically significant relationships.”
7. Have Fun
You do not always have to be doing something productive. Learning to do nothing is a big part of working in. Even when we meditate or practice yoga, we are constantly trying to achieve. Whether it is enlightenment, peace, or healing, there is a goal in mind. Why not do something just for the sake of having fun? Play can be productive in itself. Do what you love. Be a kid again and learn to play. Play in the sand on the beach. Climb a tree, read a book, do a cartwheel, or chase after your children. Do the things that make you happy between workout days. Life is about doing what you love, not just the things that you need to do day-in and day-out. Play is one of the best work in activities that I can think of and it is free.
8. Get Some Rest
Exercise, especially intense exercise, has been shown to increase cortisol levels in the body while you are doing it. Your cortisol levels go up in a reaction to the stress that you are putting on your body. Working out amps you up, which can make it difficult to go to sleep afterwards. That is why it is important to space your workouts out in such a way that they do not negatively impact your circadian rhythms. Your work in days are also all about getting enough so your body can properly recover, allowing torn down muscles to build back up again. Try and get on a good sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Avoid screen time at night, take a bath, and ease into the evening. Before bed, avoid consuming too much alcohol which can impact your sleep quality and length. Avoid heavy meals before bed because if your liver is working too hard, it can wake you up in the middle of the night. Many of the work in activities listed above may also be great for stress reduction right before bed like deep breathing, yin yoga, stretching, the list goes on.