How much rest should you be getting?

It is recommended for the average human to workout 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week. For most of us polers and aerial enthusiasts, this doesn’t seem like enough. We assume that we should be hitting it hard at the studio 7 days per week for at least 3 hours… Guess what, you may be holding yourself back from progressing! If you’re feeling tired and sore, or like you’ve hit a brick wall and cannot nail that trick you’ve been working on for weeks, then the answer may be this: REST!

I caught up with Kathleen Doherty, a Dublin-born dancer, pole dance and aerial dance artist, now living and teaching pole, flexibility and aerial hoop in Porto, to chat to her about the importance of rest and managing energy levels when you’re training pole and aerial dance!

Check out the interview below, where Kathleen shares advice and tips as to how much rest you should be getting, how to manage your energy and “how to not break yourself in the pursuit of a dream”!

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What does a ‘rest day’ mean?

The more that I read about this, the more that there is conflicting evidence as to whether a rest day means doing completely nothing or whether it means that you can do light exercise. However, there are some studies that have shown that the most important thing is that you should have 2-3 rest days per muscle group worked, which adds up to 1-2 full rest days per week.

With pole and aerial it’s really hard to say ‘I did a leg day’ or ‘I did an arm day’, whereas that’s really easy to tell in bodybuilding (that’s why a lot of this research is done within bodybuilding, which is why we have to take it and adapt to where we are in terms of athleticism and sports science). There isn’t necessarily so much research done in the pole and aerial world (it will get there). The general rule that I take for myself is to take at least one full rest day per week; that means not stretching, not panicking and thinking that I should do some squats, and maybe some walking. If I need to stretch something because it hurts, I’ll just take a ball or a foam roller and self-massage instead of stretching. Massage can help with recovery.

Studies have also shown that a non-professional athlete needs 3 rest days per week to perform to peak levels. Other studies have shown that for an adult to learn and “embody” a new skill, they need to practise this skill 3 times per week for an hour. This is completely different to the professional, who needs only two rest days per week, working out to their capacity (sleep, recovery and injury dependant) for the other 5 days, but also maintaining a good sleeping pattern!

So much information is gathered for bodybuilders and athletes, and unfortunately little is known about aerialist and dancers comparatively. On top of this, there are 7 billion of us, all with different cells and different DNA; no two humans are the same. So even with the science, we have to learn to do the most important thing: listen to our bodies! Rest days are rest, walking is ok, gentle yoga is ok. With anything else I would ask you to exercise (no pun intended!) caution. Rest means rest. No sweating, no pushing, nothing that is designed to workout your body and active the need for your muscles to heal and replenish your energy stores.

But yes, you need 1-2 days of nothing! And people forget to do it, and it’s so important!

pole dancing classes dublinHow important is it to get proper sleep when you’re training pole dance and aerial dance?

For pole dance and aerial, it is as important as if you were an athlete training consistently over a long time. You can decrease your muscle capacity for strength by up to 25% if you are lacking in sleep for a period of over 4 days. That in itself is quite a big number, it’s really important to consider that if you’re going training and you know what you’re tired, or if you feel like all you want to do is go to bed. Sometimes all you need to do is go to bed!

It’s really important, not just for the negative effects on your training such as this, but for the positive sides as well. When you train yourself, you’re building and breaking the fibres in your muscles. You can repair over time, outside of sleep but the best time to repair is within your REM cycle of sleep. It helps not only repair the tiny micro-tears in your muscles, but it helps them build and adapt to their new capabilities, and it helps you restore both your blood glucose, muscle glycogen and the enzymes that your body uses as the little building blocks for everything.

So you’re training at a professional level now. I’m thinking back to when I just started out as pole enthusiast and I had no sports background whatsoever; what would you recommend for someone like the person I was, or someone in the early days/months of their pole journey?

There was another great study that read, in order for an adult to learn a new skill, they should aim to be practising it 3 times a week. Which means that you have 4 days of rest! Within that, I think we forget that in the beginning phases, your body is put under so much pressure to achieve something completely new, that we feel that “Oh I must be doing this everyday because the professionals do it every day and I want to be like them”. The professionals don’t train everyday! Especially for somebody learning how to do something brand new, (and the amount of pressure that you’re putting on your muscles, the amount of bruises you might be getting, and micro-tears that you might be getting) that in order to reduce injury and to make sure that you’re safe and can continue learning: I’d say no more than 3 times per week.

On a personal note. I have always learnt the hard way. I took all of the opportunities to learn and train and do and learn more, and long to be a better human, athlete and dancer, then I’ve wondered why my shoulder gave up on me, or I ended up in bed with the flu for 5 days, or I was so tired that I was clumsily falling over my own feet. Rest isn’t spoken about enough, we’re all pushed to do more, be more, train more, harder, faster, longer… Am I making you panic yet?! It surely makes me panic. So I sat down this year and re-arranged myself. Set out to understand smart training, rest days, changing up my workouts and generally how to not break myself in the pursuit of a dream.

flexibility classes dublinGuess what, it’s working. I challenged myself to create a new workout design and continuously change what I am doing. Some weeks I focus on flexibility training for 3 days, studio for two. Some weeks I just spend 3 days in the studio training pole/aerial hoop and then 2 days doing other stuff, gym or studio, or a class. But the most important thing I have learnt this year, is that my body knows best. When I am planning on taking a class and I know that my shoulder has a twinge, then nope, I don’t do it. I stay away, do some leg training or just take the moment to go to the cinema, read a book or spend time with the gorgeous people in my life. Before I would have felt guilty, whereas now I realise that if I go to that one class something will happen that will mean a week away from the loves of my life (spinning and splits).

So to end this small rant, I want to say a few things. Plan your workouts in advance with the maximum goal of 4 days per week of 1-2 hours. Plan your rest days, and take them! If you need more than 3 rest days, take more. Your body will love you for it when you come back from the break; you’ll feel recharged and re-motivated to continue training that trick you’ve been dreaming of.

Train smarter, not harder and you will see the results. Let’s do this!

It’s interesting that you mention that we tend to look up to the professionals and everyone else around us, and how we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to train as hard as we think we “should” be training. Do you think there’s also a link between our emotions and mindset and how this impacts on our training?

Massively! I’m always talking about this to my students. When I was growing up, as a baby dancer, my teachers would always say “Leave your emotions at the door” and I always had a hard time with that. Because my emotions are me.

Sure, you don’t want to come in to training and be throwing things around or angry or crying all over the place, but to a certain extent you’re never going to be able to shut down your emotions. So if you’re feeling sad, you’re going to be a little tired. if you’re feeling upset, you might be a little shaky, and therefore a little more clumsy. If you’re angry, you might try to do the trick harder than you’ve ever done but your muscles may be tense and you may hurt yourself.

I think it’s really important to be aware that there is a massive link between where you are psychologically and where you are physically.

pole dancing classes dublinStress is obviously a huge collection emotions that affects a lot of us, few of us seem immune to it! How does stress impact on your ability for recovery and sleep?

A lack of sleep affects the amount of cortisol you produce. Cortisol is a steroid hormone and is produced in response to stress and low blood glucose concentration. So basically, when you aren’t getting enough sleep the amount of cortisol in your body goes up, which means that you’re less able to deal with stressful situations. And also it helps with the blood glucose within your body which needs to get replenished during sleep. You need to have the blood glucose and the muscle glycogen, which are linked to carbs that you eat and your nutrition (but that’s another thing), in your body to be able to perform to your maximum. In short terms, if you’re lacking sleep, you’re going to end up going into a cycle of just being more stressed, continuing not to be as strong and not being able to progress to your maximum.

Yes I agree, I hear a lot of talk about the ‘how much sleep should you be getting’ topic! There seems to be a lot of mixed messages about this!

Yes it’s massively dependent on the person, I think you have to figure it out for yourself. You’ll know; if you’re getting 4 hours sleep and you’re feeling groggy for the whole day, then you’re not getting enough sleep! If you’re happy at 6-7 hours sleep, then you’re ok. Some people need 9 hours sleep a night to feel like they’re performing in any way ok. So it’s down to figuring out what’s right for yourself.

If you had one big take away for the average poler on how to rest optimally, what would it be?

Listen to your body. We don’t listen to ourselves enough! Sometimes I see my students coming into class and they’re so exhausted but saying “I HAVE to be here”. Remember no you don’t have to be here! Sometimes you need to be at home and listening to yourself! There is always tomorrow, once you’ve had rest. I think we often get into a cycle of “I need to do it NOW and EVERYDAY, and I need constant progression!!!” You will progress more if you rest! You will get less injuries, you will be more motivated, you won’t be reliant on external influences to get you into the studio. If you take that day off when you need to, you’re going to wake up the next day and feel like “Yes I can do this!”. Remember at the end of the day, your body is all you’ve got it; this is it! Be kind to yourself.

Cheers Kathleen!

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Recommend resources for further reading from Kathleen:

Interesting article about recovery in training:

Super complicated… Needs to be read more than once:

Small article with useful links for nerds!

Nice little information piece:

Advice from a coach:

And the most awesome Rachel Strickland: