The World Cup is the ultimate show case: squads have minimal time to work together to form a team, various international tactics are displayed against each other, new names will rise up and never be forgotten (Tim Krul & James Rodriguez) and some of the world’s greatest athletes are on display for everyone to see. This World Cup in Brazil also saw the impact of basic sport physiology in plain view: the heat and humidity. One of the ESPN pundits said “the heat and the humidity are not a factor since it was hot in Germany during the 2006 World Cup.” This was one of the stupidest things someone could say. Just ask anyone that comes to Miami for an away game. Despite this pundits’ naivety towards basic science, there is another interesting point I want to bring up – the impact of rest. Not just whether a team has 3 or 4 days of rest, but an extra week or two before the tournament.
The opening match of the tournament was on June 12.
La Liga, the Spanish premier league played its last game on May 18 giving their players 25 days of rest before the World Cup started. Serie A, the Italian premier league also played their last game on May 18, leaving the players with 25 days of rest as well. The Premier League in England played its last game on May 11, giving their players 32 days of rest. The Bundesliga, the German premier league played their last game on May 10, giving their players 33 days of rest. And finally, in comparison, we have the Primera Division of Costa Rica. Much of the Costa Rican National Team plays at home in their own league, which ended on April 23. This gave the Costa Ricans a full 50 days of rest before the World Cup. I am not saying that the Ticos did not deserve the great run they had, but when you schedule your league to end early, giving your players TWICE THE REST of many of the World’s best players, you are at an advantage.
Much of the talk recently has been on how tired some of the best players were looking throughout the Cup. Obviously, look at the quick turnaround they had as noted above. In comparison, look at how well a squad can come together as a team if given more time off and more time to work together. The Costa Ricans’ fresh legs certainly played a part in their run. This is something you need to keep in mind with your training. If you are competing, taking some time off from the last major competition will help with your recovery and let you focus on your next goal. Similarly, taking increased time to focus on a specific goal will help improve your chances of success.
The body is not made to perform at 100% 365 days a year. If possible, schedule your most important competitions around the same time of year (most occur late summer, including The Games). Throughout the year, use a smaller selection of competitions as gauges to where your training is, but do not focus on "peaking" yet. Using this method, you will ensure that you are able to get adequate rest during an "off-season" that should focus on improving weaknesses. If instead you try to run at 100% the entire year, you will end up looking tired down the stretch, failing that important lift or missing a muscle-up that could have put you on the podium.
Through personal experience and experience working with a selection of elite CrossFitters and elite athletes, my preferred seasonal plan is as follows:
August: Peak of Season – "Championship"
September: Month 1 of Off season – Focus on Sleep and Flexibility, have fun with "easier" training
October: Month 2 of Off season – Focus on weaknesses and unilateral strength (e.g. lunges instead of squatting)
November: Month 3 of Off season – Start working back into a normal training load of strength, Olympics and conditioning
This method ensures that you will have about 50+ days of recovery. Individual preferences may vary, but giving your body this essential time will give you the advantage going into the next season refreshed and improved – a feeling often accidentally discarded by many competitors.