- Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the best alpine skiers in the world. Some think she could medal in three different events at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
- One noteworthy fact about Shiffrin’s training is her dedication to sleep – and to napping in particular.
- Experts in the science of human performance agree that rest is just as important as training hard.
It’s no surprise that Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin trains harder than most of us. She’s on track to win more ski titles than any racer ever, and some think she could medal in three different events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. She may even compete in more than those three.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Shiffrin is also more dedicated to napping than the rest of us.
Shiffrin gets an average of nine hours of sleep every night. Yet she wakes up excited to go back to sleep.
“[T]he first thought I’ll have [upon waking up] is: I cannot wait for my nap today. I don’t care what else happens. I can’t wait to get back in bed,” Shiffrin told Elizabeth Weil, who profiled the skiing star for Outside Magazine.
She naps at least an extra hour a day, according to a profile of the athlete by the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten. Shiffrin even dozes in the snow while waiting for the start of a race or to hear the results come in.
It’s possible that Shiffrin’s dedication to rest and recovery plays a big part in her success.
The times when you’re lifting weights or carving turns down a mountain are not when you’re getting stronger or better, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness write in their recent book “Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.”
It’s only when you are resting and recovering that your muscles become stronger and your brain converts whatever new skills you’ve learned from short-term memory to long-term memory that can eventually become instinct.
“Rest is lazily slothing around; it’s an active process in which physical and psychological growth occurs,” according to Stulberg and Magness.
Stress + Rest = Growth
The two authors say the key to improvement or growth boils down to an equation: stress plus rest equals growth. Resting is just as important as the stress or training undergone beforehand.
Stulberg writes about the science of human performance, and Magness is a running coach and adjunct professor of strength and conditioning at St. Mary’s University. In their book, both credit physiology researcher Stephen Seiler with first documenting how top performers across a range of sports follow this strategy.
“Seiler tracked the training of elite athletes across a variety of endurance sports including running, skiing, swimming, and cycling. He found that, irrespective of sport or nationality, their training followed roughly the same distribution. The best athletes in the world weren’t adhering to a “no pain, no gain” model, nor were they doing fitness-magazine popularised high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or random “workouts of the day.” Rather, they were systematically alternating between bouts of very intense work and periods of easy training and recovery, even if that meant walking up hills. The ongoing progression and development of elite competitors, Seiler found, was an exercise in stress and rest.”
Michael Joyner, a physician and Mayo Clinic researcher and a world expert on human fitness, previously told Business Insider that one of the most important pieces of advice he gives people is: “Make your hard days hard and your easy days easy.”
Shiffrin’s intense regimen
Shiffrin doesn’t seem to give herself many easy days. According to the New Yorker profile, Shiffrin’s old roommate at a ski-focused boarding school said she’d skip a day of playing in the snow (on skis) to focus on getting better at carving perfect turns.
She even skips late-night movies or games with her fellow athletes, to the point that it’s become a bit of a joke for them to suggest a plan “if it fits her schedule,” according to Weil (it usually doesn’t).
This may be a bit excessive, Stulberg told Business Insider.
“The drive and dedication is apparent, and a certain level of obsessiveness is required to do anything at the world-class level,” he said. “Even so, I think it’s important that folks make sure they are still carving out some time to a) experience joy and b) round themselves just a bit.”
But even if she’s pushing herself a bit too hard, Shiffrin is certainly dedicated to giving herself enough time to recover and get better and better, even if that means a catnap on the mountain.
There’s evidence that elite athletes are better at transitioning from stress to rest than the average person, Stulberg and Magness wrote in their book. That could explain Shiffrin’s tendency to fit in mid-competition naps – something that’s surely healthier than being overcome by pre-race jitters.
“Perhaps the adage that hard work separates the best from the rest only explains part of the picture,” the authors wrote. “The best rest harder, too.”
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