If there’s a word to describe CrossFit, it’s addictive.
An estimated 4 million people are hooked on the sport’s unique emphasis on community based in constantly varied high intensity training.
Doing CrossFit can feel very rewarding;
- you learn new skills,
- improve your fitness,
- change your physique,
- and have fun while doing so.
It’s easy to see why anyone would want to spend so much time training this way, but when does it get to be too much?
No guts, no glory
Have you ever felt so sore that it got in the way of your day-to-day life?
Perhaps you did an especially tough workout and the next day, you wake up only to find that everything hurts!
For the days that follow, bending down is out of the question and taking the stairs feels like climbing a mountain.
The common misconception is that experiencing intense DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is the result of an effective workout.
We feel accomplished when we feel sore, so we continue to train hard until our bodies feel beat up.
What we fail to understand is that more isn’t better, better is better.
Think about it:
You work out to improve your quality of life but if you’re always too sore to sit down or stand up, what are you really gaining?
Buying into the “no pain no gain mentality” is costly.
Consistently training at high intensity without allowing for enough rest can increase the risk of injury and burnout.
While feeling sore may indicate that a variable in your workout has changed (for example, increasing the weight/volume or incorporating a new exercise), it can also indicate that:
- you lack the sleep,
- and nutrition needed to facilitate the adaptation process.
Irritability, depression and tiredness are also signs that you might be overtraining.
What is a “Rest Day”?
One thing that we often forget is that fitness happens as we recover, and not necessarily as we exercise. The workout forces a stimulus, and the way we are able to recover from that stimulus is what provokes adaptation. As time goes on, you’ll find that your body will become more efficient at adapting to the intensity and volume of your workouts thus, improving your fitness.
In short, in order to be strong, fast, and powerful, your body needs time to repair. This why you need to incorporate rest days.
Despite what it sounds like, rest days don’t imply that you should avoid all types of physical activity but instead, take a rest from your usual type of high intensity workouts in the gym.
In fact, if you can stay out of the gym, even better!
Does taking a rest day condemn you to spend all day on the couch watching TV?
Of course not!
It simply means that you should take a day off from engaging in arduous, physical work.
Take advantage of the extra time to get outside, catch up on some chores, connect with friends and family, or cultivate your other interests. On rest days, you should make an extra effort to assess how your body feels.
Stay hydrated, consume nutrient-dense meals, and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep.
This will help to make sure that you will be able to continue to meet the demands of your upcoming workouts without hitting the wall before your next day off.
In the same realm as rest days, some coaches or programs also suggest taking ”active recovery days”.
This entails doing light intensity exercise to increase blood flow and reduce muscle fatigue, therefore boosting your ability to recover.
Going for a long walk, light jog, swimming, or stretching are reasonable options, but be warned; keep the emphasis on light intensity.
Don’t let an active recovery day at the gym turn into an improvement training session.
How often should I train?
The answer isn’t complicated however, it begs another question;
How much can you recover?
If you’re new to training, working out every other day could be a good solution to help you get used to the high intensity demands of classes.
This type of scheduling is effective for a newbie because it’s a simple way to mark which days and how often to go the gym (about 3 times per week is a good start for most people).
Not to mention, “one on, one off” gives you just enough sense of obligation to work out on the days that you’re supposed to without being too overwhelming. Finding this type of balance is crucial for forming a long, healthy relationship with fitness.
Once you’ve consolidated a pattern, feel free to try organizing your training schedule in the way that best helps you to maintain high intensity during your workouts.
Looking at a weekly cycle, many athletes prefer to train from days one to three, do active recovery on day four, train hard on days five and six and then rest on day 7.
Keep in mind that the more days you train consecutively, the more effort you should put into recovery.
On another note, if you follow a training program, it’s likely that there is a rest day and/or an active recovery day programmed into each week (and if that’s not the case, you should look into another training plan that takes into account the longevity of its athletes!).
Do not ignore days that are dedicated to rest or recovery!
Just like every other part of your program, these days are accounted for by your coach and are included for a reason.
The bottom line is: when you are good at recovering (getting enough sleep, eating well, and keeping your body mobile), you are better able to train hard and often without risking injury.
Sure, most of us have to consider other major life commitments when forming a training schedule, but rest and recovery days are just as important as the time you spend in the gym and should not be overlooked.
Next time that you find yourself feeling sluggish in the gym, either go hard, or go home…preferably to take a nap.