Different Take on Training and Recovery for CrossFit
Over the past year or so, we have trained quite a few CrossFitters; some at a very high level and others that are more recreationally involved. Something about the mentality that CrossFit has developed steers their typical athlete into thinking, ‘’More is better.’’ To a certain degree, doing more CrossFit will get you more results, but at some point there are diminishing returns. We have spent countless hours talking to athletes about what they need to do when these adaptations from being a novice athlete come to a stop.
If you know the process of bringing an athlete into American Sports Performance (or the Olympic Lift Lab), you’ll know that everything from the assessment that we put them through when they walk through the door to the programs that we write are based on science; things that are proven to work. Despite this, we still have a hard time breaking the typical CrossFit mindset that is ‘’To get better at CrossFit, I need to do more CrossFit.’’
While this might seem counterintuitive, it isn’t. One of the major reasons that you can’t just keep adding on workouts, constantly going at 110% and getting better is that your body needs to be able to recover.
A lot of times, we see CrossFit athletes going all out in their workouts, hoping to beat their best time. There isn’t much rhyme or reason to this, it’s pretty much just ‘’Push a little bit harder and hope I do better.’’ Of course, when it’s time for competition the athlete’s going to be pushing this hard, but training in this manner every single session doesn’t always equate to improved performance. If you look at any other sport, there are no teams that train as hard as they play every single day. Why would training for CrossFit be any different?
Not only is this extremely high intensity detrimental to recovery, but a lot of times the energy systems being trained are out of the order of optimal development which helps maximize performance. Both recovery and the order of this development will be discussed in parts one and two of this article.
The ability of an athlete to recover from training is the most important part of training. Look at the picture below:
Here we have two athletes; one who trains and recovers well (the blue line) and one who doesn’t train and recover as well (the red line). The x-axis represents time (either spent training or recovering). The y-axis represents capacity to do work. Capacity can be treated as any quality that you’re trying to achieve, whether that be max strength, aerobic capacity, etc.
When we look at either athlete, we see that they start out with the same capacity to do work.
When they go through their first training session, we see that they both have a decrease in capacity. This is what happens when you train; you break your body down, then it adapts and becomes stronger to make the next time that stressor is presented to your body easier to handle.
When we look at the decrease in capacity of the two athletes, we see that both are stressed a similar amount. What happens afterwards in the recovery time is what’s important to improving performance.
We see that the blue-line athlete recovers very well from his first session and at the beginning of his next training session, he has a higher capacity to do work than he did when he started.
We see that the red-line athlete doesn’t recover as well and by the time the next training session starts, he still hasn’t recovered to his initial capacity to do work. This indicates a lack of recovery. It might be due to lack of sleep, poor nutrition or outside stressors such as work or relationships.
Whatever the reason, the red-line athlete doesn’t recover well and consequently won’t perform as well as the blue-line athlete due to fatigue.
If we look forward and see that these athletes stay on the same trend that they started with, we will see a much larger increase in performance in the blue-line athlete as opposed to the red-line athlete.
As a side note, a lot of the time we see athletes panic when they’re not improving and automatically jump to the conclusion that they need to do more. Especially in the CrossFit community, this is typically not the case! Adding in more and more work isn’t going to help the athlete perform better if they’re already not recovering sufficiently. What the athlete might need is to just relax, get some sleep and a ton of food.
If the trend of adding on work and/or not recovering from the work that you’ve been doing continues, the athlete begins to run a higher and higher risk of overtraining. This is when progress stalls, the athlete might get mentally and physically drained of motivation and energy and an increase in chance of injury occurs. Of course, all of these are things we want to avoid.
As an athlete that wants to get better, you’ll probably have the tendency to want to push through the fatigue and just think ‘’Hey, I’ll be fine.” Ideally, you have a coach that can help monitor training intensity and volume and objectively evaluate how your training is going.
If you don’t have access to a coach, at least try to take a step back and think about your situation.
Have you been feeling fatigued? Adding in work for the sake of doing work? Have the weights been feeling heavier than normal? If so, you might need to stop spending so much time doing work and spend more time recovering.