The longer you are involved in something, the more you see cycles repeat themselves. In the 2010-2015-16 time frame of CrossFit there was a big push for volume volume volume. This was highly predicated off of Rich Fronning’s success with high volume, but, what most people didn’t understand, was that there also was a lower intensity involved with his work horse like mentality. So they pushed the volume and they pushed the intensity...and broke. This mentality started to drift away from the sport a little bit in the 2016-2019 time frame, and intelligent, well programmed training started to make a rise, as if the sport was getting some legitimacy and becoming more professional. The mentality wasn’t just to beat yourself up each and every day, but to make sure that you get high quality training sessions in, with specific focuses on things you are working on adapting to.
Over the last year or so though, as some of the OG’s are getting out of the sport the workhorse mentality has started to drift back onto the scene as younger athletes make the rise to the top. Running off of hormones and low training ages they are able to put in large amounts of volume while keeping their intensity high. We as coaches have to do a good job of making sure athletes understand how adaptation works and what a long term plan looks like, in order to keep them healthy, and progressing over the course of the years. Not stalling or getting burnt out after 6 months of aggressive work. This doesn’t mean that your volume shouldn’t be high, or that your intensity can’t be high either, every person is different, and this is also why everyone's approach to the sport should be drastically different as well. One person’s volume might work to create adaptation, but for someone else it could put them out of commission for a week.
An interesting concept that has started to pop up again is that of “make up days” or “make up work.” This is when an athlete misses a training session, or terminates a training session early for whatever reason. There is then this thought that whatever they missed can then be made up on the next day, or on a rest day. While make-up work makes sense in our day to day lives, moving a meeting, delaying a school project to work more on it later in the week, this concept doesn’t apply to training. Our bodies weren’t meant to “make work up.”
If you have a good coach and a good program, that program should leave you excited for rest days. If you are getting to your rest day, and are not totally exhausted and looking forward to it there are some questions you need to ask yourself. Was my effort high enough throughout this week? Am I fitter than I actually perceive and need to have a discussion with my coach about adjusting my schedule, and maybe adding in more work or more intense work to my training? The answer most often is not, “I need to skip my rest day, and do more or make work up.” Continue reading for an explanation on this.
Your training schedule should have easy, moderate, and hard days if you are following a well structured program. Each day should be meant to maximize your training, and either tap what adaptation you have, OR set you up for success on the following training day. When we either don't take rest days, or try to make up work, we throw off this balance of easy medium hard. What the coach may have had programmed for an intense day now doesn’t become as potent because you are fatigued from adding in work on the previous training day, or don’t push as hard because you subconsciously know you have extra work to do on a given day.
This mindset also leads to quicker burnout in the sport. You could see this left and right in athletes from 2010-2015-16. There were several flash in the pan athletes who had to bow out of competing too soon, because of injury, chronic pain, or the level of work, and intensity they were bringing to their day to day just wasn’t sustainable and they ran out of energy. They would look flat at a competition, get defeated, and start on a new path in life. Luckily coaches are equipped to handle these things a lot easier than they were back then. The conversation has shifted away from, “stop being a p****” to looking at actual data; sleep, macro’s, training volume and intensity, life stress, and make adjustments to training based off of those things. The prevalence of body work is way higher now than it was in that time period, and little knick knacks that used to linger are able to work out of the body a lot faster or be staved off better, for those athletes who may have pushed too hard for too long, and developed an injury. Allowing athletes to compete longer and avoid burnout due to injury. Many of these athletes held the belief of “no days off,” “Compete everyday,” or a personal favorite, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
While this isn’t a cry to get people to stop working out, and putting in substantial amounts of volume, it is a cry to work on understanding your body, and the relationship between rest days and adaptation. We don’t adapt from the work, we adapt from recovering from the work. There are few people who make it to the top of this sport, and sustain that pedigree of performance that aren’t in pain or have been in pain from the amount of work that they are doing daily. These individuals do allow their body to rest though. A lot of the time the battle is being okay with doing nothing, and understanding that just because it is on paper, doesn’t mean that it is perfect, or that it makes sense for how you are feeling on that given day. Part of the art form of coaching is figuring out what the athlete is capable of handling, and developing a program to dose them appropriately. This takes time, and coaches aren’t perfect in this regard either. Sometimes it is up to the athlete to make a judgement call and understand that it is okay if you missed a session, your body and mind may have needed to miss it.