Dawn: What is the ideal schedule for workouts? When should we have our rest days?
Chelsea: What’s a safe amount of extra work outside the WODs to do in order to consistently work on and improve other skills (without completely wearing yourself out)? How do you go from good to great at CrossFit?
This is the first installment of my “Ask Me Anything (AMA)” Blog. We had some great questions this week and I think the answers for at least two are intertwined! I’m going to combine Dawn and Chelsea’s questions into this first response, because the answers will be similar even though the questions differ. Next week I’ll talk more about Nutrition based on the question NJ asked on the CrossFit Lobo Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lobodezavala/).
The simple answer to Dawn and Chelsea’s questions is: “It depends.” It depends upon a number of things. Your age, your sex, your body history, your mental toughness, blind luck, your actual job or daily routine, and how well you chose your parents (genetics). Another huge factor is NUTRITION!
So, already some of you are saying, “Dee, that’s not a good answer!” Well, in my mind it is spot on.
Let’s look at Dawn’s question about ideal schedule and rest days. It really does depend on all of these factors. Have you been working out consistently for a while? If so, you may be able to tolerate 3 or 4 days of very tough functional fitness training in a row before you need to take a break. The person next to you who is the same age, sex, and fitness level may not be able to handle that workload due to an old sports injury or car accident that limits his or her body in some way. Another person, meeting all the same demographics, could go 5 or 6 days in a row without breaking down (let’s call this category genetically gifted freaks). There are many very fine examples of this exact situation in our gym. As I get further into my Master’s Athlete Career (read this as older than dirt), I have learned to listen a little more to my body. I have a roving pain that moves from one joint to another each day. It’s become an old familiar friend to me. Yesterday it manifested in my hip, today I woke with it in my low back, and by lunch it was in my right shoulder. I’ve discovered that my particular body is pretty happy with lifting some light weights most days and then only lifting “heavy” about 2-3 times per week, with about that many MetCon (Metabolic Conditioning, aka. WODs) sessions and a day off between each MetCon. That’s all I need at the moment, and I’m happy with that schedule. There is a genetic freak in the gym that’s my same age , sex, and sports history, that goes HAM (Look that one up on urban dictionary) 5-7 days per week. It works for him. Let’s call him Aaron, for lack of a better name. I love and hate him at the same time. Honestly, I love the guy and I’m super jealous of the parents he chose, and his mental toughness. There are some things we can change and others we just can’t change. I can get mentally tougher (maybe), and I could concentrate more on my mobility and strength building, I could eat better, but I can’t change the parents I chose, or my past injuries. Aaron will always have the upper hand in the genetics category, plus he’s just a far handsomer guy and can lift heavier objects over his head, so he will always have more friends than me and be a better athlete.
Now, let me try to answer Dawn’s question in a more helpful and generalized way. This question pops up all the time, usually when people first start. Here is what I tell people in broad brush strokes. When you first start CrossFit, pay attention to your body. I suggest that for the first 2-4 weeks people come every other day to workout and on the “off days” do something active but not necessarily CrossFit. Go for a hike with the kids or dogs, ride your bike, come use the rower for 20 minutes, do your normal job if you’re someone who works in the physical labor arena. Building houses, welding, plumbing, moving oil rig equipment, etc. are all demanding jobs that will keep your body moving and those are the perfect compliments to what we’re doing here at Lobo. If your job requires you to sit all day, quit your job if you can, or try your best to get up and move around regularly. Sitting on couches or chairs is our greatest enemy. When you first start CrossFit, DO NOT call in sick the day after a WOD and spend all day prone on the couch. This might be the worst thing you could do. Keep moving! This is where Mental Toughness gets involved. Learn to identify the differences between discomfort, pain, and injury. We program for strength building and making you better at life. To do this we have to tear down your muscles a little bit and you should always have some low grade soreness going on as the muscles are trying to repair and get stronger. This is not an injury and it’s normal. Learn to live and love this feeling. This is what increasing strength feels like. You’ll be alright. Suck it up, buttercup. Pain, however, is something else. I sometimes overwork a muscle and it just fu&%$ing hurts. I’m still not injured at this point, but I need to pay attention to what I’m doing and maybe alter my movements, volume, or intensity. If I’m having a hard time walking due to quad pain, I should still move them and even squat, but perhaps I’ll back off of the 80-90% programmed for today and stay closer to 50%. Get it? Again, you’ll be alright, just be smart and don’t cave to either ego or cowardice. Injury means something is definitely wrong with my widget! It has hurt for weeks when I do “this” and isn’t getting better, even though I rested it and was smart about the intensity of my workouts on that particular body part. Go, get this checked out by your smart, sports-minded physician. Injuries do not generally get better if I just “add a little more weight” or try to get it to “pop.” Injuries are injuries. Time will heal many, but not all. Be smart. Also, plenty (not all) physicians are gun shy from being sued or the threat of lawsuit. Many will knee jerk (pun intended) to the most conservative thing they can think of to avoid liability. That typically comes in the form of “stop.” Stopping isn’t always the best medicine. I had doctors tell me to stop moving when I had a back injury and it was the worst therapy for my spine. I didn’t get better until I ignored their advice and started moving. Of course, do what you feel is best given the physician’s advice but take responsibility for your own health. This includes seeking the advice of knowledgeable physicians.
After a few weeks of getting your proverbial feet wet, look at extending the workout days to 2-3 in a row and then take a day off. Continue in this manner until your body acclimates and you find that point at which you function best with X number of days working out and a day off. You may be like most people who can go 3 days on and 1 day off, or you may find yourself to be an Aaron and can go all week with no break. Happy lifting!
Check back next week to see how Nutrition fits into this calculation.
And thanks to Dawn and Chelsea for getting this conversation going!