Lessons of life can sometimes catch us off guard or throw a wrench into what you thought was your plan. I have definitely been dealing with a wrench these past 7 weeks. My unfortunate life lesson has been surrounding my inability to (or maybe frustration with) slow down and rest. I was thrown into this reality because of an inguinal hernia surgery about four weeks ago. The hardest part of the entire process for me has been slowing down, allowing my body to rest, recover, and heal. Sure, the doctor put restrictions on me, but I still tried to figure out how I could push those imposed limitations. But more than once, my body responded with “Whoa, not sure if you are ready for that yet”, whether via fatigue or through some unnerving twinges of pain.
So, why am I sharing my Hernia Tales with you? Because my setbacks and frustrations have challenged me to really consider what it means to rest, recover, and reset. Yes, I know that my injury may have been unavoidable, but I feel the greater lesson has been what I’ve learned about myself through this situation; I don’t rest well, I don’t take time to recover, and I need to learn what it means to reset. Maybe you’re like me, maybe you’re not- either way, I encourage you to consider how the 3 R’s might apply to you inside and outside the gym.
Rest, Recover, and Reset
I’d like you to envision a boxer. Picture him while he extends his arm and body to throw a punch. After the punch, the boxer needs to throw another punch or protect himself from getting hit… how does he do that? He resets himself, pulls the arm back, reloads, prepares to hit again, or protects himself. If he tried to keep his arm extended, he would be unprotected, and his subsequent punches wouldn’t be very hard or effective. The necessity to recover and reset is painfully obvious with this example.
The same imagery is true within CrossFit and life in general. If we are always extended, always throwing our hardest punches without allow ourselves the opportunity to rest and regroup, we will be left unprotected and ineffective.
Here are some ways we can rest, recover, and reset:
CrossFit methodology teaches that an optimal, aggressive training schedule would include three days on followed by one day off. At CrossFit Eastern Ridge, we program 6 days a week, with no WOD posted on Sunday. We allow our athletes to choose their recovery days, but impose a day of rest on Sundays. Whether they rest or not is up to them. Before my hernia, my typical training week included 3-4 days of CrossFit along with 2 additional days of basketball or other physical activity, leaving one day (Sunday) as my “rest” day. I reasoned that since basketball didn’t have the same high intensity as CrossFit, it didn’t count. In truth, I wasn’t allowing my old-body adequate rest.
I recently read an article from CrossFit Incendia where Bryan Holland shared his observation ofBlair Morrison’s training regimen. Blair Morrison competed in the CrossFit Games from 2009-2011, and had a unique story of being a crazy backpacking athlete who would do ridiculous WODs throughout Europe as he traveled. In addition to the CrossFit prescription for rest, Morrison suggested recovery involved more than taking a day off every three days. Take a week off. Allow your body to rest fully. Let your body hit the reset button before resuming the full-intensity schedule of training. Finding that right rhythm is important; maybe it’s working out hard for 7 weeks , then taking a week off. Bryan said his best rhythm was 6 weeks hard and a week off. The important thing was for him to listen to his body. When we are getting wrecked by a workout because our body hasn’t rested or recovered, it’s time to hit the reset button and take a week off. William Imbo, editor of BoxLife Magazine, agrees with Morrison’s priority on recovery: “Rest is generally categorized as sleep and time spent not training or exercising. Recovery, on the other hand, refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair. And this doesn’t just mean muscle repair. Recovery involves chemical and hormonal balance, nervous system repair, mental state and more. There are different factors such as sleep, diet and hydration that can all be beneficial, but one of the most effective methods of helping the body (and mind) recover is through active recovery.” Imbo also adds, “Where active recovery comes into play is that it can help clear this lactic acid through a sustained elevated metabolic rate which generates lactate oxidation. This is why cooling down post-WOD with some light work on the rower coupled with mobility is so valuable to reducing the effects of DOMS and allowing you to perform at similar levels throughout the week.”
CFER programs a deload week after each 7 weeks of normal training. This reminds everyone to back off of the workout intensity, even if they haven’t been easing off as they should in a normal week. But you can deload, even if it’s not programmed, if your body is asking for it. Remember, listen to your body to determine when rest is due for you.
Take advantage of the cooldown times after each WOD. Mobility work, stretching, VooDoo Floss, applying some yoga stretches, or even taking a yoga class can be very helpful. I know that over a year ago I added massage to my routine. My body loves me for it.
Even Coach Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit) weighs in on the topic of ‘overtraing’ relative to rest and recovery. He would argue, “Much of the talk about recuperative techniques centers on avoiding or curtailing “overtraining”. It is my considered opinion that overtraining is indicated by retrograde performance and specifically does not include symptoms mitigated or alleviated by additional sleep, fluids, massage, or pampering alone.” Something to consider when evaluating your state of training and recovery is that ‘overtraining’ and ‘recovery’ are two entirely different things. As an athlete, you can take all the steps necessary to recover, but if your training volume is simply too great for your body’s capacity, you can still be hurting your performance, simply because you’ve indulged in too much of a good thing. Again, listen to you body and listen to your coach.
The 3 R’s and Life
Rest, Recovery, and Reset also apply to your life functions beyond the physical. Yes, to be the greatest athlete in the world you need to train at an incredibly high intensity. But when we talk about life- What does it mean to be better every day? What does it mean for next month, next year, the next decade? The wholeness and completeness in that answer has to include rest, recovery, and resetting of life. I believe that including the necessary down time will lead to better workouts and stronger people; both inside and outside the gym.
Coach Glassman ends his article with this statement, “Everything that isn’t exercise is recuperation, but for me the benefits of off time come not from enhancing athletic performance, but from enhancing life. Exercise, fitness, sport, and even health are only important in that they serve a broader purpose – life. We are made more alive by exercise and fitness but reading, playing, studying, and loving also make us more alive and enrich us greatly, entirely independent of our physical well-being.”
There is an ancient phrase that says, “Be still.” Our fast paced society, deadlines, and high intensity workouts don’t foster our experiencing the depth and wisdom of that statement. But my encouragement for you is to apply it. Build in time throughout your week where you take time to be still. Go and sit at the lake, quiet yourself on a hammock, reflect and see what life is showing you. I can’t tell you the depth of change that has taken place within my life when I take those moments to “be still.”
-Aaron Martell, Coach at CrossFit Eastern Ridge