How Many Days Should You Be Training?
I’m often asked the question, “how many days should I come to CrossFit?”. This answer will vary from person to person, so I’d like to offer some guidelines and thoughts on the subject here.
Let’s start with some not-so-good options. 1x/year/month/week is not good. Sorry, but this is not a Catholic Church where you can go on Christmas and Easter and maybe go to confession 1x a year and call it good. Besides, I’m pretty sure those wafers have some sort of super-Gluten in them. (I was raised Catholic, I’ve earned my right to tease).
To get a better idea on how to approach your frequency and volume of training, we’re going to get a little scientsy for a minute and talk about one of the fundamental ideas of exercise physiology, Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome. (Or we can talk about Seyle’s GAS if you’re still 12 and tend to giggle at those things like I do). Basically, the GAS has four stages, Homeostasis, Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion. For our purposes, these phases are generally linear, and illustrated below.
Your body’s “normal” is the homeostasis phase. If you’ve been sitting on the couch watching tv and eating ice cream for the last 6 months, only getting up to retrieve your E-Cig refills from the door step, that is your normal. If you’ve been lifting weights and running a few miles everyday, as well as eating only foods that you’ve raised yourself, drinking only water, and never having any fun, that is your level of normal (you should also know that everyone hates you). Either way, everyone has their homeostasis.
This is disrupted through change or “stress”, where your body moves into the Alarm phase. For the couch potato, that may be taking a walk around the block one time a day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it may be increasing the weights lifted or the distance ran. Your body will react to these new stimuli with a immediate response. Basically, it’s an “oh shit, what is this?! All hands on deck! We need to make sure this organism doesn’t die” response. Your adrenaline levels will rise, your heart will beat faster, you’ll breathe harder, blood will rush from inactive organs to your muscles and surface tissues, you’ll become very alert, and hormone levels will increase.
Shortly after the new stress has ceased, the acute responses recede fairly quickly. Your heart rate goes back to normal, breathing goes back to normal, etc. However, your body says to itself “that was scary, let’s fortify the compound in case that happens again”, where it begins to build new tissues and make adaptations that will improve it’s response time and ability to sustain a new stress better the next time. This is called the Resistance phase and it can be likened to building a bigger wall to prepare for the next time your dumb-ass neighbor’s dog jumps into your yard and eats all of your garbage.
This will continue forever, as long as you keep putting new stress on your body. If you keep increasing your weights, you will keep getting stronger, until you eventually hit your genetic potential.
However, if you push yourself too hard, and are constantly in the alarm phase, your body will reach the Exhaustion phase, and essentially quit responding, perhaps even regressing. The 50th time your boss asks you to come in on a Saturday, you may just say “get screwed buddy, I’m not doing it ever again.” This exhaustion phase is a very long process and is not somewhere you want to be. It’s not just a quick, “oh, that was too much, let’s back it down and hit it tomorrow.” It’s often several weeks long of feeling tired, unmotivated, beat up, and unable to adequately respond to new stress at all.
The idea of exercise is to continue to push the body into the Resistance phase, and let it recover, over and over until the desired goals are met. Too little stress and the body doesn’t change, too much stress and the body shuts down.
So, how does this apply to CrossFit, or physical training of any kind? You need to recognize your level of homeostasis, and the level of intensity that you are pushing it in here. Additionally, you need to recognize the outside stresses that you are putting on your body as well. These outside stresses can be your diet, sleep, alcohol, work, etc. It will all play a part in your body’s ability to react and adapt. You can only fight so many battles at a time. Although exercise is generally great, if you are adding it to an already toxic environment, you are just going to do further harm.
To address the subject of this post, let’s look at some examples. If you are currently not exercising at all, but maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle outside of that, starting CrossFit a few times a week will be a great addition and will cause great adaptations in your body. In this case, I would start out with 2-3x a week for the first month or so, trying to keep in perspective that this is still a pretty dramatic change for your body, and that you will need to take it easy to avoid the Exhaustion phase, which usually causes people to quit altogether.
If you’re doing some form of exercise outside of here, but want to give CrossFit a try, you would probably be fine to give it a little more intensity, still sticking to a few days a week to get started, paying attention to how you feel throughout the process.
If you’ve been a lifelong athlete, and are coming straight from another high volume sport, you could probably train as much as you want, paying attention to your body’s response.
With all of that being said, I sincerely believe that it is 100x more important to get in a routine of coming as frequently as possible, but paying close attention to intensity. A high frequency of attendance ensures that you are getting a ton of practice in all of our movements. Your level of proficiency and progress will be incredible. Plus you’ll be getting in a great routine. HOWEVER, you must listen to your coach and your body and keep the intensity of how hard you are working in mind. If you are just starting out, just go at a 50% or less effort for a while, paying more attention to practice and routine than trying to kill yourself. As you progress and adapt, go a little harder. And so on, and so on… In my experience here, the best progress and best development has come from people who are here 4-5 days a week, but who aren’t trying to die every time a coach says “3-2-1 Go!”.
If you’ve been here for a while, and feel like you have plateaued, you need to find a new way to stimulate change in your body. That could be coming more frequently, making sure that you are increasing your weights, and really pushing to decrease your times, or you may need to explore the idea of personalized programming that we offer. In any case, we should probably talk about your goals and intentions for being here.
Hopefully that gives you a better idea on training volume, training effort and what we are trying to achieve via training. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.