From CrossFit Journal by Greg Glassman (the founder (with Lauren Glassman) of CrossFit, Inc. and CrossFit Santa Cruz and is the publisher of the CrossFit Journal):
At CrossFit’s certification/seminar in Golden Colorado this fall, an event commonly referred to as the “First CrossFit Summit”, several presenters spoke of the importance of rest and recuperation in athletic training and alluded to valuable current trends and research on the subject of recovery.
Chief among those inspired by the conversation were Dan John, Tyler Hass, and Robb Wolf. My respect and admiration for Dan, Tyler, and Robb coupled with my bad attitude and admitted ignorance of “modern recovery techniques” made Tyler’s suggestion to dedicate an issue of the CFJ to recovery an interesting idea – especially if Dan and Robb could be cajoled to help.
For the record, my bad attitude towards any established corpus of recovery information stems from several quirks of my intellectual temperament and the nature of my clinical practice. It has been my professional experience that successful training protocols present themselves over time through superior performance among their adherents. Repeatedly over my career exceptional performance has been easily and quickly rooted out and attributed to the particulars of the performer’s training regimen. A natural process of question and answer mines more potent strategies quickly: “Where does this guy come from; he learns so quickly?” “He’s a gymnast.” “Why are these guys so much stronger than the others?” “They powerflifted for years.” How did she get so lean so quickly? “By cutting her intake of high glycemic carbohydrate.” By watching, learning, asking, and experimenting we have been able to build a successful program whose methods were harvested entirely from elite performers. I want to ask, someday, “Who are those amazing athletes?” to which the answer comes, “the new resters.”
I am waiting for a group, or even a single elite performer, to lay the fruit of his training on superior recovery techniques. If and when an athlete bests Greg Amundson or Josh Everett and differs from them largely in his penchant for cold beers, massage, ice baths, or the company of pretty woman – we’re going to tinker, analyze, and evaluate these predilections with ourselves and then with other athletes. I’m still waiting. I am personally hopeful that pampering and advanced recuperative techniques will make a substantial difference. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The reports, this month, don’t give me reason for encouragement. Stress control, massage, sleep, contrast hydrotherapy, hydration, recreation, stretching, and chiropractic treatment top the list of promising recuperative techniques. While none of these are foreign to us, or even new to sport training, we’ve no evidence that they make measurable differences in accelerating the development of elite performance. I can appreciate the potential these modalities offer to comfort, but I’m not seeing the increased performance.
In spite of this curmudgeonly view of recuperative technologies I must add that our nutritional prescription may be lending it’s value via accelerated recovery. We know, through regular observation, that most fad dieters (low fat/high carb/low protein, chiefly) never stand a chance of surviving our protocol regardless of rest or ramping up. We’ve further noted that close adherence to our nutritional protocol, by initially, at least, weighing and measuring food to establish accuracy and precision to the diet confers an advantage that less diligent compliance cannot match. The suspicion is that our nutritional strategy accelerates recovery allowing for one or two more super productive workouts each week. Over time this creates distinct athletic advantage.
It must be pointed out that while acknowledging that sleep deprivation, dehydration, and inflexibility are detriments to performance I’ve seen no evidence that sleep, water, or flexibility beyond “normal” levels help performance. Playing basketball in handcuffs will limit your game, but I’m not going to suggest that the removal of handcuffs is the key to increased basketball performance for all basketball players.
If we clump the recuperative modalities together as “pampering” what my clinical practice suggests is that the pampered athletes are generally performing below the 50-percentile mark. Those most inclined, for instance, to yoga, meditation, and chiropractic tratment are not our fire-breathers. I don’t think that yoga, meditation, and chiropractic treatment are injurious to performance; I think that self-pampering and longing for comfort are, however, correlative with low drive and success. Why is it that those most inclined to worry and ask about “overtraining” are about as likely to set a new record in the Olympic Decathlon as they are to ever overtrain?
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. Overtraining is not sleep deprivation, soreness, or systemic or musculo-skeletal fatigue due to excessive training volume. Overtraining is a neuroendocrine beat down associated with excessively intensive work – more rest won’t necessarily help, reduced intensity will.
While insufficient recuperative techniques may be a factor in limiting training adaptation, it most clearly, obviously, and certainly, pales compared to the limitations inherent in not training hard enough. One powerful and obvious difference between the CrossFit approach to athletic strength and conditioning and other protocols is that we work harder, i.e., at higher intensity. There may be temptation to think that a program that advocates workouts lasting about 30 minutes offers more rest than those lasting several hours, but the problem with three-hour workouts is not that they leave two and one half hours less recuperation time, but that they are not nearly intense enough to optimize adaptation.
Does my contention that undertraining is much the greater monster than overtraining imply that I think overtraining is rare or impossible? No, no, no, and hell no, but I do believe that the biggest factor in overtraining is not under-recuperation but inadequate ramp up to higher intensity levels. Nowhere is this more apparent than with our Workout of the Day (WOD).
We have counseled in “Getting Started” and repeatedly elsewhere that the WOD is designed to exceed the capacities of the world’s fittest humans and that starting CrossFit by throwing yourself at the WOD 100% will result in devastating failure. We’ve recommended that anyone attempting CrossFit first get through a month of “going through the motions” before diving in with full intensity – “establish consistency before intensity”. Countless bad-asses from sporting and special operations communities, long regarded as bullet proof, have been burned at the stake of ego and intensity. More or better rest could not have helped.
Furthermore, though discomforting, counterproductive, and generally ugly, overtraining is not the dread monster to be avoided at all costs as commonly portrayed. Overtraining is similar in disruption to a cold and never as severe as the flu. Show me an athlete who has never overtrained and I’ll show you someone far from his potential. It is actually very, very, easy to make sure that you never overtrain, but optimal development comes on the margins of overtraining. That’s right, if you are far from overtrained, you are far from peak performance.
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. I wholly recommend that you focus the 23-½ hours daily of non-exercise not on increased physical performance but on enriching your soul. If you should, however, find a path to athletic greatness that necessitates luxuriating, alcohol, massage, and perhaps, pretty woman, send us the particulars and we’ll get busy resting. In the meantime we’re going to keep pushing for more work, done quicker, and getting on with the business of life in our off time.
There really are no negatives about CrossFit except for one thing…tearing your hands. And then on top of that, they take forever to heal. Make sure you take care of your hands to avoid ripping. There is nothing cool about calluses on your hands. If you can pinch the callus then you are in for a world of hurt if there are pull ups that day in a WOD.
So now you need to know how to care for your hands. I have tried everything…pedi egg, pumice stone, nail file, sand paper, and I thought they were all bad and took forever. I use a dog nail file that is very similar to a dremel. For sanitary purposes I have my own. I think the rest is self explanatory. Start shaving away. You do not want to shave them all the way down, but get them pretty level with your skin. Then get a decent lotion for your hands. Lifting and chalk really dry your hands so this is a must. If your hand rips then you definitely waited too long, so try to avoid that.
Coaching ice hockey for the last decade has left me open to new training techniques to help better our youth athletes. Becoming a CrossFitter, I instantly understood the concept of being a well-rounded athlete. To me that was the definition of being a hockey player. This is a sport based on being well rounded in all areas of the sport. From day 1 of our season our coaching staff decided to follow the CrossFit Pyramid so that our athletes would not only be well-rounded, but conditioned, stronger, and more agile than the teams they compete against.
Prior to our Box opening up in February, we had 5 months to get these players to understand nutrition and the importance of being able to lift their own body weight. We began talking about the importance of good fats, proteins, and carbohydrates being present at every meal. We began seeing the same trend in every player when we sat down with them: there was a lack of nutritional education. They had no idea what a protein, carbohydrate, or a good fat was to eat. After a few weeks of guidance with their nutrition, we started seeing more water and their was less complaining of constant headaches during competition. We knew that we made progress when a player ate fast food and instantly complained about how awful they felt.
Going into our season I decided that CrossFit training would never be cancelled. I wanted to stay consistent throughout the season and make sure that stagnation was never present. With on ice practice 3-4 days per week, I kept the players on a 3 time per week CrossFit WOD. For the first 4 months we stayed with body weight metabolic conditioning. Our main concerns with our female athletes was strengthening them so they could compete against male athletes their same age. We were slower, weaker, and less agile during games against boys. Starting with
Day 1 of our CrossFit WODs we always made sure that the players understood that this a competition and not just for going through the motions like every other plyometric workout these players had gone through prior to our program. We started with basic body weight exercises such as chest to ground push ups, air squats for proper technique, and pull ups to lift their own body weight. I was not going to even hand our teenagers an 18lb bar until they were able to do basic body weight exercises in a safe environment. We had so many athletes complaining of knee problems prior to the season that we had to make sure they understood the proper break down of their body weight exercises.
Once we were able to move into our Box in February we started implementing more gymnastics movements for body control. The rings became our team favorite and instantly helped our players with body awareness and control. We implemented core stability exercises to help with hand stands which then turned into handstand push ups for majority of our players. In March we decided to implement safe weight training with our female athletes. Starting with a PVC pipe we emphasized core to extremity with our players. I explained that they could take any aspect of hockey and break it into Core to Extremity. From their skating (core, hips, ankle) to their shooting (core, hips, wrist), we emphasized the important of body awareness to all of our athletes. It was amazing to see these players progress into prescribed WODs and be able to lift their body weight with no issues and progress on to exercises such as a 65# Thruster. I felt that not only did we help create better hockey players, but our girls were now better athletes. We were stronger, quicker, and more agile than all of the boys teams that we competed against.
The process off getting our players to the level they were suppose to be competing against was a great process to watch. No longer were players complaining of knee pain, headaches, and muscle soreness from quicker recovery. I knew we were on the road to athletic success when our WOD was Fran. We had a majority of the players do it as prescribed and finish with great times. Watching our athletes struggle with a body weight push up and progress to consistent kipping pull ups and handstand push ups was a great success. Staying true to CrossFit programming really gave our program an upper hand advantage. Hockey in Arizona
is not the norm so our ability levels range from athletic kids to kids that lack body awareness. After a successful season, all of our players have attained great athleticism and coordination. I firmly believe that this was not only due to our on ice programming. CrossFit gave our players the strength, confidence, agility, and quickness that most
teams are lacking.
CrossFit is about constantly varied training, but that doesn’t mean the training is random. While it’s true that we train for the unknown and the unknowable, programming is more than pulling random workouts out of a hopper—though you can certainly experiment with that model for short periods.
One of the main characteristics of constant variation is the use of very different loads, time domains and movements. Sometimes athletes are performing short, heavy workouts like 5 sets of single deadlifts. Other times they’re doing a long, heavy workout such as Linda. Cindy is long and light, while Fran is usually short and relatively light. A 2K row and a max snatch both involve pulling, but one is about endurance and stamina, while the other is about strength and speed. Athletes adapt to such a diverse program because it is broad and ignores no aspect of fitness.
Constant variation is one of the foundations of the CrossFit program, and by allowing that principle to influence your programming, you will be putting your athletes on the path to high levels of general physical preparedness. As always, the magic is in the movements themselves. Add in large doses of intensity, and you might even have some true firebreathers on your hands.
By Dave Castro
Adam, Gayle, and Jen go snowboarding the CrossFit way!
Gayle (59in tall) does a 43in box jump on 2 tractor tires