Yesterday, I addressed “Constantly Varied” by (a) performing a new workout (b) in the middle of the day (c) while in a non-fasted state. I had an intro session with a new client at 2 PM, then took my first run at “Karen” (150 wall-ball shots, 12# ball). It sucked harder than I could have imagined. One hundred and fifty doesn't sound too bad... until you get to about number 50. I got to 50 and though, ah, HELL no. But I finished in 10:48, with the last 75 reps taking almost 2:00 less than the first 75. (I finally figured out if I caught the ball in a “throwing” position, I could catch and squat at the same time. DUH.)
I’ve decided to take some extra rest this weekend – Saturday and Sunday. I’m feeling burnt out from the week – between the Level 1 Cert, a late night with CF Radio, a late night with Thursday’s training and a few new workouts, my body is one giant neon sign flashing, “SIT THE F*@# DOWN”.
The subject of rest, recovery, overtraining and injury are hot topics on the CrossFit Boards. There are entire sections devoted to these subjects, and the debate between “should I rest or push through it?” is never ending. The Girl Power thread recently entertained this discussion, but from an interesting perspective. Emily Maissanes from Alexandria, VA wrote, “It always seems to me that pain and discomfort are inevitably handled the wrong way by most people. Either you are like most of “us”, and you're really tempted to train through it, and some make the mistake of doing it. The (other) kind of people…are the kind that use pain or discomfort as an excuse to give up the program all together. So why is it that we all deal with discomfort in the wrong way? Those that NEED rest are tempted not to take it (while others) use it as an excuse to throw their hands in the air and give up.”
What Emily was proposing is that both groups – the CrossFit population and less committed non-athletes – handle overtraining in the opposite fashion. “We” push through the pain, even when severe, while “they” choose to bail under only mild duress. From this, it sounds as though the motivation for both sets of actions – pushing through and bailing - are polar opposites. Upon thinking about it further, however, I propose that both groups are, in fact, doing the same damn thing.
People naturally choose the path of least resistance. For the non-athlete, a little bit of pain (usually in the form of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS) is an easy excuse to abandon their program altogether. For those who aren’t committed, aren’t motivated, aren’t excited about hitting the gym, skipping their workout (or a week of workouts) requires the least amount of effort, and is quickly justified to themselves and others. “Better safe than sorry” is far easier to tell yourself than, “Suck it up, buttercup”, despite the fact that moving around is often helpful for general muscle soreness.
As a CrossFitter, however, I know the difference between DOMS and overtraining, being beat up and being injured. Where I go wrong is ignoring that difference, and continuing to train through more serious conditions. See, MY path of least resistance is for me to ignore the pain, weakness or illness and simply push through it. That path is easy for two reasons.
First, by pushing on (even when I know I shouldn’t), I can then maintain my Training Plan. The alternative is to take an unscheduled rest day, and deal with the consequences of having to abandon The Plan. So I will ignore pain in my shoulder if it's bench press and pull-up day, because, well... it's BENCH PRESS and PULL-UP DAY. And if I miss that, then when am I going to make up that workout? Because I can’t skip deadlift day. Or squat day. Or met-con day. I guess I could do two workouts on Saturday, but even I know that doesn’t sound very Smart. But if I miss pull-up day, then there is no way I’ll hit ten dead hangs by the time I visit CrossFit Brooklyn, and that CANNOT happen. So given all of these competing, confusing, seemingly unsolvable issues… it is easier just to stick to The Plan and train through the pain.
Just as significant is the fact that unplanned rest can be even more mentally taxing than your physical training. Spontaneous and unwelcome days off can wreak havoc on a CrossFitter’s constitution. As Laura Kurth from Boston, MA, puts it, “Often (extra rest) can far surpass actual physical discomfort or pain. I know I need to rest, but my brain says - you are a wuss, you should just suck it up and do the WOD, all the cool kids are doing it”. Amen, sister. Successfully making it through an unplanned rest day is, for me, an exercise in mental discipline. I feel weak, lazy, chubby, slow. I feel like a quitter, a slacker... worse, I feel like a PRINCESS. And that little voice inside my head can be pretty persistent… which makes it even easier to just say, “Screw it, I’m going to the gym anyway”.
But look... that course of action is no different than the other side of the coin, where the non-athlete would abandon the entire week's efforts because of one day of discomfort. Where the “difference” is often erroneously perceived is that to others, it appears as though I am so dedicated that I can will myself to train through anything. But pretending an injury or illness doesn't exist is taking the lazy way out... no different than giving up entirely.
Recovery is an active process, and requires serious effort. I have to devote time and energy to my recovery – I have to get enough sleep, eat enough quality food, drink enough water, stretch and care for my muscles. I can't just sit back and expect it to happen all by itself - yet that is what I am trying to do, every time I decide to blindly follow my Plan despite being overtrained, ill or injured. So the next time you're thinking about taking the lazy way out, remember this - your recovery deserves just as much attention as your physical training, and demands just as much mental discipline. Which means that, “Suck it up, buttercup” may just need to be the mantra for your next REST day, too.
For a great read on rest and recovery, hit the Again Faster archives.