by Kristy Parrish | August 6, 2013 12:23 am
One of the questions I get asked frequently is this: “How do I add in extra work and how do I know how much and what to do?” The question is really a multi-part question, and the answer is a multi-part answer. Doing extra work without getting into an overtraining situation requires an understanding of a few key facts.
First of all, you must realize the purpose of the extra work that you are going to do. If it is set up correctly, the “extra work” is designed to increase your GPP, strengthen your weaknesses, and improve your overall conditioning; when executed correctly, it will do all of the above. Yet understand that an extra workout is not (and should not be) the same as your main workouts. If you go into your box or gym to do auxiliary workouts and treat them the same as your main workout, you will quickly run into problems and actually find yourself going backward. Why? Because athletes run into trouble when adding in extra workouts by doing too much work too quickly.
Most athletes have good intentions but quickly end up doing way too much work. We find with our athletes — myself included — that if we come in, hit it and get out within 20-30 minutes, that is where the extra workouts yield the greatest results. You can increase both workout length and intensity over time.
Weak areas in need of extra work can include technique or endurance, or it may be a skill such as jumping or running. Extra workouts can also serve as active restoration if you design them with that purpose in mind.
Most people assume with extra workouts you only do more weight work, and that is not always the case. Depending on the time of year, we often use these extra workouts for running sprints, working run bio mechanics, or perfecting footwork. Some of these workouts are just cardio and nothing else. Sometimes it may be all explosive work in plyometric fashion — sometimes upper body oriented, sometimes lower body. For CF athletes, often it may be work to help your muscular endurance.
In fact, that is what we are doing right now with most of our fall sport athletes because it is mid-summer, and many are heading back to college soon or starting summer ball. Because the majority of them need to be prepared to pass some kind of PT test, in the mornings we are working on sprinting, conditioning, explosive plyo work and bio-mechanics. At night we work our main workouts, which usually run 75 minutes.
Remember to keep the extra workouts short and focused, with the goals of raising workload capacity and for repairing weakness. By getting in and working quickly, your body will adjust to a greater workload without tremendously taxing your recovery ability. Start with two 15-minute light, low-impact workouts, and you will start increasing your workload ability.
After doing so for a few weeks and leveling off at that load, you can increase your workload to maybe two 25-minute workouts, then drop the time to do three days at 15 minutes each. We find that building up to three extra workouts at roughly 30-35 minutes is optimal for most athletes. Granted, more elite level athletes may be able to handle more, but we are talking about the masses here.
Wanda Brenton — an up and coming CF female I have been training — along with her teammates at CrossFit 7 Mile in Cayman, follow the same process. They are killing it! Their hard work earned them a trip to the Games after a first place finish at Regionals (Latin America), and they are just getting started. Wanda utilizes smaller accessory workouts frequently throughout the week along with her coach Chris Spigner; they are learning how to max the training without overdoing it. My friend Jason Farrow, a top weight lifting coach and master weight lifter, also uses this same approach with himself as well as with his athletes.
However, you do not have to be a competitive CrossFitter to use or benefit from extra workouts; they can be effective for any athlete who wants to improve. Personally, I like to do a quick morning workout. My main workouts are at 4 in the afternoon, yet at 9 am-ish I will do a small “smoker” workout. Usually I do some light weight work because that is my need, or I may do some assistance work from the previous night’s workout. I focus on light, volume-oriented work. For instance, if I did a max upper workout on Monday night, I will come in on Tuesday morning and do some tricep, rear delt and upper back/lat work. This is also a time for pre-hab work as well, as I do a lot of shoulder pre-hab to help my shoulders stay healthy.
Many times I will do some core and/or bike along with some grip work. Due to my age, I try not to be any longer than 20 minutes total. I do 3-5 sets of any of the above mentioned and never do more then 3 or 4 exercises. I can be finished in as little as 10-15 minutes, but sometimes I may be slightly longer then 20 minutes; it all depends on my recovery and how my body is feeling. I know for me it is a big help serving as both active restoration and additional workload, but I must regulate the volume accordingly.
Working extra technique or engine work is also fine as long as you avoid going overboard. Let’s say you want to do technique work on some of your weightlifting movements — do NOT turn it into a regular workout, because that is not the purpose. If you have a heavy session on Monday, do not come in Tuesday morning before work and repeat the same workout as last night — that will do little to help you. In fact, it is far more likely to hurt you because you will become overtrained quickly.
When adding in extra workouts, do it in moderation and try not to jam it all in right out of the gate. Setting them up correctly will help you, and setting them incorrectly will detract from your progress. Understand the purpose and the goals of your extra workouts, then talk to your coach and listen to the rhythm of your training. You must read the main workout to determine if you are doing the extra work correctly.
A big problem with volume in general is that most strength athletes really really like to train, myself included. I like to lift and lift heavy at that. The largest obstacle for my crew is doing too much — when we are really clicking, that’s when we want to lift the most. It takes discipline not to overdo it because it is easy to fall into that when you are having fun.
As you may have noticed from my examples above, there is not a scripted regimen to the extra work; rather, it should flow and constantly vary so you will hit a variety of different training needs. That also helps prevent you from overtraining, to an extent. Your job as an athlete is to develop an understanding of your training needs as well as your training levels.
Start with this: try to fit in two extra workouts somewhere to start. Maybe you can do one day before work or right after if you do mornings as your main workouts, or maybe a weekend is better suited for you. If you are creative and regulate your volume, the extra work will pay dividends. Remember in the beginning that we are only talking about “extra” as 15-minute sessions at most.
Most importantly, keep in mind that the purpose of the extra workout is different from a main workout, just as a nap is different than a good night’s sleep. If you take too long of a nap, you don’t sleep right at night, yet a quick catnap can do wonders. The long nap may feel good at the time, but it is not good in the long run because it will disrupt your sleeping patterns. The same thing goes with extra work: if you work out too hard and/or long on your extra workouts, you won’t perform the same on your main workouts. Learn what works best for you.
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